How A 4-Month Social Media Cleanse During COVID Lockdowns Changed My Life

Small action has always been radical action.

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How A 4-Month Social Media Cleanse During COVID Lockdowns Changed My Life
Sureya Busuri

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.

It was the summer after the pandemic had reversed our sense of normal, and around the time I began to settle into my social media addiction. Coming out of my first year at X University — the new name of Ryerson — I had just started becoming accustomed to a new lifestyle — one with long commutes on the Toronto subway and spontaneous encounters with different types of people.

Here, a woman would ask me for $200 to help pay her rent on Yonge St. On the Spadina streetcar, after the subway broke down, I would overhear a loud conversation between the driver and a commuter about how "trash" some of the men were on 90 Day Fiance.

It was these unexpected experiences that had grounded me pre-COVID. Witnessing and living through both the good and bad of going to school downtown would shape this new phase of my life — it reminded me of my new independence and the anticipation of creating college memories for when I grew older.

Wrestling with addiction

After COVID lockdowns began, my days would start on Instagram even after spending all night on Twitter. Social media had me intoxicated and feeling pressure to conform to groupthink. I felt stripped of individuality and creativity. There's a certain curated aesthetic that goes viral on Instagram that had my rapt attention. Twitter's algorithm had me enthralled with the same kinds of tweets every single day. Still, my life was dependent on these apps like they were oxygen.

It wasn't until this addiction was reflected in my poor grades, deteriorating mental health, and a general lack of fulfilment, that I decided to cut it off. They say your peace is priceless, and I had been selling mine for base value. Once the pandemic had forced us all inside, I was looking towards social media more than usual — though it didn't take long for me to see that my phone was incapable of giving me the life that I actually wanted. I decided to keep all of my accounts but deleted the apps from my phone. I knew where my problem lay. They were too accessible and were an easy substitute for boredom. The reality was that I was using endless scrolling into the curated lives of others as a way to escape myself.

The first thing I did was rediscover my passions. I've always been hooked on fashion, writing, and meditation. Still, with the constant bombardment of pop culture, news, travel pictures, and inspirational quotes, it became impossible for me to journey within myself on a path that was travelling in the opposite direction. My days switched from double-tapping on Instagram to soaking in knowledge from YouTube. From channels to help me understand the psychology of productivity to videos on the importance of health and forming better daily habits, I had removed the toxicity of consuming negativity. I decided then to take the time to seek a higher purpose.

Turning to faith as an anchor

Growing up with spirituality, my relationship with God had always felt detached. I had confined God in my mind to someone who was a distant reality. I soon came to find that believing in God's love was the missing link in my life, to be able to find true fulfillment.

Though cutting off social media may seem like an easy feat, like with any addiction, I was prone to momentary triggers that even led to relapse. This was a challenge when my siblings would talk about the latest celebrity gossip, or I had that daunting feeling of missing out on a world I was no longer part of.

However, just as I took the bait, re-downloaded the apps, and scrolled for an hour, I soon realized it wasn't even worth it. The emptiness I thought these apps could fill, they had actually been exploiting it.

You could say I was going through a quarter-life crisis six years too early, but the pandemic is what I needed to put my life into perspective — the one that I had been neglecting. To question my existence and how temporary my stay on this earth might be would force me to confront the bad choices I had constantly been making.

My starting point began with re-discovering my faith. I could have begun by turning to a spiritual text like the Quran, but I believe God had inspired me to listen to stories of people who found Islam in the most miraculous ways. I established a relationship with God, who showed me His presence in my life — that He was active, not passive, and there for me more than I could ever be there for myself.

Usually, when you hear stories of people who treasure something that you view as insignificant, it calls you to question what they see that you don't. Being an introvert, I had always doubted my ability to take my writing and transform it into something meaningful. When I took that step to expose myself to better things, whether through books like The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, or Steve Harvey's motivational books series, I quickly saw my whole world starting to open up along with what I perceived as possible.

I've always wanted a dream job that shared my core beliefs and would allow me to advocate for others. However, with my only work experience at the time being folding clothes at my local Bluenotes, I initially rejected that likelihood. After becoming more focused on my growth than checking up on someone else's, my grades improved significantly. In that small act of making myself uncomfortable and removing a distraction, I learned how to exercise self-discipline.

My life lesson

When I look back at my life so far, one of the best decisions I made was cutting off this addiction. Taking four months off social media meant detaching myself from the one thing that kept trying to define what my version of success should be and telling me I was behind in life when I was actually right on time.

Our journeys through life, both the challenges and blessings, are individually tailored. I learned I would never receive the beauty that my life had in store for me if I wasn't prepared to receive it. More importantly, I realized that making myself ready meant redirecting my focus from within, not without.

Finally, If you are having your own issues getting off social media, just remember small action has always been radical action. Even 10 minutes less on your phone than the day before can drastically change your life.

You have to start somewhere, might as well start where you are.

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