This Essay article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.
Deleting social media for an entire month wasn't my idea of fun, or even my idea to begin with, but after 30 days I can confidently say I'm never going back to the way I was — and here's why.
I went into the month-long challenge with the hopes of breaking my addiction and bringing my screen time report down to a less embarrassing level. Things didn't exactly go as planned, but I learned a lot.
First, let's rewind to just over a month ago when I was sitting on my sofa in my Vancouver apartment.
I absentmindedly reach for my phone, immediately going through the comfortable motions. Thumb swipes down, and Instagram opens. Thumb swipes up, onto Snapchat. Swipe to the left, and there’s Facebook waiting for me.
Then I put my phone down for a five-minute reprieve, before starting it all over again, like a never-ending loop of unconscious addiction.
I’m not alone in this routine. How many times have you suddenly snapped to attention, only to realize you’ve been scrolling with almost zero awareness? Most people know that this isn’t the healthiest habit and that it comes with a whole host of consequences on your mental health, focus, and even sleep — but it somehow becomes rationalized in our minds.
As I dug deeper into why the hell it's so hard to not open an app, I realized that it's not actually our fault. Social media is created in a way to keep us coming back for more, but the toll it takes started to become too glaringly obvious for me to ignore.
Why I decided to break up social media
It wasn’t until my friend Jeremy decided to do a 30-day social media break, that I realized I had a problem.
As he chatted to me about his own experience with social media, I got a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. I always told myself that I could live without it, but when the reality of deleting my beloved apps got a little too close for comfort, I panicked.
For me, that was a major red flag — that even the thought of life without it was nerve-wracking.
I was determined from that moment on to figure out why I was so reliant on this intangible thing and to learn how to actually have a healthy relationship with it, once and for all.
Surprise, surprise — social media is not good for you
You can find countless research papers and studies on the negative impacts of social media, but what really shook me was a comedy bit he showed me from the stand-up special Bo Burnham: Inside.
The song, titled "Welcome To The Internet" comments on the progression of the internet as a whole, not just social media, but it demonstrated to me in a really unique way what a complete mess it all is.
The quick-paced tune makes you feel overwhelmed just listening to it, as the comedian rapidly lists essentially everything online that we consume, repeating one line over and over again: "Could I interest you in everything, all of the time?"
Listening to that I suddenly clicked in — that's how social media makes me feel. Constantly connecting, social media is pulling your attention in all of these directions, all of the time.
I realized that we live the majority of our lives in this online world, presenting an image of ourselves, and wondered at what point does that start to disconnect us from the real world — or had it already?
Once I tuned into how bad it all made me feel, I couldn't help but notice even more while scrolling through my social channels – especially Instagram.
As I flipped through highlight reels, feeling everything from jealousy and FOMO to sadness and anxiety, it became even more evident how harmful these networks were. Not only was I seeing a filtered version of people's lives, but I was presenting my own, and letting it get to me. The worst part was that I hadn't even really been aware of it before.
If it's so bad, of course, you would think it would be easy to just quit. Not so much though.
According to Addiction Center, "self-disclosure on social networking sites lights up the same part of the brain that also ignites when taking an addictive substance."
As you can see in The Social Dilemma, this wasn't an accident. It's literally made to keep you scrolling and rationalizing all of the negative effects.
At the end of the day, it didn't even take a full week for me to go from being pro-social media to feeling like an anti-social media activist trying to convince all of my friends to quit with me.
I landed on a 30-day social media break though, because I wanted to be realistic. I work in media, so it's important for me to stay up-to-date on trends, and the news.
Without the option to totally rid myself of it, I decided to pull a Ross from Friends and TAKE A BREAK.
My hope was that after 30 days of no social media, I could curb the addiction enough to figure out how to have a healthy relationship with it.
It wasn't easy... at first
The majority of my challenges happened in that first week when I deleted social media. I can't even tell you how many times a day I would pick up my phone, open it, and look for Instagram.
I didn't stop there either – I would actually go to the search bar on my phone and look it up. It was like my subconscious mind hadn't caught up with the reality of social media being off my phone.
It made me aware of how frequently I thought about social media. Not having it brought my attention to all the moments when I thought about posting. Every time that I would think about social media, I'd have to remind myself that I didn't have it — and I was shocked by how much reminding I actually needed.
Before deleting it, I wouldn't even know I was thinking about it, because it was so normal.
I started noticing early on in the month that when I went out for dinner, booked a campsite, or was on my way to basically anything, I would think about how it was going to look when I posted it.
It wasn't just an after-thought either. One of my first thoughts when I was going to do something exciting, was how great it would look on my story or my feed — which is pretty embarrassing to admit.
This was probably the biggest wake-up call of the experience for me. At first, it wasn't easy, I would kick myself every time I took a cute photo that I couldn't share, and count down the days that I could make that first Instagram post.
We all like to tell ourselves that we don't care about what other people think, of course, but then spend hours of our lives tailoring an image. I couldn't see that very clearly until I had those hours back.
Then it was too easy
Week after week I started picking up my phone a little less and thinking about the people in front of me instead of the ones behind the screen.
It was liberating to live without the background noise of other people's lives coming into my own, and with zero feelings of responsibility to engage in it all.
Plus, my screen time went from a disheartening eight hours on average per day, to a responsibly one hour and thirty minutes. It's not like I spent eight hours on social media every day before, but just having it made me go on my phone more doing random things or just constantly checking it.
Instead of mindlessly scrolling every time I had to wait for an appointment or was taking a work break, I was forced to just sit and think. I read more books in the month than I did in the entire fall season, and went for at least one walk a day. With no option to scroll on my phone when I woke up, I just rolled out of bed and gained an extra 20 minutes every day.
By the third week, I was nervous about the thought of re-downloading social media. The only one that I was really excited by was Snapchat, which I solely use to stay connected to my long-distance friendships.
Instagram was the real addiction for me, and the idea of redownloading it immediately had me planning my first post. Even after nearly a month without scrolling, I was still not fully where I wanted to be.
Going without social media was the easy part, but not falling back into my old patterns was where it got tricky.
How I'm moving forward
I downloaded Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest to my phone minutes before sitting down to write this.
Am I magically healed of my social media addiction after 30 days? Definitely not. But I do have a plan to move forward.
Like I said, social media is a pretty key thing in my industry, so I don't want to go completely inactive on it. I also learned while I didn't have it that I genuinely liked taking photos and sharing them — which I did over text, without Instagram.
What I didn't miss was the comparison I would do with myself and others on social media, the focus on the "image" I was putting forward, and the time I would simply waste while on it.
So, I have some new rules that I'm going to stick with.
1. Only Snapchat will be on my phone — because it's the one app I can be trusted with and that actually brings me joy.
2. I'll download Instagram a maximum of once every two weeks to post any photos I want to, and then away it goes.
3. Bye bye TikTok, I didn't like you that much anyway.
4. Scrolling it is forbidden. Don't even try it.
5. I can use Facebook on my computer, and hopefully, learn to remember peoples birthday's all by myself. Sorry in advance everyone!
Hopefully, these rules are enough to keep me on track, but at the end of the day, the challenge taught me to simply be aware of how social media was making me feel. Most of my behaviours on it were unconscious, and taking a step back was the only way for me to actually see them clearly.
Whether it's for 30 days, a week, or even a day — I think everyone could benefit from putting their phones down a little more often.