By Natalee Desotell
Many of us who keep up with several social media sites have the same strange habits: checking out the new Snapchat stories, posting something to Instagram, popping onto Facebook for a spell, scrolling down your Twitter feed, and then circling back to Snapchat to see what’s new. I’ve even been guilty of looking at Twitter on my laptop, then picking up my phone at the same time to go on — you guessed it — Twitter. What am I thinking?
The problem is, I’m not. Earlier this year, I realized it had become second nature to cycle through all these social media platforms almost as if on autopilot. I get antsy in general when I’m sitting around, and having an endless stream of information and notifications at my fingertips didn’t help.
Although a social media addiction is generally pretty benign (actually addiction may be too strong a word), it was causing some issues in my life.
First, I realized the social media cycling habit was happening when I was supposed to be studying. It was as though I would reward myself with 15 minutes of social media for every 15 minutes with my head in the books without even thinking about it. It wasn’t an efficient way to learn.
Over the course of those weeks, I continued to reach for my phone all the time. It was almost scary how much I reached for it and tried to look at Instagram or Twitter before realizing the apps weren’t there anymore.
Also, when I would sit down with my husband to watch some of our favorite shows, I would rarely pay attention because I was too consumed with my phone. Of course not watching TV is hardly a negative most of the time, but TV used to be quality time for us and we’d have conversations about what was happening on the show. I couldn’t engage in those conversations anymore because I had no idea what was going on with our favorite characters. But, hey, I could tell him what Snoop Dogg was up to on Instagram.
I also started to feel like it was taking a toll on my mental health. As many articles have said before, people generally only post positive things about their lives on social media: vacations to Spain, successes at work, etc. Nothing against those posts, but it can lead to some envy and major FOMO. By comparison to most people on social media, my life was looking pretty dull.
I realized it was time for a change, so I let my social media accounts fall silent while I logged out for a few weeks.
The biggest culprit was my phone, so I deleted all social media apps from it (except Snapchat because it’s the only way my 15 year old sister communicates with me).
Over the course of those weeks, I continued to reach for my phone all the time. It was almost scary how much I reached for it and tried to look at Instagram or Twitter before realizing the apps weren’t there anymore. It highlighted how much I wasn’t thinking when I would go on them.
Eventually, I quit reaching for those apps and even started to enjoy the fact that they weren’t there, which even led to using my one remaining app, Snapchat, a whole lot less. I was able to focus on my homework a little better and at least had some semblance of what was happening on House of Cards.
Realistically, though, a total social media blackout was not going to work forever. My friends and family were used to being able to contact me in several ways, plus I never had anything against social media in general – I just wanted to use it more purposefully and at more appropriate times.
When it was time for my inevitable return to social media, I was careful to make sure the mindless cycling wouldn’t happen again.
First of all, like I said previously, I wanted to use social media with some sort of purpose in mind. No more scrolling Facebook and reading each and every banal post (sorry friends and fam), no more watching all of DJ Khaled’s daily Snapchats (because do I really care? Did I ever?).
Now, I try to limit my social media usage to what matters, including reading posts that are genuinely entertaining of course.Keeping up with the bigger picture news like engagements and births is good, reading every meme that crosses my path is not-so-good. Watching a few snap stories is fun, but sitting through DJ Khaled’s endless tirades? Actually not that fun when I thought about it.
After coming back to social media, I also edited my settings so I’d get fewer notifications. I don’t know about ya’ll, but when I would get several notifications, I felt like it was an obligation to go check them out as soon as I saw them. It drove me nuts to have little numbers on all my apps, so while the goal was often to get rid of the notifications, I ended up spending a bunch of time on each app because I was there anyway.
I probably should have done this long ago, but it’s great to only receive notifications for things I’m usually interested in. I’m not sure why Facebook ever thought it was important to start notifying us each time a friend has a birthday – but believe me, I’ll know when there’s a birthday I care about! And what was with Twitter sending an update when one person I follow retweets from another person? Does anyone care about that?
Another habit I’ve developed lately is leaving my phone in another room. When I get home from work or class, I’ll leave my phone in my purse for a few hours (sometimes all night) and barely miss it. Of course, I miss texts and emails that way, but it feels good to be away from those too so I can focus on homework or actually watch a show I love.
It has now been a few months since my initial social media hiatus, and with all of these new changes in place, I tend to spend more of my time on what matters to me. It’s way better than reading the comments on Snoop Dogg’s Instagrams, that’s for sure.
Natalee Desotell graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013 with a triple major in Political Science, International Politics & Economics, Languages & Cultures of Asia, and a minor in Global Public Health.
This post was originally published on GenTwenty.