For about three years I was active on major social media platforms, regularly Snapchatting with my friends and perusing Instagram. I had practically begged my parents to allow me to create these accounts, feeling left out when all my friends would scroll through a seemingly endless world of entertainment, secrets, and connection at slumber parties, leaving me to look over their shoulders and peek through the keyhole of the vast room that is social media. But three years later, with a tremendous amount of anxiety and 1500 miles away from the only home I’d ever known, I made the decision to delete all my accounts and reboot my life.
The summer after my sophomore year of high school, I moved from my hometown in Kansas to a sleepy beach town on the shore of Florida, leaving my close, albeit tumultuous, relationships behind. Friendships I’d relied on since middle school and the familiar faces of my old life were kept alive on social media after I left, but also contributed to a toxicity I felt each day. Bullies and superficiality seemed to permeate more and more of my online presence, and contributed to the aching anxiety that followed me to Florida.
While my accounts felt like the only lingering strands that connected me between my obscurity at a new school in a new town and my old comforts, I nervously cut them one by one, plunging into anonymity.
The first thing you notice when you delete social media is the inescapable awkwardness of life. There is nothing to scroll through in elevators, no messages you can open to avoid making eye contact in a class where you don’t know anyone. You are forced to exist in the world without a buffer, when nearly everyone around you is participating in a web that you are no longer a part of. You must learn to become comfortable in your surroundings without a crutch of avoidance. As radical as it may sound, I needed to learn how to make eye contact with people I passed by again. In a matter of weeks, I discovered how to be bored, how to be uncomfortable, and how to be isolated.
No matter how positive the changes in my life after social media were, it is admittedly a life of relative isolation. The latest trends, slang, and viral posts were, and are still, completely foreign to me. It takes twice the effort to make friends or connect with acquaintances: “What’s your snap?” is a question that automatically establishes a barrier between my peers and me. It is sometimes difficult to overcome the mindset that social media and its nuances are completely arbitrary. To me, likes and followers are meaningless statistics determined by algorithms, but I understand that it is oftentimes necessary to empathize with these numbers.
But despite these dissuasions, living free of social media is one of the best decisions I’ve made, with positive impacts integrated into my mental health, relationships, and personal growth. Social media has a tendency to consume us. We base our self worth on likes and comments that realistically have no bearing on how we are truly received in real life. We compare the private, authentic person we really are to the airbrushed, interesting avatars of our peers and influencers broadcasted online.
“Evidence suggests that social media use is strongly associated with anxiety, loneliness and depression,” with 9 in 10 women expressing that they dislike the way they look, and links to overall life dissatisfaction.
After I deleted my accounts, the anxiety revolving around how I would be perceived online vanished and I felt significantly less social pressure. I became less performative, even in my real life, and my self-esteem drastically increased.
Social media is addictive, with studies showing that “the constant stream of retweets, likes, and shares from these sites have affected the brain’s reward area to trigger the same kind of chemical reaction as other drugs, such as cocaine.”
A large factor in my decision to delete my accounts was the sensation that I was not living mindfully. I felt as though I was drifting through my real life, more engaged in the organized chaos of social media. How often do you feel present anymore? After disengaging online, I found myself creating deeper and more authentic relationships with the people around me and I had greater satisfaction knowing that I was truly participating in my life, rather than cycling through apps.
People tend to be very surprised that I am not on social media. As an 18-year-old college student, I am a member of the perfect demographic for its influence. They tell me that they wish that they could do the same thing, for reasons usually revolving around the stress it causes or how they are beginning to understand its artificiality. When I ask them what’s stopping them, they tell me that it’s to keep in touch with old friends or that they fear loneliness. I do not believe that I have ever heard anyone justify their social media use by saying that they enjoy it without feeling obligated to use it.
If you are looking for a reason to delete social media, this is it. The relationships that are most important to you and the people who care about you the most will keep you in the loop. The time you spent scrolling through your accounts will have more potential, even if it is time spent just being present.
Deleting all your accounts may be radical, and I can appreciate the connection and entertainment that social media can offer. However, I urge you to consider how much pressure social media adds to your life and how much you really enjoy it. I encourage you to take a break, even for just a weekend, and reevaluate how you feel about it.
Social media is so heavily intertwined with our lives, especially as young people, that its complexities should be discussed and thought about. Remind yourself that your participation is a choice, not an obligation. We convince ourselves of the reasons why we are unalterably linked to this phenomenon, but it’s worth shifting your perspective to see that solutions to these reasons are attainable and even preferable.
Take a step back, and you may be surprised what you learn about yourself.