Life Without Social Media: Expectations vs Reality
Last week, I received a letter from my friend. It was the traditional one – a few densely written pages, full of reflections and stories, and with some words too scrawled to recognize. I could feel like I was talking with my friend during reading: I laughed at his jokes and felt sad about his troubles. I nearly heard his voice in my head. I reflected on how it was great we could close the long distance between us by sharing our thoughts in a letter.
There was a stamp on the envelope, a postmark on the stamp, and a date on the postmark – the letter went to me all week. I checked the date of the letter inside, and it was written even a week earlier. Isn’t it a time machine? He wrote it in a different place and at a different time, and now, while sitting in my home, I can share his feelings and “see” what he described to me.
But it got me thinking. Indeed, the way we interact in today’s world is quite different.
Social Media Effect: How using social media affects our relationships and mental health
Can you imagine waiting for a whole week to know how your loved ones are doing? In the case of my letter, it was a unique fad, not an everyday occurrence, because, daily, I use social media to stay in touch with my friends and family. Indeed, thanks to social media platforms, we can be immediately updated on what’s going on in others’ lives. This face-paced reality is the one we got used to. The connections are quick and on the fingertips.
Is it wrong for our relationships? In fact, social media aren't bad themselves. According to Margaret E. Morris, clinical psychologist and author of Left to Our Own Devices: Outsmarting Smart Technology to Reclaim Our Relationships, Health, and Focus, it depends on how we use technology. Sometimes it can even bring value to the partnership - for example, some people can communicate better by texting during an argument.
But – not all of us use technology appropriately. The constant barrage of information, fake social media images, and pressure to be on time affect our physical and mental health.
Some recent studies reveal harmful social media effects:
- According to a 2021 study, excessive Instagram usage was associated with reduced relationship satisfaction and increased conflict. That resulted in a vicious circle – negative feelings led to the addictive use of Instagram.
- The survey of 300 participants (identified as females aged 17–29 years) found that more than half (59%) reported that social media usage negatively impacted their relationships and friendships while hindering face-to-face communication.
- Another study linked social media use to sleep disruptions and delays. At the same time, low sleep quality can result in memory loss and depression.
- In 2017 Canadian research, frequent users of social media (more than 2 hours) rated their mental health as poor more often than infrequent users.
After reading these survey results, some people feel the unstoppable urge to delete their Instagram account, crash their phone or kick out their laptop. Frankly, it isn’t a bad idea. The latest research shows that cutting back on social media for just one week can improve well-being and reduce depression and anxiety symptoms in individuals. But even without this evidence, people are choosing to try digital detox – a time to avoid using digital devices to rejuvenate themselves and reverse the damaging effects mentioned above. It’s also a way to self-development or become more mindful in everyday life. This challenge involves giving up social media for a while.
It’s not the easy way, especially when living in a culture that doesn’t support it. Perceptions and expectations do not always line up with reality. A confrontation between faulty assumptions and reality may discourage you from this challenge. So today, I’d like to dispel some myths by sharing with you my own experience. I lived for four months without any social media. After I soaked it up again, I also began to ‘detoxify’ regularly for shorter periods. It has equipped me with a variety of experiences.
Below you’ll find my thoughts on 3 the most popular expectations about life without social media:
- I will become more mindful
- I will lose contact with friends
- The detox needs to last at least a week to work
Are they true? How do we address challenges?
Let’s debunk myths and find practical solutions!
Social Media Detox: Expectations vs Reality
I will become more mindful
True or false?
Yes, it's true, but it doesn't happen immediately. In the beginning, you may feel awful anxiety. It happens because suddenly, you lack the social stimulus you receive daily. In other words, it's a new situation you aren't adjusted to. So, like all other changes, it may hurt at the beginning. But then, as your mind will be more and more relieved, you will discover you can think more clearly, become calmer, and more attentive to the world around you.
How to deal with it?
While you can't avoid all inconveniences, there are some lifehacks to make that initial time more bearable. My best strategy was to plan an activity ahead of time. I opted for biking, meeting with friends, or reading a book, but I encourage you to find something you enjoy and schedule for the beginning hours of your social media detox. In this way, you'll distract yourself from thinking about your challenge, making it easier to cope with possible anxiety. If it helps you, you can also try meditation. Over time, you will become more and more weaned from constantly checking social media platforms so you can reach a state of mindfulness more quickly.
I will lose contact with friends
True or false?
It’s not true. I’ll tell you even more - your relationships may become stronger! You don’t need to follow your friends on Instagram to stay connected. Instead of it, you can just ask them directly about what is going on in their lives, and it will provide you with much more insight than pictures and reels. Similarly, even if messenger apps are not the most convenient way to get in touch with people, mobile phones still aren’t outdated. What about a phone call instead of online chatting? Talking provides much more satisfaction than writing! Hearing someone’s voice makes us feel closer to them, and we can react immediately. (We don’t live in the metaverse yet!)
My social media detox taught me that long conversation is more rewarding than frequent short chatting. When talking on the phone, I can give my full attention to the person I’m talking with, while online messengers are used meanwhile. So talking makes me feel my conversation is much more meaningful.
How to deal with it?
Of course, your friends could feel confused if you would just vanish from social media suddenly. You can prepare them for it by telling them what you plan to do ahead of time and asking them to contact you via phone rather than online chat. Besides keeping them informed, you will probably get their support on your challenges.
The detox needs to last at least a week to work
True or false?
Not true. Let’s think about it: imagine you take a week without social media, but then, day by day, you come back to your old habits. And now, imagine you decided to take one day of social media break every week. For example, every Sunday, you ignore social media. But it can be even less than the whole day! What about scheduling 2h social media break before bedtime every day?
Indeed, those practices may be more effective than a one-shot because, in this way, you establish a habit. Day by day, it becomes part of your daily routine.
How to deal with it?
There are many strategies to make social media detox successful. Some people prefer to take on a big challenge - and they begin with the whole week without social media. Others start slightly and neglect their mobile devices for a few hours so they can test the effect, and if it works, they plan their next steps.
My suggestion? Try some options and find what fits your needs. But - whatever you’ll choose, remember to schedule it more than once. Even if the first try is unpleasant, give it a second chance because repetitions are the only way you can reap the full benefits.
Master Oogway, the character from the famous Kung Fu Panda movie, told – –
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it’s called the present.
Life without social media can be an enriching experience that helps to capture those moments and immerse yourself in the present.
I hope that my experience will help you in this challenge! So let’s debunk social media myths and make real connections great again. You need only a desire to change; everything necessary, you get inside yourself.
PS. Feel free to contact me at [email protected] to share your stories and reflections. I’d love to know if my article helped you somehow. Also, I’m always looking for new stories to cover!
Short bio: Karolina Zając, a writer at Passport Photo Online. With a background in cognitive science and communication, she is fascinated by how language influences our perception of reality. It’s more likely to find her in the forest than at the dance club.