Our brains Off Social Media

How many people do you know left social media completely this year or last year?

How many folks are gradually weaning themselves off of social media, or at least some platforms?

And how many people do you know are constantly on social media? Obsessing over instagram likes, facebook threads, and doomscrolling twitter?

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

In the beginning of 2020, or the start of the real 2020 in March, when everyone had to stay home, and started connecting more online, social media seemed to connect many of us. Slowly though, I noticed its impact on my mental health. With the pandemic restrictions, and most of life being under lockdown, I realized I no longer wanted to follow random people, their life stories and their realities. As harsh as it sounds, I did not care much for it.

I also realized something: that our social media use is always dependant on vying for others’ attention, everyone’s but our own attention to ourselves. What are we doing? Who are we posting for? Who are you shouting at? And why?

I’ve written in the past countless posts and even a book about the use of social media to connect, communicate ideas, and grow and learn from one another. However, this phase for me has run its course unfortunately. And I started to feel more of the negative impact than anything that’s positively adding to my life.

I’m not the only one feeling this way.

The pandemic, despite the heartbreaking and tragic loss many experienced, has changed life as we know it for better and for worse. It also allowed us to differentiate real relationships from “fake” or pretend relationships. It reshaped our lives in many different ways and helped us see what we should prioritize and what we shouldn’t. It did this because the stark shift in our lives has had a huge impact on ourselves, our mental health, and our loved ones.

We had no choice but to adapt and prioritize what matters to us the most.

Mental health is another factor that we often don’t correlate with our screen time and social media usage. I started noticing something: I’m feeling good and sometimes in a an okay / neutral mood, and then I go on my phone, minutes later I feel agitated, irritated and anxious. I also feel annoyed, and frustrated. These feelings could go downhill from here, right into our confidence, value and self-worth. Do I need to do more? Am I good enough?

Research has documented an increase in depression, anxiety and suicide, especially in youth, as a result of social media usage over and over again. It is no wonder that large bodies such as the federal government is calling to regulate social media use, why wait for others to regulate it for us when we already understand the impact it has on our mental health and well being?

I decided to quit instagram, facebook and WhatsApp sometime in mid-2020 and I haven’t looked back since. I grew tired of watching people I haven’t really spoken to in years (some even from high school) doing the random things they do everyday, and share updates on their lives. In a way, you almost feel like you’re invading a space you shouldn’t be in, it didn’t feel like I belong there, watching others endless streams of cottage outings during the pandemic, baby updates, food pictures, and family gatherings. It did not make me feel good in any way, and was wasting precious time that I honestly did not have. Instead, I could focus this time on other things that matter to me.

I still kept in touch with my close friends, and I let them know that texting or even a good old fashion email to my personal email is always a good way to get in touch with me. And guess what? These connections feel so much more meaningful now. An email update from a friend, asking how you’re doing and them sharing their updates brings me so much joy.

So I deleted those apps to start, and then I went ahead and deactivated facebook from my desktop.

Here are some of the things I was able to accomplish when I was no longer checking those apps:

