Until I created an Instagram account to depict my travels beginning in 2018, I had taken one year off social media. Many of my old personal accounts were offline for far longer than a year, and I had already fully deleted my news feed off Facebook and was barely using it before that. However, for simplicity’s sake, let’s talk about that one year...
It’s funny how you notice the way our conversations shift and change when social media comes into the mix. And by funny I mean… scary. Yeah, it’s mostly pretty scary. And it changed how I would use social media forever.
For those that follow my new accounts, they’ll notice that I strive for authenticity with my words (my captions are more of a journal than anything else), form genuine friendships with people I’ve now met in real life, and will regularly take a week or month off. I think the year off helped me understand how I ACTUALLY want to use my social media without just getting sucked in.
Because I was able to view social media from an outside perspective when I wasn’t using it, I try to carry over what I learned to the way I interact online today. And to save you having to go cold turkey to use your social media in a healthy way, I’m going to share those tips with you today!
A lot of these concepts are not exactly going to be ‘new’, but I think they’re still worth reflecting on anyway.
It goes without saying but… this is just my own personal experience! What works for me, or damages my own mental well-being, could be the opposite for you. 🙂 But hopefully, my reflections can help you consider your own social media use and what works well for you. Even if it’s different. 🙂
SOCIAL MEDIA MAKES PEOPLE THINK THEY KNOW MORE ABOUT YOUR LIFE THAN THEY ACTUALLY DO…
And I by ‘people’, I mean family and friends.
People tend to make many assumptions about somebody’s life through social media… EVEN when they see them regularly in real life. When I wasn’t using any platforms, I noticed that when personal questions were asked in a conversation. (Oh, how are you doing?’ or ‘Are you seeing someone?’), often someone would answer these questions on behalf of the individual. For example, telling someone they are doing well because they’ve seen pretty photos on Instagram, rather than waiting for their answer. An acquaintance once argued that my best friend loved her job just because she was smiling in a work photo on Instagram… even though I spoke to this friend regularly and knew she didn’t. Madness.
The average person is not as good a detective as they think they are. When you make an assumption about someone’s well-being from a photo, do you really have the psychological training and know-how to make that decision? I also noticed people preferred to consume information at face value than actively listen. For example, you could hint in a caption that you’re not doing well, but if the location looks pretty, that’s generally what people will detect. (Or if there’s food in the photo, no one can be sad AND eat food, right?)
So… how do we counteract this? Always take social media as it is; snippets of life in pixellated form and not life itself. And don’t use scrolling in social media as a means of checking in on people you know – just message and ask them how they are.
I’M MORE PRODUCTIVE WHEN I’M NOT ON SOCIAL MEDIA
In my year off social media, I worked like crazy and saved to go travelling. Having never been abroad much beforehand, this meant a LOT of research into both HOW to save for travelling but also…. how to travel! Haha.
Since creating my Instagram account, there was a point where I was spending more time on Instagram than on my blog – the latter of which I think is more satisfying overall. I guess it’s so easy to get hooked on the instant gratification haha. I took note that this was happening and ultimately decided I DIDN’T want to grow my social media, but rather wanted to continue using it for the community. This meant I had more energy left to put into this blog instead!
Although I have chronic insomnia, which happens whether I’m on social media or not, I do think the addictive nature of our networking apps affect our sleep. Read more about this and other tips for getting better sleep here.
I STOPPED HAVING FOMO…
As mentioned above, during the time off social media I was working really hard. I was very isolated and didn’t even want to spend money on transport to do anything free, so I just stayed in. Taking time off social media during this time helped me focus on what I was trying to do and not get distracted or feel left out.
Before I decided to travel, removing myself from social media also helped me focus on WHY I was feeling so down on my life, without comparing myself to others.
I learned that when I’m not doing very much, or feel isolated, sometimes it can be good to take time offline. At the moment I am living a similar lifestyle back to when I was saving for travel… I have only left my flat for anything other than work or the supermarket like once since May and before that, I was in lockdown. Seeing others get reunited with loved ones, and planning new trips, was highlighting how lonely I felt. But I know those people aren’t actually doing any better than I am! So rather than torturing myself, I’ve rationed back my time on socials even more.
