By Emily Rowell
It’s a Friday night and I’m sitting in bed, hair scraped up, scoffing a whole tub of Pringles whilst half-watching ‘YOU’ on Netflix. I say half-watching because how can I fully be paying attention to a show with my phone in hand, mindlessly scrolling through my Instagram feed that’s awashed with photos of suspiciously beautiful girls.
I tell myself that these girls have just used FaceTune and a good filter and try and not let it get to me. But it does from time to time. We are all guilty of being too harsh on ourselves. It’s all too easy to forget that Instagram is not real life.
People post their best moments. Why do you think they have a profile feature called ‘highlights’ which allows you to save previous stories to your page? The dictionary literally says: “The highlights of an event, activity, or period of time are the most interesting or exciting parts of it”.
To my horror, I recently discovered a feature on my phone which lets you know your daily ‘screen time’ as well as the apps you use the most. I was not surprised to see Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter were the top offenders.
Some days I was spending over 10 hours on my phone, I didn’t see how this could even be possible. So, when offered to take an experimental week long break from using social media, I knew it may not be the challenge I wanted but it was the one I needed.
Admittedly, I was reluctant to start this challenge and that came from a seemingly egotistical place. We’ve all heard of the term FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), what if someone was trying to contact me? How will I keep up with the mindless gossip from my group chats? These were my initial feelings when I ditched social media, I would even stretch to saying I felt anxious knowing I couldn’t go on the restricted apps, it seemed impossible.
After the shock of going cold-turkey, I would describe the next stage as boredom. How do I fill the 10 hours a day that I would usually spend on my phone? But I soon discovered that this wasn’t actually that difficult. All it meant was that I became present in real life.
The 10 hours I previously spent on my phone were 10 hours where I was doing other things simultaneously; putting on a wash; cooking dinner; even talking to my flatmates, my phone was like an extra limb. Always there. You could say that it’s quite a skill being able to multitask to that extent. But it’s just a bad distraction, one that numbs your brain.
By this point, I had found ease in not using social media. I noticed when sitting with friends that I was the only one who didn’t whip out their phone within five minutes of being in each other’s company. Instead, I started reading a lot more, which is never a bad thing. I got more done each day and made better use of my time during this period of self-discovery.
I did see improvements in my mental health. Before, scrolling through Instagram would leave me feeling flat and insecure, as if I’m not good enough. My social media hiatus meant I could focus on myself and find fulfillment from something other than… a ‘like’.
Admittedly, the temptation to go on my phone was always there. After all, social media is not all bad, I love receiving Snapchats from friends that make me laugh and it’s one of the most convenient ways to keep up with friends all over the world. Furthermore, I get tons of fashion and cooking inspiration from Instagram. It’s about knowing where to draw the line. Often we may use our phones just to message one person but then half an hour later you find you’re still using it.
Since my experiment, I introduced social media back into my life and have managed to reduce my screen time to an average of 3.5 hours a day. While this figure is still above the government’s recommended daily screen time allowance, it is a personal best and proof that it’s not that difficult to reduce your screen time, you just have to change your habits.
A break from these, often times toxic, social media platforms is healthy and sometimes necessary. I would challenge all readers to scrutinise their screen time and make adjustments. If you are unwilling to take a break from social media then it’s probably a sign that you should!