If you post pictures on social media, you recognize the dopamine rush you receive when others "like" or comment on your post. While some may deny the existence of this phenomenon, research concludes otherwise, indicating most individuals react with excitement. According to a Pew Research Center survey, this rush in dopamine is one reason 70% of Americans utilized social media last year. This number has remained consistently high over a five-year period even while headline news was abuzz with stories detailing the negative effects of Facebook on teens’ mental health and the correlation of negative body image among young girls using Instagram.
Social media algorithms are designed to keep you coming back, and choosing to quit creates a difficult withdrawal process. This constitutes one of the primary reasons individuals do not quit, despite its contribution to negative body image, insomnia, elevated anxiety, and decreased productivity. Most of us don’t even recognize how addicted we’ve become until we attempt to stop using our social media platforms.
However, I am here to deliver good news; quitting social media is not only possible but it improves your overall mental health. While painful at first, this pain tends to fade quickly. Below, I have listed six areas of your emotional health that will improve upon your cessation of use. Looking forward to these health benefits will help motivate you to begin the withdrawal process.
1. You stop comparing yourself to others. You may discover an initial one-to-two-week period when you experience fear of missing out, but this will pass and transform into a new freedom of self-acceptance. You will lose your drive to compare your life to those of others and begin the process of self-awareness, engaging in activities that add value to your life and uplift you.
2. You feel greater gratitude to "real people" who reach out and connect with you. Once you recover from the recognition that many of your followers weren’t real friends, you will begin feeling more grateful for those who check in with you and desire to physically spend time with you. This raises self-confidence and restores a feeling of connection to a real community rather than a virtual, and sometimes hostile, one. You sense this realness on a deeper and psychologically healthier level.
3. You feel less anger. Real people do not devolve into Facebook rants or Twitter conflict. Social media amplifies anger and meanness, creating a caustic situation. Engaging with the virtual world often involves angry memes or insults to your posts. Your real-life neighbors and friends are more concerned with your life, family, and yard – and easier to get along with.
4. Your productivity increases. No one recognizes just how much of their time is consumed by innocent scrolling, routine checking of their accounts, and responses to posts – all of which intercept their work. You will enjoy significantly more time with less distraction without social media, and when you complete your work more quickly, you open up more time to congregate with good friends, sleep, workout, or other activities which increase the meaningfulness of your life.
5. You won’t receive as many birthday wishes, but those you do are meaningful. Social media amplifies your feeling of importance on your birthday or other special occasions. Strangers will offer wishes for a happy birthday and/or congratulations for life events. These well-wishes boost your endorphins, increasing your desire for more. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into this loop. Although their thoughts are wonderful, they lack the worth of real greetings you receive from people who truly know you and are present in your life – through good times and bad.
6. You gain perspective and self-awareness when disconnected from social media. Disconnecting from social media lowers your phone’s priority and allows you the time to engage with the world. You reflect upon experiences and notice the details of life lost when your head looked down at your phone. These recollections and changes in perspective enhance your emotional intelligence and connect you to yourself and others in new ways. The most important relationship you have is with yourself, and you cannot foster a healthy relationship with yourself when you allocate most of your time to appeasing your social media feed.
Life encompasses so much more than the contents of your social media feed. The fact that this feed is controlled by an algorithm with the explicit purpose of consuming more of your time illustrates your relinquishment of control to a virtual machine which lacks your best interests or goals at heart. Enjoy the photos of family and friends on social media, but do not lose your identity and values to an algorithm incapable of appreciating the many facets of you. Social media is a business – not a friend.