I also try to be kinder myself and not compare my perceived lack of successes to others. Same issue? Check out my guide on practising self-compassion.
In the meantime, I’m still reaching out to my friends and people within the community to check in on how they’re doing – because I know they’re probably struggling too – just over DMs and not comments. (You can also mute people for a while if they’re doing something you’d love to do but Can’t… it’s a great solution to FOMO and you can just unmute them after. I did this for couples travelling in Aus and now NZ. Sorry guys, I do actually love ya.)
Research shows that being grateful for small, everyday moments has a better affect on our mind than mentally counting our blessings for ‘food’ and ‘holidays’ each night. Read more about how to effectively practise gratitude during hard times.
WE ARE LESS EXCITED FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S NEWS IF WE’VE ALREADY SEEN IT ONLINE
After a female colleague returned to work after a holiday, she had brought printed photos from her trip. ‘Oh that’s okay,’ my other colleagues said, ‘We already saw your photos on Facebook. Spain looked beautiful!’ The woman looked a little sad as she clearly wanted to tell us about her adventures. Her face lit up when I said ‘I’m not on Facebook, I’d love to see them!’ and spent time turning over each photo in my hands. My colleagues actually ended up also enjoying the printed photos and it was so personal to spend real time with them and listen to what she’d been up to.
Another time, myself and a group of friends caught up for the first time in years. One girl was about to tell us about her first boyfriend for the first time. Instead of letting her talk, everyone commented on the single photo they’d seen of the new couple on Facebook. The commentary was enthusiastic and kind, but also totally silenced my friend. I ended up finding nothing out about her new boyfriend, but only what the other girls thought about what he looked like in a single photo. And she did look a little dismayed about being steam-rolled.
This was the scariest part about taking a year off social media. Even best friends were less inclined to react or listen to someone’s real-life news in favour of responding to a Facebook photo.
I ALSO SOMETIMES DIDN’T FIND OUT IMPORTANT NEWS BECAUSE FRIENDS DIDN’T NOTICE I’D LEFT FACEBOOK
Also, even though it’s been years since I stopped using Facebook, this is STILL happening. People don’t notice you’ve deactivated it. I missed out on a friend’s engagement news until she brought it up casually in a message months later… she had no idea I’d not seen it.
I think it’s a good reminder that it’s so much more special to find out important news in an individual message than a public announcement mixed up with a whole lot of other people’s daily lives.
PEOPLE FOLLOW ACCOUNTS THAT DO NOT NOURISH THEIR BRAINS
I’m not talking about huge, potentially toxic influencers here, as it goes without saying that this probably isn’t the best media to consume.
I’m talking about those Facebook Newsfeeds which are jam-packed with decades-old acquaintances you no longer have any real connection with, or people follow every last friend-of-a-friend they met once on Instagram. Okay, so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re not a habitual scroller. But if you find it easy to get sucked down the virtual rabbit hole, following so many people means you’re concentrating a LOT of time on people you don’t have a real relationship with.
When I took a year off social media, I noticed how much less distracted I was with the lives of people I didn’t know any more. Learning about people’s engagements, holiday escapades or Nandos order had become less like Real Life updates and more like Gossip.
How to counteract this? Firstly, it’s totally okay to unfollow or mute people you’re no longer in touch with. There’s a point at which someone’s account goes from ‘your friend’s news’ to ‘a stranger’s gossip’. You don’t need to give your social media out to every last person you meet – and that goes for travellers too.
Personally, I would just follow someone I found genuinely interesting or had a connection with. For me, this helps me pay closer attention to how my close friends are doing, which I hope helps me be a better friend even though I’m very busy. As an introvert with issues regulating attention, it’s also less overwhelming.
