My summer on a social media cleanse

The benefits of removing social media from your daily routine

For any millennial, the thought of giving up social media for any period of time most likely sends a chill down your spine thinking about the big news you could be missing without the ability to constantly scroll.
When preparing to go to Beijing this past summer, I worried about two things: my undying, irrational fear of being denied entry at customs despite having a valid Visa and not being able to get my hourly dose of social media. Both very real, critical concerns – to me, at least.
Before I discovered the existence of virtual private networks (VPN), I thought all foreigners living in China had no choice but to live without social media. In reality, they simply download a VPN onto their computer or phone to access many of the search engines, websites and social media channels blocked in the country. 
After doing considerable research, I made sure to download two free VPN apps onto my phone and one piece of software onto my computer before my departure. I refused to miss any opportunities to post travel pictures or stalk the summer adventures of my Facebook friends during my stay in China. 
The first thing I did after my lengthy plane ride without Internet was unlock my phone to check through Facebook. Sheer panic ran through me when it wouldn’t refresh. Neither would Snapchat, Instagram or Gmail. During my first few days in Beijing, I spent a considerable amount of my time relentlessly turning my VPNs on and off, hoping one of my social media apps would refresh. After a dozen unsuccessful attempts, I accepted my fate. I knew I had descended into a pit of despair where the light of social media could never reach. Thus began my month and a half of an involuntary social media cleanse. 
After angrily deleting all my useless VPNs, I was faced with life, even if only for a few weeks. This was a difficult and uncomfortable adjustment for an excessive Instagram user, avid YouTube binger and obsessive Facebook browser like myself. I suddenly didn’t know what to do with myself or where to invest all my extra attention. I would grab my phone every two minutes to check my Instagram only to be met with the words “Cannot refresh”.  My fingers felt a little out of place when not wrapped around my phone. My thumb twitched from the lack of scrolling. This was the first time I realised, and was willing to admit, I had a slight addiction to social media. This was the first revelation of many throughout my social media detox.
Even though I thought otherwise at the time, looking back, my cleanse was a blessing in disguise. I learned a lot about myself and the impact social media has on my life. 
The unrelenting urge to scroll dissolved as the weeks passed. I realised I didn’t actually need the company of social media while doing everyday tasks so I gradually stopped bringing my phone everywhere I went. My phone no longer needed to be in my pocket 24/7 because, without social media, its purpose seemed minimal. Even so, an unpleasant feeling of anxiety lingered whenever I travelled without it. Hence, I continued to carry my virtually useless phone on my person for the sense of comfort I was accustomed to. 
So what are the positives I learned from this cleanse? 
Firstly I noticed was the abundance of extra time I suddenly had. My withdrawal from social media created vacuums of time I could fill with whatever I wanted. I got significantly more sleep having eliminated the one to two hours I usually spend mindlessly browsing social media before bed. I finally got around to doing things I “never have the time to do”.
 I read my summer school readings twice as fast in the absence of distractions from my phone, for example. Without a social media intermission every five minutes, I finished chores at lightening speed. I found myself outside a lot more often, exploring Beijing. It wasn’t until I looked up from my phone and at the world around me that I realised how many precious hours social media eats out of our day. 
A few weeks into my cleanse, I found myself generally happier. I realised it was because when I quit my social media, I had removed a principle source of negative emotions in my life. I had stepped out of the vicious cycle of social comparison. This was easy to do without access to social media, the world’s most popular platform for sharing the highlights of one’s life.
I didn’t once feel jealous of another person’s squad or obsess over a jacket I couldn’t afford — simply because I didn’t see it. Out of sight, out of mind. I could sit at home on Friday nights, watch television in my pajamas and go to sleep at a reasonable hour without wishing I had gone out after seeing fun Snapchat stories the next morning. I took pride in my friends, my adventures and my life when I stopped comparing myself to others. I realised I don’t need to know what’s happening in everyone else’s life to be happy with my own. 
The remainder of my cleanse made me realize the previous negative energy I was accustomed to getting from my social media and helped me change my habits. I stopped thinking about what I might caption each picture I took or how many likes it might receive. 
I was removed from seeing idealist body images perpetuated by social media, which meant I was free to embrace and experiment with my appearance. I invested my attention into cultivating connections with the people around me and living in the moment. My thoughts and actions were no longer tinted by the lens of social media but, instead, my own. I had reclaimed my mind. 
However, I quickly realised the drawback of this experience after arriving home in Canada. I felt disconnected with my friends and the world around me. While I was occupied with escaping the evils of social media, I neglected the benefits it offers. 
Social media is undeniably the easiest way individuals can connect with the world. It also plays a key role in creating and advancing the global community we all live in. Thus, it’s inevitable that social media will touch our lives. However, it’s up to us to determine which aspects of our lives it impacts and to what degree. 
From this experience, I’ve learnt the key to social media usage is control. I’m grateful my VPNs didn’t work because I wouldn’t have had the will power to quit social media on my own. 
I’ve selected two social media platforms to return to and deleted all the others to avoid slipping back into my bad habits. 
I encourage everyone to try a social media cleanse. Everything I’ve learnt from this experience has helped me improve myself. Of course, it’s a different experience for everyone and your findings will probably be different from mine. 
For most of us, social media is part of our every day lives. While it can be beneficial for many reasons, it is always a good idea to take a step back and make sure we consider how we let social media influence our lives.

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