I spent two weeks without signing in to my socialmedia accounts. At first, I was filled with anxiety and regret over deciding to take on this challenge; even one day without scrolling through my news feed felt like torture. But by the end of it, I had a profound realization: The problem is not with using social media; it’s how we use it. Social networking seems to get a bad rap. Studies suggest that it can have a negative impact on mental health, causing us to feel sad and lonely. But I’ve learned that if we all follow a few simple rules, we can navigate the murky waters of the social-media world and come out on top. Here are six key lessons I learned:
1. STOP COMPARING. A large part of my motivation for doing a digital detox was to escape from the non-stop barrage of happy narratives – people buying houses I could never afford, taking lavish European vacations, attending exclusive social events with their fancy, good-looking friends. The envy I felt as I read about everyone’s seemingly perfect lives was even more pronounced when I was stuck inside, dealing with the awful effects of cancer treatment. I wanted to kick and scream whenever people posted photos of themselves sitting on a beach. (Actually, I was jealous of pretty much anyone who was doing anything other than sitting with his or her head in a toilet.) It’s easy to feel inadequate when everyone uses the Internet to represent their ideal self. But that’s all it is: a representation, not reality.
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2. DON’T MEASURE YOUR WORTH IN LIKES AND STARS. One of the first panicked thoughts I had at the beginning of my social-media cleanse was “What if I lose all my followers?!” (@steph_rebecca and passmeanothercupcake.com) The thought of losing my “fans” and not being validated by people liking my posts initially filled me with dread. But after I returned to my networks, I saw that everyone was still there, liking and starring as they had before. And you know what I realized?
3. NONE OF IT MATTERS. The number of followers or retweets you have on Twitter has no bearing on who you are as a person. I feel much more satisfaction and happiness when someone pays me a genuine compliment in person than when I get a heart on an Instagram photo. And, honestly, years from now, when someone is writing your eulogy, do you think they’ll mention the number of Facebook friends or retweets you had as your greatest achievement? Most likely not.
4. UNFOLLOW AS NEEDED. Sometimes I find my body tensing when I see a status update about something political that I disagree with or someone complaining for the 10th day in a row about a mild case of sniffles that is ruining his or her life. Instead of dropping out entirely, you can take control by unfollowing/unsubscribing from the people and posts that upset you. Within moments of coming back online after my two-week detox, I saw what is commonly a triggering type of “share” for me: a photo of a young couple I barely know announcing their new baby and proclaiming parenthood to be “the best thing ever!” You might think that my aversion to such posts makes me a horrible person. But photos of new babies remind me that I can’t have one right now, and might never be able to, due to my cancer treatment. A happy moment in someone else’s life is an upsetting reminder of an empty hole in my own. So when I saw that photo of the happy couple and their shiny new baby, what did I do? Did I stare at it, obsess and have a meltdown? Nope. I clicked. Hide and unfollow. The parents still have their baby, and I get to keep my sanity. Everyone wins.
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5. EMBRACE CONNECTION. During my social-media break, I began to really miss the online community. I felt left out of conversations and behind on current issues. Watching award shows and episodes of The Bachelor without the witty commentary of Twitter made those experiences less enjoyable. I missed out on important moments in friends’ and family members’ lives – not being notified of engagements, birthdays, new jobs and other milestones. I also missed my “cancer friends” – other young adults I’ve met on social media who are dealing with cancer and share in my experience. My time away made me appreciate the immense feeling of community I get from connecting with others.
6. TAKE A BREAK. As much as social media can be a good thing if you use it properly, it’s still a good idea to log out, power down and take a break from time to time. Not checking my phone incessantly for notifications allowed me to fully engage with what I was doing, whether it was waiting for a friend in a restaurant or riding the bus. There’s something to be said for not walking around with your eyes glued to a screen. (You’ll also find that you walk into fewer poles on the street – an added bonus.) So every once in a while, leave your phone at home, be in the moment and experience life outside of 140 characters. I promise you: If I can survive to tell the tale, you can too.
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