(And that’s if I had a PERSONAL social media account at all. I went one step further and only gave away my travel Instagram to very close friends… and that was only after I’d been using it for months and worked out how I wanted to use it! We keep in touch over WhatsApp messages and barely interact on social media at all.)
That said, if you enjoy a busy and very social feed, go for it!
SOCIAL MEDIA IS, LIKE, SUPER NEEDY
Whether you’ve learned that Instagram stops showing your posts when you take a break or feel obligated to comment on every news event on Twitter with a pointed yet amusing remark, once social media has its claws in it will do everything it can to make you stay.
Whether this is the addictive qualities of gaining dopamine-friendly Likes or the habitual nature of scrolling as a distraction, it can be so hard to Put The Phone Down.
How to counteract this? As mentioned above, following fewer accounts will give you less to do on social media. Nowadays I enjoy following travellers, so follow a lot of people on Instagram… but have 0 friends on Facebook. Here’s why…
Decide what your purpose is on every social media account you use
After my year off social media, I made an Instagram account to share my travel journey. I decided to restart social media as I knew my solo adventure could be lonely at times, and I didn’t know any other travellers. By starting an account, I would be able to share my struggles and ask for advice from other like-minded people. None of my family knows about my blog or Instagram, though close friends do now follow the account as well as travellers.
I knew I DIDN’T want a Facebook account, but I also wanted to join some Facebook blogging groups. After about a year’s worth of consideration (really, a year!), I finally made a Facebook for groups ONLY. I have 0 friends on the account and follow four groups. This means whenever I go on Facebook I will only see useful information and can’t get addicted to scrolling as there’s not much on there!
I also have a Twitter which I don’t use very often, but go on when I have spare time and want to read some blog posts. I only follow travel bloggers so it’s a good way for me to support others, chat openly about their experiences, and share my own.
But perhaps more importantly…
RATION YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA TIME
Since Instagram is my biggest potential time-sucker, unless I am specifically posting a new photo, I’m only allowed to go on for ten minutes at a time. If I find myself going on accidentally/habitually, I immediately click off the app as soon as I catch myself doing it.
Whatever you choose to do, I do recommend making a decision to click OFF social media each time you find yourself habitually scrolling without the intention of actually interacting with someone. You could use that time to read a book, message one of your best mates or learn something new instead. Or just watch a movie, that’s cool too.
Want to be a digital minimalist? Read my top tips for declutting your virtual spaces.And read how I became a minimalist before it was cool fire by, erm, accidentally setting fire to my house.
SOCIAL MEDIA HAS MADE US FEEL ENTITLED TO OTHER PEOPLE’S TIME
Ever had someone follow-up just thirty-minutes after they sent your original message? Or complained someone hasn’t replied to you because you’ve seen they’ve read your message?
People may have many more urgent matters to attend to than replying to their messages in the middle of the day, or simply might be waiting till a more convenient time to reply. Personally, I prefer to wait until I can really pay attention to what the message is saying. Still, though, I’ve had people follow-up several times within a matter of hours when I haven’t been able to respond yet! Since I struggle with organisation and time management, it makes more sense for me to ‘batch reply’ to messages at the weekend, for example, so I don’t get too distracted from whatever task I have at hand. Plus, you know, I’m an introvert, which does extend to the virtual world.
This was something I was affected by even when I took a year off social media. I don’t know the way around this problem of entitlement when it comes to other people’s time – you also see it with people wanting next day deliveries and immediate action taken on customer complaints.
I guess my take away from this is just to be respectful of other people’s time. Not everything has to be immediate. Be mindful of their mental health and not too demanding.
PART TWO – REJOINING SOCIAL MEDIA
For the last section of this blog post, I will write about my experiences with social media since I rejoined in 2018 and my biggest struggle with it: authenticity.
Nope, nope, not other people being authentic, but other people having such high expectations that everything you post is an authentic summation of your entire life or mood that day. Even if you’re totally honest, and max out the 2200 character caption space (ha, so difficult), this is still not possible! People both call out fakers, which doesn’t affect my PERSONAL experience since I’m pretty open haha, but also read so much into everything you do.
