Digital Detoxing – The Importance of Taking a Break from Social Media

Scroll, like, scroll, upload and repeat.

If you haven’t looked at your screen time on your phone, do it. It’ll scare the shit out of you.

Digital detoxing is something I’ve been doing off and on for the past year or so whenever my life has become too revolved around mindless scrolling. Despite often being surrounded by friends, rather than being mentally present, my head always seemed to be elsewhere. To make it sound more dramatic, you could argue that I was trapped by the toxic confines of likes and peoples’ insignificant perceptions of who I am and what I’m doing. Some of you may feel that this screams “FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS’’, but it’s an important issue that has affected me and countless others I know.

Although great for staying connected, the toxic nature of Instagram isn’t to be overlooked. Seeing everybody’s supposed happiness, their perfect lives, amazing jobs etc. It’s all a lie. Everyone knows it is. So why do we keep exposing ourselves to this every day? We do it out of habit. We open the app because we’re bored, then we scroll, like, scroll, upload and repeat, all for a short burst of dopamine that soon fades. This essentially renders our phones mini dopamine simulators.

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Research suggests that 5-10% percent of internet users are in fact psychologically addicted, with brain scans of these people similar to scans of those with recreational drug addictions. Scientists have noted a clear change in the regions of the brain that control emotions, attention and decision making. Neuroscientists studying the effects of social media on the brain have also found that that positive interactions (such as receiving likes on a photo) trigger the same kind of chemical reaction caused by recreational drugs. Looks like we’re all getting our fix.

After moving to Australia, I found myself doing the same thing as everyone else, projecting this perfect life onto others of days at the beach, hiding all the struggles that came with it. So I decided to take time away, reevaluate my priorities and share the results with you lovely people, in the hope that my experiences would help a few others. 

Living in The Moment

People often mention the fact that Instagram hides the bad times. Although true, what they fail to mention is that it can take your presence out of the good times. If you’re on a night out, on a hike, or a beautiful beach and your first thought is to post what you’re doing to an audience (the majority of whom you probably don’t actually know on a personal level), then you’re not truly present in the moment. The more you do this, the deeper you sink into the trap of looking for something to share and the less engaged you become in what is actually around you. A social media detox can re-establish a connection with the origins of your true happiness.

The biggest change I found was in my ability to finally live in the moment without thinking about sharing what I was doing. I became completely present and engaged. Conversations grew more meaningful. I began to re-appreciate the beauty in the small things, something that I always seem to lose after spending too much time on social media. Wildlife, sunsets, languages, travelling, being by the water and meeting new people – that’s where my true happiness has always derived from (as cringey as it sounds). True happiness doesn’t come from receiving likes and posting your every move on an application that gives you the impression that people care, when really, they couldn’t give a fuck. Don’t let that short but sweet dopamine hit confuse you.

Taking Back Control

A big reason for digital detoxing is taking back control of your own happiness. Once you begin living in the now, you understand that even though you’re not to blame for whatever shit life throws at you, you are responsible for how you react. It’s about analyzing situations for what they are, not what you want them to be (or what your brain is telling you). Deep, right?

“Time isn’t precious at all, because its an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time, past and future, the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is”.

Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’ (also available as an audio-book for the lazy among you) is one of the most important books I’ve read in my life. He teaches that the only thing that matters is the present, given that the past and the future don’t actually exist. Everything you’ve experienced in your life didn’t actually happen in the past, it happened in the ‘Now’. By the same idea, nothing will happen in the future, it will happen in the ‘Now’. In this way, thoughts regarding our past and future are self-created and have little significance.

All negativity, he claims, derives from denial of the present and an accumulation of psychological time. We often associate identity with our past and possible salvation with our future, both of which are illusions. Once you manage to get your head around this concept (it’ll take a while), you’ll stop looking for peace and instead look to accept any situation you’re faced by. This in turn will lead to complete peace of mind, hence the ‘Miracle of Surrender’. As hippie as it sounds, it works. 

Get Your Time Back

Deactivating Instagram has freed my day up completely. I realised I was spending hours scrolling through images and videos. I thought I did it because I was bored, I wasn’t. I was scrolling because it was part of my routine. If my brain wasn’t fully engaged in an activity, my instinct reaction was to go and scroll. I found it difficult to just sit down and relax without the reflex of reaching for my phone. Even after deactivating my account I found myself unconsciously opening it throughout the day. I counted 4 times within the first hour before I deleted the app off my phone completely.

So what happened? I started to read more, I’ve been trying to learn new languages, and currently find myself in a completely different headspace. I’m doing everything I kept putting off because I ‘didn’t have the time’. I always had the time. We all have the time – we’re just blind to it. The hours you take away from scrolling on Instagram can be utilised in so many positive ways. You can invest this new-found freedom into big projects like setting up a business with friends (shout out Titan), or something on a smaller scale, like learning how to do a handstand (still trying). Anything that challenges you or gives you a greater peace of mind is more worthwhile than sitting and mindlessly scrolling.

I’m not implying that you need to throw your phone away and start shitting in the woods. A digital detox doesn’t mean you have to completely disconnect. I could never delete Twitter because apart from showing you what’s happening in the world, I find it hilarious. In the same way, I wouldn’t delete Facebook because seeing how people act on there reminds me that my life could be a lot, lot worse. Never change, Facebook.

My relationship with Instagram was subconsciously affecting my behaviour, relationships and thoughts in a negative way, essentially removing me from the ‘Now’. Despite preaching about how awful it is, I’ll probably re-download it at some point, purely to stay in contact with people I meet whilst travelling. It’s all about moderation. The most important thing is to recognise when the use of an application is becoming toxic to you and those around you. When it does, delete it, reconnect with the ‘Now’ and watch how quickly your mindset changes. Alternatively, keep trying to please people you don’t actually like and continue spending your time admiring their fake lives. Your dopamine hit awaits.

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Scroll, like, scroll, upload and repeat.

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