One of the most common phobias in this era is FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out. I came across this term years ago when I did not completely understand it. But soon I did because, well, by then I was using social media on a daily basis, too. The number of platforms is just increasing and the more you engage with them, the more you fear missing out.
Not long after, or maybe it was longer than I liked, I found that I missed the days without a proper internet connection and when social networking was just a fresh concept or rather, nonexistent. My reasons were multiple.
For one, I felt overwhelmed and overworked. Secondly, I did less. Thirdly, I realized I was constantly distracted by the attention I expected for what I shared over all the platforms I used. Lastly, I realized it just went round and round. The more you gave, the more you got. The more backs you scratched, the more people scratched back for you. The more you liked, commented, shared, the more you became likely to receive the same.
And what did this take away from me?
My time. Irreversible, ephemeral time.
When my dreams and passion got ahead of me and I steeped into a state of dissatisfaction at not doing enough, I started wondering where things began going wrong. What was different now from the time I wrote a lot, read a lot and stayed content?
Screens. Digital screens.
And I was just a moderate user. So imagine the effects on an addict.
I decided to begin a Digital Detox because my second novel was stranded and beckoning to be completed. It was high time I made efforts to be prolific and that required me to be consistent. I was constantly irritated because things were not getting done and I discovered that the one major change since my first novel which I could give up or compromise on was digital time. Other major changes included life changes like marriage, motherhood and family life. But they are not things you slice off your life.
So, one fine day, I just logged off Facebook. I did not log out of Instagram because I was not very active on it and it did not make a difference.
I went on a social media (Facebook) sabbatical for 7 months.
Now, there are people who never signed up in the first place and I know seven months is nothing compared to that. But that’s not my case. I am a published author and constantly trying to grow my author page organically. I had a slow but consistent and permanent growth of following through patience and perseverance and staying away would sabotage that.
So, 7 months is not bad at all.
It worked miracles, to say the least. I returned (I had to) happy, composed and most of all, de-addicted. A digital detox improved my mental health and life considerably and I am listing all the ways it did below.
#1: Better prioritizing
Life is easier when your priorities are placed right. It fixes a lot of things. When I stayed off social media, I had more time to rethink and re-prioritize matters. For once, posting my content on social media platforms, waiting for their notifications and responding to the engagements over it was out of my way and that rearranged other activities in a day. I was able to see that in the depth of my heart, I wished to do other things more. Things that were truly important to me. I wished to write more than post about writing. I wished to spend more time with real people than with virtual contacts. I wished to be able to give quality time to many little things I was supposed to do.
The digital detox allowed me to prioritize in a better way. Well-placed priorities are the stepping stone to productivity and contentment. I decided to work diligently on my work-in-progress and I was able to stick to the decision.
#2: Improved focus and productivity
It is not a secret that social media poses a pretty competitive distraction. Even if you turn off your notifications or silence your phone, that internal urge that makes your fingers tremble in anticipation to pick up the phone and tap open the Facebook or Instagram apps is not uncommon. It is also a very strong urge that few people know how to resist it. The proof is the millions of people found online at the same hour, every hour of the day, regardless of the time zone.
What has been different in your life before and after joining Facebook or Instagram? When you honestly think of it, there is only one thing that has changed — how much you do what you should do. The rising use of social media has hampered our focus and passion to a great extent. There is no productivity without focus and passion. Being constantly aware of a reminder at the back of the mind to check your notifications undoubtedly makes you do it. And consequently, you spend the time you would be writing or reading offline in endless scrolling.
For writers, continuous checking of how many people liked your writing or commented under your post would be a pretty addictive pursuit. I broke away from it. I learned to forget about it. I learned to not scroll endlessly by keeping off the feeds for 7 months. I developed some sharp focusing ability once I ditched social media. There were days I wrote 5000 words in my novel. It’s not a miracle. It’s basic common sense that focus improves when distractions are blocked out.
#3: Less give and take of unwanted attention
Unwanted attention and communication along with porous boundaries are a common side-effect of social networking. There are a wide variety of people on all platforms with many different kinds of intentions. Let’s acknowledge the fact that not everybody who likes or comments on your posts/writing/pictures are admiring your exceptional creativity. Not everybody out there is happy about your achievements. Not everybody out there is interested in your work, more than in you, for obvious reasons.