And when people make assumptions about you based on their own perceptions or bad day, it can be very damaging for your mental health. Especially if that comes from people we need to be able to talk to.
If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, or negative thoughts as a result of using social media, please speak to your GP, a health profession, or – if that’s too scary – a friend you can trust.
SOCIAL MEDIA, ‘AUTHENTICITY’ AND MENTAL HEALTH
Although people say they want to see more real-life online… in my experience, this isn’t always true. When I wasn’t on social media, friends didn’t always know how I was feeling… but they were also less likely to make ASSUMPTIONS on how I was feeling. And no matter how honest you try to be, people still make those assumptions.
For this reason, I felt friends knew me better when I was OFF social media, even though I communicated with them less.
Since being on social media, one of two things happen quite a lot:
- I talk about my authentic, real-life experiences, including the negative parts, and they are disregarded entirely in favour of the images. Friends, or strangers, see holiday photos and will project an aspirational view on to you.
For example, I once had a friend message me saying she was glad I was having such an amount of time and how she was jealous. It was very sweet, but kinda obvious she’d not read the caption about my depression. I couldn’t help wondering how you could be jealous of depression haha.
The way around this? I mean, if you find it hard to separate social media from reality… don’t read your friends captions (no pressure, mine are super long, I get it) but instead ask ‘Hey, how is your trip going?’ before saying ‘Glad your trip is going well, I’m jealous’. Notice how one of those statements puts the attention on your friend’s experience, and the other is about you? Also… there’s a LOT of important personal things I’ll never put online as I’m sure is the case with everyone.
Travel is an extreme example, but I’ve seen these sort of comments on other people’s photos of restaurants, meetups, and even work and lockdown photos!
Haha another funny personal example is that so many long-term followers or even friends on my Instagram account randomly think I had a year long holiday ‘travelling around Australia’? And I have no idea where they even got this idea from haha. As in… people think I didn’t have a job and saw, like, the entire country… ahhhh. Someone even asked me why I skipped Uluru! Madness. I took zero weeks off work to travel in Australia and I feel like I made that so obvious haha. People just see the photos on Instagram…. but they are all from one of the two cities I lived in (or very nearby) and literally nowhere else haha.
I mean, I did spend a single week working outside of Sydney’s larger vicinity… but I didn’t even post photos from that time. So. I mean…. hehe as you can tell I’m very confused. Honestly guys, you won’t get believe the amount of times I’ve been asked if I enjoyed the 12 Apostles. Which I’ve never been to. It makes me chuckle because I just shared photos from when I had a full-time job in Melbourne. It’s not an offensive assumption of course and is kinda sweet… but also kinda weird hahaha. Like I don’t get where people got this from hahaha. Social media assumptions can be so strange.
People also currently think I’m road-tripping around New Zealand because I have ‘Auckland’ in my blog bio hehe. And that would also be super awkward since I can’t drive… and still got a full-time job folks, with no weekend trips planned – which is the way I want it to be since I need to take care to pay for doctors and save the rest. 🙂 And I feel very privileged that I can pay to take care of my health right now!
It’s just confusing to me when people say these things! Leave the deducing to detectives, eh? 😉
- I talk about my authentic, real-life experiences without complaint, just matter-of-factly (people WANT authenticity, right?)…
And someone gets randomly very annoyed because my caption didn’t preemptively speak to their experiences of having a far worse day/week/existence than I did
Again, I don’t find this offensive as I know people are also just trying to express an emotion here. My ‘off-guard’ reaction to such comments is more about my own sensitivities than the comments themselves being malicious.
It is worth noting that, well, how can you compare your entire situation to someone else’s single caption/photo? We can’t contain our entire lives into one post.
And also, by ‘worse off’ I mean… this sort of comment nearly ONLY ever comes from people who likely have the same (or even a more privileged background, if they grew up with three meals a day) than myself… I have many followers who I’m better off than, and I am very privileged. I talk about this a lot on across all my accounts.
