Everybody has their own relationship with social media, but I think one thing is common to all of us who use any of the sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, and so on: There are pluses and minuses of our use of them, and it’s all too easy to get sucked in and have the minuses drown out the pluses.
None of these facts will come as a surprise to many of you, but I wanted to put them in here anyway: Technology, if used too much, affects our health and productivity. On social media sites, it’s all too easy to believe that others’ carefully-curated shares about their life are what their lives actually look like; we accidentally compare our own lives’ messes and middle parts to others’ highlight reels. We compare ourselves negatively, believing that others have it together or that they have more friends than we do (and some of the friends we want to have, or the friends we already have but apparently aren’t hanging out with), and it can affect our own self-images and even our mental health; in other words, it can make us depressed.
I’m writing this article both because I think it’s a public health issue and because it’s been one of my own issues. I noticed this at the beginning of the summer and decided to make some big changes in my life because I was tired of thinking things like why did this status only get 5 likes? Why hasn’t anyone commented on this; I look so cute in this selfie? Why didn’t they invite me to this party? Should I be at school socializing instead of at home, resting? Am I enough, or am I too much? I was tired of constantly checking my phone to see if someone had texted, Facebook messaged, or Snapchatted me back. I was touching my phone and checking my Facebook so many times an hour that I lost track.
These thoughts and actions are embarrassing for me to admit, but I know that I’m not alone here. I got tired of wondering how people were reacting (or not reacting) to my public persona, the person who was constantly giving to others and living an interesting, vulnerable, and wildly authentic life. But is it possible to be truly authentic if you’re constantly putting yourself out there, excited to see others’ reactions to you? Is it possible to be true to yourself if you’re always considering what others will think (and then how you will think of yourself in response), and always thinking about snapping just the right photos and writing just the right words to represent your life moments? If you’ve become even half as ridiculous as I was being at the beginning of the summer, this article is for you because maybe, just maybe, the kinds of changes that I’ve made to my life this summer could help to free you, too.
Smartphone apps that I’ve used to reduce my phone screentime:
- Moment. (Free; can get premium, which I recommend.) It tracks your phone usage every day and tells you exactly what apps are taking up your time. You can set your maximum screen time so you see what kinds of things push you over your limit. (It’s also worth considering your emotional state on the days that you go over your limit – I noticed I was often sad, lonely, or anxious on the days that I went over my limit.) If you get the premium version ($5), it has a 14-day training program to help you use your phone less. I highly suggest it – it was helpful and even illuminating.
- Unplugged. (Free) You set a goal for how long you want to leave your phone untouched and this turns on airplane mode until you touch it again. Nothing is as productive as completely shutting the notification possibilities off.
- Forest. ($1) You set a goal for how long you want to leave your phone untouched and if you reach it, you get trees that grow. The point is to grow a full and lush forest, and it’s nice to be able to see progress and get a tiny reward at the end of each session.
- Do not disturb is also a brilliant option. I have it set so that my favorite contacts’ calls break through this mode, as well as phone calls from the same number that come in more than once in a short period of time. Everyone else can wait (unless I’m waiting for an important call from a doctor).
Apps that I deleted off my phone:
- Facebook. This one’s obvious, no? If it’s not there, you can’t mindlessly check it. It requires a slight increase in intentionality to log on later on your computer, which means it can’t become an unintentional habit without your consent.
- Snapchat. This one was less obvious for me. I decided to delete it while I was in Europe so that when I was traveling alone, I wouldn’t have as many temptations and opportunities to feel lonely or think that I wasn’t where I was “supposed” to be. I shocked myself by never feeling lonely while I was alone during those 1.5 weeks of my trip (except when I had the flu; I wanted my mom, but I think that’s a common thought rather than an isolating one). I cherished my solitude and silence, and I think a large part of that was because I wasn’t comparing my moments to others’, my solitude to their togetherness. And it was truly magnificent.Guess what? This surprised me, and it may surprise you: Once I was back from Europe, I never added it back. It’s just that good for me to have it gone. I sometimes miss having a large swath of friends know things about my life (and vice versa), and I sometimes miss the sweet snaps from people who thought of me when they saw something, but there are other ways to communicate these same things. I cherish its absence because I once used it mindlessly and almost always ended up constantly wondering if I had an exciting enough social life (or life in general). What I’ve come to think over this summer is this: Who cares? My life is my own. And it’s beautiful. And these are the moments that I’m dancing like nobody’s watching and living like it’s my last day.
