Published on September 6th, 2016 | from CAMH

Give me a break… from social media

By Jennifer La Grassa, Placement Student in the Complex Mental Illness Program, Schizophrenia Division |

Shortly after my FoMO blog had been posted, a good friend of mine called me up to rant (and receive a diagnosis) about her potential FoMO. Although most of our discussion is lost to me now, one comment that she had made stuck.

“I could be learning a new language, spending time outside, re-igniting my passion for drawing, but instead, I stare at a screen.”

The average person spends about five hours a day on their mobile device, which adds up to be 35 hours a week, 6 days a month, and 72 days a year. For me, those five hours are taken up by Instagram, Snapchat, and (more recently) Pokémon Go. Let me put this into a more alarming perspective, 72 days of each year of my life are spent looking at pictures of people that I no longer talk to (or even people I don’t really know!), attempting to morph my face with that of a giraffe, and catching fictional pocket monsters. It was this realization that led me to quit social media and stop spending ridiculous amounts of time on my phone. Although this cleansing period only lasted for a week, it proved to be beneficial to my overall well-being.

Of course, like most cold turkey experiences, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. One incident in particular illustrated why I needed this break. I woke up one morning, still half asleep, thinking that I was scrolling through Instagram. Whether this was a sign of withdrawal or a sign that I was terrified of breaking my fast, it confirmed just how dependent I had become.

Being constantly connected made me feel as though I could never enjoy time alone. Within the first few days of my cleanse, I felt odd not knowing what other people my age were up to, and I wondered if anyone noticed my absence. Those friends who I interacted with daily on Snapchat noticed something was up when their snaps were left unopened, but other than that, I doubt anyone was wondering why I didn’t like their most recent picture. Instead of waking up and nodding off to sleep with my phone in my face, I started my days by looking at the sun through my blinds, and ended them by reading a good old-fashioned book.

After the initial shock wore off, I found that I was doing so much more with my extra time. Rather than looking at my phone in the morning car rides to work with my dad, we engaged in interesting conversations. I felt more productive during the work week and more physically present when spending time with my family and friends. Even watching TV became a whole new experience, as I didn’t spend the show following people’s reaction via twitter, nor did I scroll through Instagram during commercial breaks.

The fact that I had to physically delete the apps and force myself to take a break from these social mediums made me wonder exactly what it is that draws us to them. A study done at UCLA showed that the area of the brain that is usually active when an individual engages in rewarding behaviours (i.e. eating chocolate) is also activated when teenagers see a high number of likes on social media images that they have posted. When the reward circuitry in our brain is manipulated, the substances that allow us to feel good are enhanced, causing us to revisit the source of manipulation. This is the basis of addiction, and essentially forms the basis for excessive social media use.

Social media is easily accessible and appears not to cause any immediate harm, but like any other addiction, negative consequences are sure to arise. The University of Glasgow researched excessive social media use in teenagers and found that it led to depression, anxiety, lower self-esteem, and reduced sleep quality. For teens who logged on at night, their quality of sleep was especially poor, which effects a number of developmental processes. Although we could all benefit from setting a social media “bedtime”, parents may want to especially consider restricting their teens nighttime social media use in order to improve sleep quality and daily functioning.

To be clear, I’m not against social media, but I think we could all benefit from taking a break now and then. If I spend too much time on Instagram I find myself feeling down. I see people doing the things that I wish I had time for, and flaunting the bikini body that I’ve been trying to work towards. These feelings cause me to sympathize and be concerned for the generation of young adolescents; had Instagram been around during my phase of development, I definitely would have felt a lot more self-conscious about myself than I already did.

The ultimate take-away from my brief experiment is the reassurance that I’m more than my social media profiles. It’s important to remember that social media doesn’t define you, and that you are more than your next best caption or creative photo.

To anyone who is considering taking a break, don’t be afraid to take that plunge! It will help clear your mind and allow you to refocus on what is truly important in your life, and when you do go back, you’ll return with a refreshed sense of self-control.

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One Response to Give me a break… from social media

  1. Kevin Cheung says:

    I’m new to social media and just exploring the options and benefits of it. But having screen downtime is important. Being active and outside is vital for health and overall wellness. Hope people remember that.

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