Staying off social media is an easy way out of unwanted attention. Unwanted attention can make you vulnerable to hurt and being manipulated, resulting in serious complications in your personal life. Unwanted associations are like parasites, draining us of our spirit and rendering us fatigued and used up without any advantages to us as persons. Not to mention how they make us lose control over our own lives.
Good relationships always add to our energy, give us more strength, and more mental stability. Whether online or offline, good associations help us thrive and they do not waver or fade away when you are not around.
Being off social media for a while helped me to distinguish between the good and the bad among my associations. It helped me ward off unwanted parasites from my life that did not leave me with much choice.
#4: More contentment
Contentment is at once easy and hard to achieve. When you live following your heart and doing what you like while also accepting things and people as they are without compromising on who you are, you become content. That’s a simple but not-so-easy formula. We cannot please everybody. We cannot even please ourselves all the time. It’s a hard fact.
No social media meant less people to check on, less people to please, less critical judgments to face, a lesser focus on what others think, less unwanted challenges, and less displeasure to accept. These shortages are in and of themselves a recipe for contentment. Further, as I already mentioned above, the improved focus and productivity and the lack of unwanted attention and associations, contribute largely to being content with oneself.
There is also a drastic drop in being exposed to other people’s lives which will make us constantly evaluate and compare our own lives with theirs. People almost always share only the good parts, the good news, their successes and joys on social media. Seldom or never does anybody talk about their failures, disappointments or battles in the fear of being judged. We forget to look behind those glittery filters and facades and assume everyone except us is happy with their lives.
I became free of many ideas of happiness and unrealistic expectations of life during the digital detox.
#5: Less Depression and Mental Irritability
While Facebook and other social media networking platforms have many uses in business, creative pursuits, creating awareness, bringing people together for great causes, etc., the prolonged use of Social Networking Sites (SNS) and deterioration of mental health has been linked by many researchers.
An article, Online Social Networking and Mental Health in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking elaborates on how SNS may be associated with a decline in mental health:
“One of the reasons why time spent on SNS may be associated with depressive symptoms is the fact that computer-mediated communication may lead to the altered (and often wrong) impression of the physical and personality traits of other users. This may lead to incorrect conclusions regarding physical appearance, educational level, intelligence, moral integrity, as well as many other characteristics of online friends.”
The article further explores the role of Social Media and SNS on poor self-esteem, narcissistic behaviors, anxiety, and online networking addiction. SNS addictions can be as grave as substance abuse and can cause withdrawal symptoms just as much.
Research and studies aside, I personally felt less irritable, and more composed and calm from within when the burden of checking social media notifications was lifted off me. My depressive symptoms also improved. Yes, let me be honest about it. I have been and still do get bouts of moderate depressive phases. A lot of it resulted from my health condition (PCOS) and I realized even that improved considerably.
The reasons are directly and indirectly related to digital detox. Aside from the direct impact of social networking on mental health, it’s only natural that more mental clarity, focus, and consequent productivity, as well as personal successes, will boost endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine in our brain, helping us come out of depression.
What happened after the digital detox?
I came back, but with a heavy reluctance.
I was almost addicted to being away from social networking and the serenity and balance it offered. I came back because like all authors, I, too, had a platform to build, books to sell and stories to tell. But my return was different.
I was de-addicted from FOMO (fear of missing out), scrolling, likes, and comments. I learned to forget about checking the notifications every now and then. I learned to not measure my success as a person and a writer by my social media performance. I stopped sharing so much personal information, whereabouts, and personal/family pictures online. I limited blasting my moments in others’ faces so that I do not render anybody insecure or uncertain of themselves.
I no longer allow notifications from social networking sites. I do not chat with people online for the sake of chatting or just to get to know more people. There is only time and space for meaningful conversations and most of them are public. Is this because I don’t care about people? No. It’s because I care about my time, my work, my mental health, and my priorities a bit more than meeting lots of new people.
Now, my social media use is judicious, bordering on low engagement. Yes, my social media growth is very slow, but I am happy with that because I know it is organic and doesn’t drain me in the effort to grow.
From time to time, whenever my productivity is suffering, the first thing I do is log out of all social media apps and uninstall them if necessary. A week or two off of them helps me get my things together.
The digital detox has been one of the best rehabs and the only one I ever had.
Pantic I. (2014). Online social networking and mental health. Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking, 17(10), 652–657. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2014.0070