One of my biggest goals for 2020 is to finally commit to unplugging from social media.
I, like many others, have a complicated relationship with Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (no, I do not use Snapchat and I refuse to join Tik Tok for fear of upping my screen time even more). While the apps give me major social media fatigue, especially with devastating news stories and images constantly appearing on my feeds, I still can’t seem to break away from my phone, especially after a long, hard day when all I want to do is mindlessly scroll.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way; many of my friends, peers and individuals within my social networks have expressed their own issues with social media, too. Even celebrities are feeling social media’s negative effects, especially those who receive online hate on a regular basis.
Selena Gomez, the fifth most followed person on Instagram with a whopping 165 million followers, has taken breaks from the app several times, and recently revealed she plans on stepping back from IG again once the promotional work for her new album, Rare, is finished.
“I got back on [Instagram] because I was releasing music, but I just told my best friend Courtney [Lopez] yesterday, I’m going to have to take it off my phone again soon,” the 27-year-old songstress told Wall Street Journal. “[My friends] know I have an addictive personality, and [Instagram] can be unhealthy,” she added.
Gomez also explained why she previously quit social media in a new interview on New Music Daily with Zane Lowe.
“First off, there was a million things that I didn’t want to see. I would see them over and over and over again. Then I’m comparing…. You have FOMO. Everyone’s life looks amazing, and that happens to me, too. I’m like, ‘Well, what am I? I’m missing the plot here. Right? How come it’s so fun for everyone else?’” she said. “Then it just started getting dark. There were accounts that were dissecting me, down to my body, to my face, my features, choices I’ve made, telling stories, and it drove me crazy, because I honestly just wanted to be like, ‘None of you even know what you’re talking about,’ and it just destroyed me. So I stopped, and I tell every single person everything changed.”
Lizzo, a.k.a. the queen of 2019 who made us all feel good as hell, recently announced she would be quitting Twitter until further notice due to all the hatred she receives from Internet trolls.
“Yeah I can’t do this Twitter shit no more.. too many trolls,” she tweeted, adding, “I’ll be back when I feel like it.”
In response, Lizzo took to Instagram Live to talk about how online comments have affected her mental health.
“I be waking up feeling bad as hell, I be waking up in my feelings. And I know that my mental [health], my emotional health, and my social health already affects me in positive and negative ways. But you add the internet to that shit, boy; the internet will have you depressed as fuck,” she said.
“I don’t even think it’s easy for someone like me to shut it off, who doesn’t have a clinical addiction to the internet. It ain’t easy. Shit is hard, bro. Deleting Twitter was the best,” she added.
Hailey Bieber (née Baldwin) also took to social media (ironic, we know) recently to speak about how painful it is to be “torn apart on the internet.”
“Instagram, Twitter etc. is SUCH a breeding ground for cruelty towards each other, and because people don’t take the time to connect with each other on an honest level before they resort to hatred, it starts to damage what could be really beautiful human interact and connection,” said the 23-year-old model on Instagram. “I could sit here all day and say the hate doesn’t bug me, that the words that are said don’t affect me. But NEWS FLASH: it hurts to be torn apart on the internet!!! It hurts to be compared to other human beings every single day, it hurts for people to jump to conclusions and make assumptions. It hurts to be called names, and to feel like you don’t measure up to a certain standard… the list goes on and on.”
And there are countless other celebrities who have taken much-needed breaks from social media, such as Ed Sheeran, Cardi B and Kelly Marie Tran, the latter of whom quit social media altogether due to the racist and misogynistic harassment she faced online.
But quitting does not have to be the only solution, and isn’t exactly realistic, according to many mental health professionals, especially when social media is a big part of one’s job.
Dr. Katy Kamkar, clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), says balance is key when using social media.
“Like any other mode of communication, we need to set a balance and use [social media] in such a way where we feel there is a healthy purpose, a sense of achievement and productivity and well-being,” she says. “It is when it feels it is moving towards the extreme end of continuum where we feel distressed and interference with our day to day functioning that we need to reassess its function and purpose and make proactive and healthy changes.”
It’s also important to note that social media isn’t necessarily bad. As Dr. Kristin Buhr, a psychologist with North Shore Stress & Anxiety Clinic in Vancouver, notes, how it affects you depends on how and why you use it.
For example, using social media to connect with friends and family may not be linked to poorer mental health, but using it to see how well others are doing or to compare yourself to others may be.
