Things that happen when you delete social media

I take public transit to work because parking in downtown Portland is expensive. I always set an early alarm so I can have enough time to take a shower, eat breakfast, pack a lunch, and then get to the train station or bus stop. Sounds like a good morning routine…if that’s how it happened.

Instead, I grabbed my phone the moment I woke up, checked all of my social media for an hour, jumped out of bed, washed my face, sprayed down my hair, skipped breakfast, skipped public transit, and shelled out for parking (and lunch since I didn’t have time to pack it).

My bedtime routine wasn’t any better. I would read a book at bedtime, but after turning off the light and snuggling into my pillow, my phone would be in my hand. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t sleeping well or why I was so stressed.

Then, the answer came to me while I was, you guessed it, scrolling through social media.

“What if I just deleted the apps?”

We’re addicted to our phones because of social media; that’s a given. My phone addiction was because of two platforms: Instagram and Tumblr. So, if I wanted to end my dependence on these apps, I had to delete them off my phone.

And within a span of two weeks, awesome things happened.

Sleep was improved and waking was easier.

Research shows that blue light affects sleep by suppressing the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone) in our brain. Excessive scrolling through social media exposes you to this blue light, thereby making your brain more alert and leading you to have a restless sleep.

Limiting access to blue light 2 to 3 hours before bedtime will help your brain produce the melatonin it needs to relax and get ready for bed. You can do this by leaving your phone out of the bedroom or turn on its night setting that dims the screen and reduces blue light. Listen to soothing music or an audio book to help you relax so you can drift naturally into sleep.

I recently discovered binaural beats and I listen to them at bedtime, or I listen to guided meditations on Spotify. I’ve gone from sleeping 5 hours a night to 6.5 to 7 hours, and I feel refreshed both in body and mind. Those few hours have made a difference.

Focus and communication skills are better.

The Internet is a great way to connect with the rest of the world, but too much exposure to it, particularly to social media, can negatively affect the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) of our brain. The VTA releases dopamine when something pleasant happens in real time. However, the VTA of our brains can’t read physical signals through social media and often the stress response in the brain is triggered. The VTA cannot ‘think;’ it only reacts. This can lead to online disputes and trolling, and people will “waste hours online arguing about things they have no control over.”

Face-to-face conversations and phone calls have been replaced with texting and instant messaging. While these methods can be useful to network with people across the world, we are now opting to text our family members and close friends in lieu of a phone call. Parents even use tablets to keep their children entertained, however, when children have too much screen time, they miss out on proper face-to-face interaction that involves developmental skills such as recognizing vocal and visual cues associated with conversation. As they get older, children risk isolating themselves from their peers, missing out on events with family and friends to log onto social media.

We have become comfortable with interacting with online personas, and we prefer instant messaging over real life interaction.

I found I had trouble engaging in everyday conversation at work because I would log onto the Tumblr app and stay logged on throughout the day to check updates and to scroll my dashboard between tasks. The scrolling, however, would end up distracting me from starting the next task, and I even got annoyed when a co-worker interrupted my reblogging. I was digitally isolating myself from my work and my colleagues.

Since I’ve logged off, I now go for a walk or get coffee with a co-worker when I need a break. I don’t fill that time with the sensory overload my blog dashboard offered. My work load is less stressful and interaction with my colleagues has improved. I even participate more in our staff meetings.

There will be spare time again!

The average time spent by one person on social media is 2 hours and 22 minutes a day, with 16 to 24 year-olds spending as much as 3 hours a day. While social media is an excellent networking tool, addiction to it can become a distraction.

My distraction was Tumblr. I was reblogging on the train, on the bus, at lunch, while I visited my parents, and while I was out to dinner with my boyfriend. I was a Tumblr junkie. Whether I was bored or watching a documentary, I would lose myself to reblogging, and I would do this until it was time for bed (where I would get on Tumblr again).

After getting rid of the distraction, I have more time to work on projects that have been sitting in my procrastination pile (don’t laugh; we all have one). I find stillness in looking out the window of the bus to and from work instead of sharing the latest meme over and over. My creativity is no longer held back by an app, and I devote my free time to reading, learning a language, and of course my writing.

FOMO is BS.

FOMO (fear of missing out) is a side effect of social media addiction. We follow celebrities to see when their latest film or album will be dropping or where they went for their expensive vacation. But we don’t have to follow their accounts to know what they’re doing. There are countless magazines and publications loaded with current events regarding entertainment, lifestyle, literature, business, technology, and science.

FOMO can lead to a feeling of exclusion causing you to sink further into your social media addiction. Your friend went to Hawaii with their family and they’re having a blast. Your favorite action star just bought another car and posted it to their Instagram. Following people who seem to have it all can cause feelings of inadequacy, but you don’t need to have a jet-setting lifestyle or a gorgeous partner to feel valid because, chances are, those posts rarely show the whole picture.

Shankar Vedantam’s interview provides an example of why we shouldn’t trust what we see online. When Rachel Leonard had a difficult pregnancy, she felt that she shouldn’t voice her complaints or concerns on Facebook, so she posted cute pictures of her growing belly to show she loved being pregnant. She shared pictures of her ‘happy family’ even though her marriage was ending, and when she finally revealed her divorce, friends messaged her stating they were also separated from their spouses despite what their photos conveyed. Rachel had no idea that her friends were also keeping up appearance to look like they had the perfect family.

One month down, many more to go

I’m not anti-social media. It can be beneficial. I use LinkedIn and Twitter for networking and watch TED Talks, DIYs, and dog videos on YouTube. I left Facebook years ago, but I kept the Messenger app to keep in touch with my friends overseas.

I deleted my Tumblr and Instagram apps a month ago. The distraction is gone, and I can devote time to living my life, honing my creativity, and most importantly sharing real experiences with my loved ones.

Social media isn’t going anywhere, but we can control how we use it. Just remember that it’s okay to take a break but be advised: awesome things will happen.

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