Around the time I got my first phone in high school, it seemed all I ever heard was the importance of taking breaks from it. Teachers coached us students to disconnect from social media and preached how psychologically devastating technology could be if we let it consume us.
For years I have seen articles urging me to take a break, to delete all my apps and turn off my phone, but what they never seem to understand is that it is not that easy.
Social media and smartphones are so deeply ingrained into professional culture now. Group chats and messaging apps are used to communicate with employers and coworkers, and social media provides an invaluable tool for networking.
Ellie Howard, creative director for Sapper Consulting, in St. Louis said this challenge presents itself in the modern workplace.
“The truth is, social media has become both work and recreation for many of us,” Howard said in a 2020 blog post for Social Media Explorer. “Even when you’re not working to build a following or promote your brand, you’re scanning content on Instagram or messaging friends through Snapchat. I’ve even run into situations where I’ve had to use social media, like communicating with an organization that was only on Facebook.”
As a student journalist, I have faced similar situations. Often, I use Twitter to conduct interviews, and I will use Instagram later to promote this very article. If I step away from either platform, I feel as though I am neglecting my work and risking the quality of content I create.
Still, the benefits of distancing from social media and technology cannot be ignored.
According to HelpGuide, a non-profit dedicated to mental health education and support, there are many possible negative effects of overexposure to social media, including feelings of inadequacy about one's appearance or lifestyle, an increased feeling of loneliness and avoidance of social interaction, which can exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“Your social media use may be problematic if it causes you to neglect face-to-face relationships, distracts you from work or school, or leaves you feeling envious, angry, or depressed,” HelpGuide states. “Similarly, if you’re motivated to use social media just because you’re bored or lonely, or want to post something to make others jealous or upset, it may be time to reassess your social media habits.”
Personally, I began considering I needed to distance myself from my phone and social media when I first noticed that the symptoms of my anxiety became nearly unbearable anytime I tried to ignore the sound of a notification or walk into a separate room from my phone. I was worried I was missing something crucial and felt deleting any of my apps simply wasn’t an option for me. I had to stay connected. I had to be available. I had to be there for the people who may need me, but I knew I couldn’t go on.
My mistake here was assuming that when it comes to taking breaks from social media, it is all or nothing.
Physician and clinical writer Kristin Fuller suggests tactics such as putting your phone out of sight for periods of time throughout the day and having phone free zones within your home in an article for Psychology Today. Another suggested method is tracking social media use and setting limits. Many phones enable users to track app usage and even set timers for different apps; this can be incredibly helpful when utilized to reduce social media exposure.
I have recently managed the time I spend on my phone through periodically turning it off. For an hour or two at a time, I will allow myself to shut off my phone. Then, at the end of the period, I will turn it back on to give myself a few minutes to check notifications before turning it back off. This allows me to reduce my fear that I am missing important messages while still taking time to focus on things outside of my digital world.
In a post-digital revolution world, it feels impossible to distance ourselves from social media, but it is possible. At this point, it’s said so much it sounds like a cliche, but it’s a cliche very much worth repeating: take a break.
Follow Lillian Durr on Twitter, @weird_wondurr
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