Recently, I have seen a meme floating around that says something to the effect of, “We’re all stuck inside with our phones. If they’re not responding, it’s because they don’t want to.”
Yes, it’s true that people who are self-quarantined didn’t leave their phone at home while they were out skydiving or whatever. If someone doesn’t respond to you right away, there are only so many excuses they can make during a global pandemic when we’re all supposed to stay home.
But that doesn’t mean it’s about you. And the truth is, no one should have to make up excuses about not being available. It’s okay to be unavailable sometimes.
The Constant Pressure to Be Reachable
Technology has us more connected than ever, and in many ways, this is a blessing. We’re able to keep in touch with people from all chapters of our lives and befriend strangers who we never would have met otherwise. I have found so much joy in my online community during this time and am grateful that I can stay in touch with people who love me, especially because I live alone.
That being said, the fact that most everyone has a phone on them at all times has shifted the perspective of how often we should be reachable, and these days, more people may be trying to reach you. With more people looking to technology to connect, you may be receiving more text messages, video chat invites, and DMs than ever before. Even if that isn’t your experience, you may find yourself on social media more often for a sense of community.
Without boundaries, social media can become toxic to your wellbeing. A recent study published in Health Education & Behavior investigated the association between social media use and mental health. They looked at how participants used social media and how “emotionally connected” they were to it, as well as three health outcomes: social well-being, positive mental health, and self-rated health.
The study found that routine social media use was positively associated with all three of these health outcomes. However, emotional connection to social media was negatively associated with all three. This suggests that incorporating social media into your daily life could be beneficial for your mental health, but that is dependent on how much your use is guided by your emotions.
Social media can carry emotional weight at any time, and much more so now that COVID-19 has permeated every conversation. It’s more important than ever for us to respect that staying constantly connected may not be beneficial to our mental health, and that taking a step back from technology is a valid choice. In fact, it’s wise to prioritize unplugging right now, even if we feel guilty about it.
Balance Your Needs for Solitude and Connection
It might seem like solitude is the only thing in abundance right now, yet for many people, it’s hard to find. This is obviously the case for anyone who lives with other people, but it can be just as difficult if you live alone.
It’s natural to want to be present for everyone you care about in this time when we’re all struggling. As a result, you might be finding yourself in conversation way more often than you’re used to. I scheduled six different video chat dates my first week of self-quarantine, before realizing that socializing so much meant I wasn’t taking any time to take care of myself.
As an introvert, I would never normally schedule six social engagements in a week, but the panic of the pandemic got to me. It felt like it does when I go to the grocery store right now: I see empty shelves and anxious people and suddenly I am buying more than I normally would out of sheer panic. I hoarded social interaction in response to the scarcity of it.
Even though alone time is something that I have in abundance right now, it’s still something I need to prioritize. This is the time when I am able to really tune into my own needs. Now, I give myself permission to balance my social outlets with my solitude, even in this time of panic.
It’s Okay to Step Away
If you’re struggling with trying to balance the desire to connect with others and your need for space from social media, hold space for both. The most important thing is to be honest with yourself and others.
If you’re feeling disconnected from yourself, acknowledge that and let your loved ones know you need some time alone. If you don’t have the energy to video chat at the moment, let your friend know and schedule your call for later in the week. If you have been in the same room as your partner for three days straight, take a moment to step outside alone. Even if it’s a quick walk around the block without your phone (respecting social distancing guidelines, of course), you deserve some time to check in with yourself and clear your mind.
Needing time alone doesn’t make you selfish. When you prioritize meeting your own needs, you’re better able to show up for the people you love when they need you. An added bonus is that when you set boundaries, it gives the people around you permission to set boundaries too. In this difficult time, let’s take care of everyone by taking care of ourselves.