  • Read books: I started borrowing books (from the online library app) and actually reading and listening to them. At first, the transition wasn’t easy, because when I got bored, my instinct was to go ahead and check an app. I didn’t have that so instead, I browsed online for the next book to borrow or buy. I read and listened to a lot of e-books. Many of them focused on the topic of mental health, wellness, and healing. I felt like my soul needed that type of cleanse after not having done that for sometime. It’s not to say I was glued to social media at all, in fact, I used to time myself and my usage, but those odd 20 mins here and there add up to quite a bit of your time throughout the day.
  • Be a content creator rather than a content consumer. Why waste so much of my time consuming other people’s content rather than working on my own. As a writer, and entrepreneur myself, I could always use the extra time to focus on working on my goals, writing, journaling, and even working on that proposal I was putting off. Now, I also have leisurely content that I’d like to work on outside of work, why was I looking at so much nonsense on social media from which I can’t gain anything. Taking time away from SM helps me to focus on doing the things I love to do, but never had time for.
  • Pick up a hobby that calms and centres you. Yes, everyone baked so much early on in the pandemic stores ran out of flour and yeast. I was passionate about baking from many years ago, and this was a great opportunity for me to work on crafting that skill. I baked challah bread, buns, cookies, banana bread, anything I had the ingredients for. Oddly enough, I’m the type of person that finds baking calming, so this is definitely an activity that not many would turn to as a calm activity, but it worked for me.
  • Build healthier habits. I’ve always wanted to solidify a workout routine, and nothing stuck for me. As a hijabi woman that doesn’t like to workout in her hijab, working out at home was also a challenge for me. I don’t know where to start or even find the motivation to. My partner, who I’m so thankful for adding this to my life, got me an Apple Watch as a gift. Now, I had no idea what it did at first, but when trying it out, I absolutely loved the workouts and training videos it came with. Within two months I started meeting my goals, and consistently working out everyday! Maybe this doesn’t work for you, but something else does. The important thing is, instead of wasting time and browsing on social media, I started building healthier habits and being consistent with them.
  • Think in more healthy ways. When you’re off social media, one thing is clear, you’re no longer competing with anyone but yourself. No one is your competition and no one is standing in your way of your success and accomplishments. You own your time and what you want to do with it, and you’re no longer held hostage to watching streams and streams of meaningless posts, and angry tirades of twitter threads go by without feeling some sort of insecurity or inadequacy. I noticed that my position moods now were not impacted by external factors of a reality that doesn’t exist within my own. And for that I’m thankful and blessed.

I wrote a post about writing like no one is reading a few months back, partly because our brains are so wired now to create content for others, rather than ourselves and what we care about. I find that the less I’m on social now, the more I have a clear vision about what I am interested in, and what I’m not.

I feel more in touch with myself, and who am I, and no longer care about social media engagement in all honesty. I hear entrepreneurs ask this sometimes: “How can I use instagram to get the word out about my product?” And while marketing is a real challenge for many entrepreneurs, if your business is only relying on IG advertising and stories, likely it won’t be sustainable in the long run.

One of the other reasons I decided to steer clear from Facebook apps and its affiliates, IG and WhatsApp, is their unapologetic support for hate speech, white supremacy, and racism without an end in sight or accountability on the impact this has on our communities’ and people’s lives. I refuse to support technology that is hate fuelled driven by profit first, not caring about people and their impact on politics, justice and the deterioration of democracy.

For our organization at Parkdale Centre, as a result, we decided to not use these platforms back in 2019 even though we had a lot of traction, and many entrepreneurs heard about our programs through them. It’s important for us that we stick with our mandate and walk the talk, we don’t just talk about equity and diversity, but we also don’t support platforms that support active hate speech and racism against our communities.

These decisions aren’t easy to make of course, but we understand that our work, focusing on equity and being driven by social justice as our mandate, needs us to do this sort of advocacy and activism. Yes, it’s until recently that my partner called it a form of activism that I’m choosing to accept as part of our core work’s reality.

As for my personal use of social media, I still check twitter once a day for a few minutes. I’m mindful of not scrolling for longer than 5 minutes, and not getting lost in the stream of other people’s consciousness for my own sake. One platform that I continue to use for work is LinkedIn, and even there I don’t check the timeline often because I’m noticing it’s becoming noisy, cluttered and quite frankly resembling a lot of facebook’s content (videos and meaningless polls). When I’m on there, I try to be deliberate and intentional about my time, and how I’m spending it.

For the new year, I’d like to continue this momentum and think about more healthy ways to trim some of the excess online usage that takes away from our time to do the things we love. I’m still guilty of watching tv shows in the evenings, and do feel like I could do that a bit less, but I have to admit, I’m not ready to do away with it just yet.

How are you looking forward to taking back your time in the new year?

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