I just want to show both sides, especially since I am a mental health account.
If we only talk about #gratitudes and in #yolo-style motivational speeches, this is going to get on someone’s nerves. If you talk about your real feelings, it will get on someone’s nerves.
My takeaway from this? JUST BE YOURSELF because you are always going to get on someone’s nerves haha. Be authentic. If you feel great, tell your story. If you had a bad day, tell your story. You can still do either of these things and recognise your privilege too.
It’s taken me a really long time to be okay with this downside of social media…. I think about how much simpler it was when I was entirely anonymous and no one knew what I was up to. And I miss it.
You know, I kinda wish I could both express myself… and be invisible. Haha.
But I also remember that even when I took one year off social media, my life was MORE inauthentic than it is today.
Yep, really. Here’s why:
Firstly, we already know that we’d speak differently towards our closest friend, boss, colleague, family, doctor and partner, right? So I don’t see anyone’s social media as not encompassing our ENTIRE life as inauthentic. Different audiences get different pieces off us… humans have adapted to different social groups for long before the internet! It’s in our nature I guess.
I’m definitely more authentic on my instagram than I am in a meeting with my boss, or the acquaintances I have here!
I also use social media to talk about the topics which consume my mind the most… like mental health! And standing up to intolerance!
I never reactivated my old personal accounts
When I left the UK, I’d SEEN how much social media can affect our opinion of even close friends’ lives and was very afraid of this happening. As much as possible, I only communicate with close friends with personal messages and not social media.
I feel really good about that.
Social media helped me find a COMMUNITY I was missing in real life
But now I’m BACK on social media, I use it to find like-minded people I would never have chatted to without it. I’m also getting a larger variety of perspectives from people of many nationalities, living in countries all over the world, and reminding me of our differences and similarities. I follow people who inspire me, connect with me, or who move me with their creative talents.
Creatively, social media has been a great way to get motivated by others. And, at its best, even lead me to collaborate with creators I am a huge fan of.
I try to funnel this into challenging myself and to inspire myself to follow a lifestyle that truly makes me happy, even as a single woman who didn’t expect my life to turn out this way! Nearing thirty (it’s so close now..!), it has been especially helpful to follow others who don’t have relationships, houses, careers or many savings… which is absolutely not to say that my real-life friends are anywhere close to having those things figured out. But I did find it hard to keep up with conversations sometimes when they were all chatting about their issues together. They do have many sadnesses and many issues. They are just different issues and perspectives.
I’m also talking more openly about my mental health challenges. After the response about talking about anxiety online was so positive, I was able to eventually tell my friends about my depression for the first time in twenty years.
In my time off social media, I was also not socialising much. I was lonely within my own country, even spending the full nine day Christmas break entirely alone, and felt very cut off. (That’s when I finally bought my one-way ticket though so it’s all good haha.) Now I’m back online, I have a group of people I can express myself to, even if it’s once a week or month, and have a real conversation at any time because… someone’s always awake when your community is international. Score!
Taking a break helped me understand what I was missing from my social life; a sense of community. Although there’s no hugs or shared meals in my new virtual platforms, when I ended my break, a community is exactly what I found.
So, I DIDN’T learn that social media is bad. But I did learn that it’s kinda crappy when you use it for anything than to be… social.
Social media takes us further away from our real life friends
But makes us closer to strangers
That’s my final takeaway. Use it for the community you don’t have in real life – whether that’s to talk about mental health or chat to people with similar interests.
And your real life community? Keep nourishing it in real life. (And I include phone calls or any direct, personal messages in that phrase.) Because that’s what makes those relationships DIFFERENT from chatting to a kind stranger. That’s what makes them special.
And over time, if you’re very lucky like me, someday those ‘comments to a kind stranger’ might one day become ‘personal messages to a friend’ too.
If you’re even luckier, you’re reading this thinking ‘Oo, my best mates and family fulfil me more than any stranger could… maybe I could give this ‘one year off social media’ thing a go?!’ In which case…