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Digital detoxing and the dark side of social media

by Zachary Cook September 18, 2018
Digital detoxing and the dark side of social media

One student’s account of the pressure to post and how they dealt with their anxiety

As a journalism student, social media plays a major role in my studies and my future career. With this in mind, I struggle to describe my relationship with social media; we’ve been through a lot these past years. There have been many highs followed by sickening lows, but ultimately, I always came back wanting more.

I appreciate the benefits and abilities that social media comes with. However, from time to time, I find myself lost in a whirlwind of anxiety caused by the pressure to conform to the “norm.” It is important to acknowledge that everybody has a unique experience when dealing with social media and anxiety.

For a long time, my anxiety stemmed from how others reacted to what I posted on social media. Instagram and Snapchat, specifically, were platforms that caused me to worry myself sick and over-analyze every detail. I would search for validation through likes and replies. When a post did not receive positive reactions from my followers, I would worry I was doing something wrong.

On Instagram in particular, I would over-analyze my photos, my captions and my decision to post each one in the first place. A 2017 study titled “#StatusofMind” by the Royal Society for Public Health and the Young Health Movement, a public health organization in the U.K., found that Instagram and Snapchat were the most detrimental platforms to young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

“Avoid certain filters unconditionally.” “Don’t use the #nofilter hashtag.” “Avoid the cliché.” These are just three examples from an article written by Narcity titled “The 20 unwritten rules of Instagram you should be following.” The idea that there are “rules” for social media is absurd. I think young people in particular are susceptible to following these rules and getting lost in social media.

I have gotten carried away with these unwritten rules. There were times when I would not post for months because of the societal pressure to adhere to a certain standard on social media—something completely out of character for me. It was during one of these times that I decided a digital detox would be in my best interest. The first time I stepped away from the digital world was in 2016. My anxiety towards social media had peaked, and temporarily deactivating my accounts seemed like the only solution.

I spent a week social-media free, focusing on myself and the people around me. During my digital detox, I no longer felt the pressure to update my social media. I became aware of how much time I used to spend on social media. I realized that it is a major distraction that can quickly become toxic if not used appropriately. As a generation that grew up in a digitalized world, constantly hearing adults tell us that our phones are a distraction is something we have learned to tune out.

I think the most important realization I came to was why I started posting on social media in the first place: for myself. After a week, I felt ready to log back on, but this time with a fresh mindset. It has been two years since my first digital detox. Whenever I begin to feel anxious again, I immediately detach myself from social media and take some time to reflect.

There is no doubt that social media use will not decline anytime soon, which makes it all the more important to learn how to balance it and our well-being. I am still learning how to do that myself, and I believe digital detoxes give me the chance to unplug and realign my priorities without giving up social media altogether.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin

 

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