“Being more active, like posting, engaging and talking online, rather than being passive (just scrolling) on social media may have less negative effects,” she explains.
Dr. Buhr also says it’s also important to realize that social media use doesn’t effect everyone the same way.
“It would be an over-simplification to say that excessive social media use causes mental health problems, as lots of factors contribute to mental health issues. But, it may play a role, and as a result it’s worth looking at your social media use and how it may be affecting your mental health,” she says.
Personally, I’ve tried detoxing from social media in the past by deleting the apps from my phone and even temporarily suspending my Instagram account altogether, but as soon as I got back online, it was hard to limit my time there. And according to the a report by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), the difficulty of staying off social media is related to addiction. Research shows that high rates of social media use can lead to compulsive behaviours with symptoms similar to addictions to substances like drugs and alcohol ttwwhen the use is restricted or stopped.
Additionally, as the CMHA reports, research suggests that there are similar neurological responses between compulsive social network sites (SNS) use and addiction to substances. Researchers found that the reward centre of the brain was often more activated after receiving positive social media feedback, such as whether they received “likes” or comments on their posts. The changes in the participants’ brains that resulted from positive feedback on an SNS were similar to individuals who experience addiction to substances like drug or alcohol.
However, not all hope is lost. Both Dr. Kamkar and Dr. Buhr say there are ways to limit your social media use without going cold turkey. Below, some strategies on how to stay connected online without losing connections IRL.
Define social media’s purpose in your life
Dr. Kamkar says it’s important to define how social media is used in your life. Are you using it for education? Pleasure? Work? All of the above?
“There needs to be an individualized approach and being able to define the purpose and goal behind using social media [can] ensure we can optimize its benefits and minimize any risk or interference with our day-to-day-life,” says Dr. Kamkar.
Be strategic about how you use social media—and unfollow accounts that don’t serve your purpose
Dr. Buhr notes it’s important to be clear about your intentions with social media. “Decide to use social media to connect or network, but not to evaluate or compare,” she suggests.
“It’s all about balance and being strategic,” says Dr. Buhr. “Limit the number of sites you use and unfollow people or things that don’t serve you in a positive way.”
Dr. Kamkar suggests using social media in ways that will maximize their benefits, and minimize the risk for additional stresses, worry or interference in your life. And as Dr. Buhr says, there are positive sides to social media, too, like helping you stay better connected to family and friends and helping you network and stay informed. She also says social media can provide a means of support and a sense of community, especially for people who may be isolated or marginalized.
Schedule times to go on and offline
Dr. Buhr suggests deciding ahead of time when and where you will use social media and when and where you won’t (for example, not using it at dinnertime and in bed), and set limits for how much time you do you it; tracking usage and having a daily max and sticking to it can help.
To prevent you from aimlessly picking up your phone and using social media when you’re bored, Dr. Buhr says to consider leaving your phone in a set spot at home rather than having it with you all the time.
While scheduling time to be on and offline, Dr. Buhr suggests experimenting with your daily usage and tracking whether reducing the amount of time you spend on social media per day has a positive impact on your mood. She also stresses the importance of having set times every day to be completely unplugged, which means turning off notifications, putting your phone away and being present in the moment.
Dr. Kamkar notes that when scheduling, it’s important to be flexible, as stressors and priorities might change over time and thus any time you had set for social media might also have to change.
Make time for self-care
Both Dr. Buhr and Dr. Kamkar stress the importance of making time for self-care in your routine.
“Make sure you balance social media use with activities that promote mental health,” says Dr. Buhr. “Make time for healthy eating, exercise, sleep, self-care, face-to-face time with friends and family, getting out in nature, engaging in mindfulness/meditation, etc.”
Dr. Kamkar says this is especially important prior to bedtime. “You might need to set a time as to the latest time you can engage in social media to ensure there is limited interference with the quality of your sleep,” she says.
Have a list of alternate activities to engage in instead of social media
To avoid the temptation of going on your phone and mindlessly scrolling, Dr. Buhr suggests making a list of activities (that don’t include checking social media) that you can do when you need a break or want to do something that requires less though. This could include reading a good book, listening to music, drawing, or colouring.
As for me, I plan on putting all of these into place and really start enjoying time with loved ones IRL. As Mrs. Bieber said, “Let’s all connect more in 2020.”