Addison Rizer shares how disconnecting from social media allowed her to reconnect with herself.
I am a college student, am an aspiring writer, and was born in 1997. A lot of what I do with my time during the day has some connection to social media. That’s where I market myself — how I keep in touch with old high school friends, my uncle living in Michigan, and the guy I like. It’s the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do before bed. Every break at work, every minute between classes, even as I brush my teeth, I’m scrolling.
So, when I started seeing articles creep up about taking a break from social media, I scoffed at them. I thought, no way. How would I keep up with current events, friends, or even family?
This idea of taking a break, though, of shutting it all down — not permanently but for a little while — caught my attention. I analyzed when I was using social media and what purpose it was serving for me. It turned out that I was mainly using social media to distract myself from feeling anxious.
Maybe I wanted to write about something, but I wasn’t sure how. Maybe I wanted to reach out to someone, but I wasn’t sure she wanted to hear from me. Maybe I started thinking about what to do after graduation. There was a writing contest I wanted to enter, an upcoming assignment, a job interview, a meeting, a phone call, and more. Every time I felt inadequate, lonely, or worried, I turned to social media. It had become a diversion for all my emotions. I was no longer sitting with my thoughts; instead, I was removing them by blasting my brain with thousands and thousands of new sensory inputs. Why feel your emotions when you can overwhelm them?
So, on January 1st, I did what I thought I’d never do: I stopped going on social media. I deleted all of the apps from my phone, removed them from my bookmarks bar on my computer, and even deleted my search history so that when I, out of habit, typed face, a new search for facebook.com didn’t automatically generate. Clearly, this was a deterrent.
And sure, I might have messed up a few times. But I decided to forgive myself for returning to the habits I was trying to break. Instead, when I caught myself pulling up a website that was prohibited, I just took a moment. What was I feeling and why?
During the month of January, I wrote in a journal. I started a new writing project. I texted my uncle in Michigan all about my graduation plans. I read four books that I’d been meaning to read. I slept more, as I should have been doing all along after receiving a Lupus diagnosis, for which I refused to change my habits. I submitted several pieces of work to magazines, applied for internships, and started to watch a new TV show with my dad.
Most of all, I let myself feel things and process them. I was scared to write because I didn’t want to fail. I was scared to reach out to someone because I felt a distance growing between us. I wrote down my anxieties, and they felt easier to manage. I decided to write anyway—decided to reach out anyway. What was the worst that could happen?
So often, I want to be seen as perfect. Someone who always has her ish together. Part of that, I think, is how I perceive social media. Everyone is always doing something fun, looking her best, laughing. Everyone is always polished. But that’s not how you can be all the time. My writing won’t be as profound as the author on Twitter who just published his fifth novel. My friend and I will have some weird moments. But so what? The world doesn’t ever have to see those moments, or any.
Two weeks into April, I am back on social media, but not like I was before. My phone is still a social-media-free zone. I no longer bring my phone into bed with me, and I don’t check any notifications until after noon as a rule. I try to shut it down when I’m watching TV with my dad. Now, I resist the urge to look something up mid-conversation, and instead, I choose to let the conversation develop naturally, without finding all of the answers online.
After this break, I’m writing more, reading more, and connecting more than I ever had been. I even like myself more. I feel more confident. Funny, all of this happened after I disconnected.