Why quitting social media has made me a happier woman
Today is International Women’s Day and it has me thinking about our relationship with social media. I joined social media websites such as Bebo and MySpace in my teens, but the first platform I started using on a regular basis was Facebook in 2006. It was only at the end of 2018 that I began to examine closely at how over a decade of social media exposure had impacted me.
In November 2018 I went cold turkey and what started as a detox has become a lifestyle choice.
Not only have I survived without it, I have thrived. It wasn’t until I left the main offenders Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, that I realised just what a toll they had taken on my mental health. Initially, I struggled to cope without my constant companion, a surprise and a shock as the level of my addiction became apparent. So out of the loop did I feel, that on several occasions I nearly fell off the wagon head first into a binge session. It was only when I watched a TED Talk by Computer scientist Dr Cal Newport aptly named ‘Why you should quit social media’, that I settled on the concept of a social-media-free life. From then on, I have never looked back. I would encourage anyone to watch this, purely to gain some awareness if nothing else.
Now fully weaned from my old vices, I am a far happier and altogether healthier person
(I know what you’re thinking, “how can you be healthier, just from quitting social media?” Well, read on). The process has been revealing and is something I am now very passionate to encourage people to try. Below are a few key lessons I have learnt so far on this journey.
Lesson 1: Comparing yourself to others is a confidence killer
For years I spent too much time comparing myself to other people, primarily through a social media channel. Whether it be an old school friend that I barely knew, or an influencer that I never would know. This act of comparison is proven to destroy self-confidence, instilling the belief that there is always someone out there more beautiful, more talented or more successful than you. This I now understand is not true, but even the hint of it is enough to make any person feel inadequate.
The feeling of inadequacy is horrific. A constant devil on the shoulder holding you back in all areas of your life. However, with certain social media platforms removed, my confidence experienced a much-needed boost. Without the constant exposure to everyone else’s business, I have been able to drop the inadequacy and replace it with the awareness that we are all different, all special and all worthy of a great life. I have come to believe that confidence comes from knowing rather than exposing yourself over a social media platform, and that confidence alone is the sexiest thing you can wear.
Without social media I have learnt to trust my gut, pander to my uninfluenced desires and to only seek approval from myself.
It’s my number one lesson for a reason; it’s the lesson that has and hopefully will continue to make me a better person and a far happier woman for years to come.
Lesson 2: Focus on your own dreams and achievements, not those of others
I have been famous amongst family and friends for not knowing what I want. From one day to the next, the dream changed, the goal posts shifted, and my progress was inevitably disjointed. I know that a decade of social media didn’t help this and potentially hindered my progress both in personal and business life. So fixated on what everyone else was doing, I left little time or energy to spend for my own goals and ambitions. Constantly trying to be like everyone else is exhausting, and as the saying goes, it’s best to be yourself; everyone else is taken.
With a clear head and no social influences, it is only now that I have begun to figure out ambitions and appreciate achievements. This knowledge is powerful; it had made me determined to no longer waste time chasing the dreams of others, just my own. This can only be a positive thing for someone to feel, especially a woman.
No longer blindly following others on social media, I am beginning to follow my own path and change perceptions of how people expect me to be.
I hope that with or without social media, more women can feel empowered to do the same.
Lesson 3: We have so much more time when we’re not staring at our phones
It always feels like there is never enough time. For most, life is a busy business and there is rarely a moment spare to consider which things are taking up more time than they should.
It is reported that on average, we spend two hours every day sharing, liking, tweeting and updating social media platforms. That’s the equivalent of wasting about 45 days a year (assuming you’re human and actually spend time asleep).
Imagine being given a month and a half of extra time a year to play with. Time that could be better spent getting fit, reading the pile of books that are gathering dust or starting a new hobby. Even today women are often the home maker and child carer, expected to manage domestic life seamlessly alongside work. We’re constantly time poor yet still have the need to indulge ourselves in things that make us genuinely happy. Those precious extra two hours per day really add up. It seems a no brainer to me that using that time to escape humdrum life and give ourselves a well-deserved break from everyone else, is far better than scrolling an endless stream of mostly irrelevant information.
Lesson 4: Social media gives a false representation of life and the struggles many face
Behind every perfect selfie is a person and a story far deeper than any picture could tell. While I recognise that there are plenty of people on social media trying to be authentic and real, they are vastly outnumbered by others who only show the best bits of life – I was one of those people. At the end of the day, why would you broadcast your worst or most boring moments of life. But the reality is, life isn’t easy; it’s hard, brutal and ugly a lot of the time. Those brutalities feel all the lonelier when we are led to believe that many others lead perfect lives.
I found this hard when I looked at social media; I struggled to separate what was real with that which was filtered.
Life is not perfect, and to strive for perfection is pointless. It is our flaws that makes us human.
Without seeing a distorted view of reality day in, day out, I have become the most authentic version of myself, opinionated enough to write this article. And this has knock on effects; relationships with friends and family are more genuine as we share more frequently and in private, our vulnerabilities equally alongside our triumphs. Living away from constant connection has a way of bringing people together in an entirely different way.
Lesson 5: Living for the moment, not for an Instagram feed, has given me more genuine experiences
There was a time when I did things because I believed it would be well-received on Instagram or would get me comments on Facebook. It’s easy to see why this gives pleasure; the likes and comments make us feel valued and loved, as if we have done something right. So, we may continue to take part in activities we think people will like, sometimes in place of things that fulfil our own unique desires. As well as this, special moments are often ruined in pursuit of picture perfection, rather than being appreciated and remembered as a feeling.
It sounds weird to say out loud, but removing the platforms on which I shared my life was one of the biggest adjustments I’ve ever made.
I caught myself thinking, ‘this would be great for Instagram’, or ‘I need to update my Facebook status to say I’ve been here’. Eager for likes, I admittedly struggled to comprehend that I would no longer be able to do so. But slowly, experiences became more fulfilling and personal; I did them not because the masses would approve, but instead because I did. And in the moment, I was totally immersed in the feelings it gave me. Before too long, there was no lingering desire to share with anyone but myself and the friends around me. I did not realise previously how detached from the moment many of us are. This doesn’t necessarily make me a happier woman, but It certainly makes me a happier person, and male or female who can complain about that.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe there is a place for some form of social media in this world. It has the power to connect friends and family across vast distances, rally communities together for incredible causes and offer businesses a platform to shout from. But in its current form, there’s not much to like. Plagued by fake news, data privacy concerns, trolling and mental health issues, what was simply a way for people to connect, has morphed into a beast that’s changing how we relate to ourselves and other people.
Sites such as Facebook have recently been compared to cigarettes, both in terms of harm and addiction.
There are calls for regulations that reflect this, particularly when it comes to young and vulnerable people who are already under too much pressure.
I hope that the lessons I have learnt can at least inspire some people to consider their social media habits. If not entirely remove these websites from your life, at least take account of how much time and energy you give to them. Women and men, girls and boys are all feeling the impact of a world so connected it’s hard to switch off. But sometimes switching off is the best way to switch on.