Thoughts that help me move through this process:
- You are enough. Write this on your walls until you believe it. You can’t imagine just how a sense of self-compassion will change your life. Here are some self-care ideas to help you learn to spend time taking care of the most precious person in your life, the one who’s with you forever: you.
- You have real connections. In fact, at this point in my life, I have more friends than I know what to do with. God has blessed me with a ridiculous amount of love. I don’t need to worry about the number of likes I get; I have people who celebrate or mourn with me in person. I have people who know my story and love me, and vice versa. Does everyone need to know everything? Do I need everyone to love me in order to know that I am a person of value? The response to both of these is a confident “no.”
- Your life is exactly what it’s supposed to be. I don’t need to go to every party. Especially with the kind of fatigue that I deal with on a daily basis, I can’t go to everything (though I have many tools that help me to thrive, despite the fatigue). I don’t need to win every award or get every degree. I don’t need to be married with kids yet. I don’t need to do the things that “everybody else” is doing. I love my life. It’s imperfect, but it’s real. It’s daring. It’s unpredictable in the best kinds of ways. It’s full. It’s mine, and it’s perfect for me in all of its imperfections (even in the moments that I don’t love it so much!).
- You are loved. I don’t need constant reminders of it in the form of notifications. I know this; it is deeply-rooted in my soul.
Actions that I’ve replaced social media and phone time with:
- Connecting with people in person. This seems obvious, but in some ways, it’s not. As much as I miss my friends who are far away, it’s crucial for me to cultivate and strengthen nearby friendships. I’ve carved out more time in my calendar for true, face-to-face connection, the kind of moments when it’s just me and one other person (or a small group) and my phone is in my purse, untouched.
- Being more focused. I’ve gotten so much more done. Multi-tasking isn’t a strength of mine (or of people in general).
- Reading books. I’m embracing my nerdy, introverted self far more than I used to. If you need any book recommendations, here are my shelves on Goodreads.
- Exploring my surroundings and not worrying about snapping the perfect picture of it. I’ve come to love the moments that are just for me, moments that I won’t share about (not because they’re secret, but just because people don’t need to know everything about my life and me – and it’s wonderful to have moments and memories that are just my own).
- Journaling and pondering my current paths. Where is God at work? Where am I changing and growing? Where am I going, and do I like it or hope to tweak it?
I’m not exactly an expert or role model here, y’all; I still check my likes and wonder what people think of me. I think that’s called being human. We have made our lives more connected and complicated with our social media usage, and it can be truly positive if you have a strong self-image and an awareness that our posts are the glossy depictions of our lives that we all put up for public consumption (and an awareness that life isn’t really just like that for anyone on your newsfeed – even you!). It can easily become more negative than positive, though, and that’s where I found myself at the beginning of the summer. Now, with the changes that I’ve made this summer, I’m posting on Facebook less, writing my thoughts in a journal before I consider sharing them, texting my life’s sweet and sour moments to my dearest friends rather than sharing them with my entire social network through Snapchat, comparing myself with others less and less, and putting my phone away for longer and longer periods.
My life is good. I might even go as far as to say the cheesy phrase that I’m living my best life. I’m increasingly content with exactly where I am and what I’m up to, both in the short-term and the long-term. I’m learning to dance like nobody’s watching, to cherish being alone and not wondering what others are up to, and to love myself just as I am, and just where I am at this moment in time (and not worry about the number of likes and the kinds of reactions that I get in response to this moment, if I choose to share it). I can use social media in the ways that fill my heart, like connecting with friends who are halfway around the world and celebrating my friends’ life events, like marriages, babies’ births and milestones, and new jobs. And then I can walk away from social media before I get to the negative aspects that weigh my heart down (or, at least, too high an intensity of them – you can’t avoid them entirely).
Whatever your route to an increased sense of freedom may look like, I hope you search for it and choose to get on it with all your soul and strength. It’s worth it.