Could you give up Facebook? Lifestyle Editor Stacey tries a social media detox

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Lifestyle editor Stacey spends hours a day aimlessly scrolling through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. So how would she cope with a month long detox from social media?

It’s 9am on a Tuesday morning and I’m sat at my desk ready to start the working day. I set down my cup of coffee, get out my notepad and pen, and open a new document on my laptop. Less than an hour in and I’ve scrolled through Facebook four times, Twitter twice, sent at least ten unflattering Snapchats, spent a good five minutes trying to decide on the right caption for an Instagram post, and written a grand total of twenty words…

I’ve seen everything at least twice, but I can’t go more than ten minutes without checking to make sure I haven’t missed out on anything. I realise I have a problem.

It’s got to the point where it’s seriously impacting my daily life. I can’t remember the last time I ticked off everything on my to-do list, or the last time a TV show, a book, or even a person had my complete attention. I realise now that something needs to change. My name is Stacey and I have a social media addiction.

There isn’t an official medical label for social media addiction, but much like any other addiction, people who use social media to excess can suffer symptoms of withdrawal or suffering if the activity is stopped.

I hunted down an expert on addiction to find out more. Liz Cervio, a psychologist who focuses on the treatment of mental, emotional and behavioural health issues, and an assistant professor of Social Sciences at Santa Fe Community College said: “Addiction has a unique effect on our bodies. Any addictive substance or behaviour such as social media acts on the reward system in our brain, the part that is wired for pleasure. When someone becomes addicted, the object of that addiction becomes the first priority from waking until sleep. As the addiction progresses, we will forego all else in order to chase the high”.

So, last month myself and a colleague decided I should go cold turkey and give up all forms of social media for a month. Friends told me I was crazy; that I’d never be able to go a whole month without it, and I believed them. But I so desperately wanted to prove them wrong.

Social media is now so integral to our everyday lives. We use it for both social and professional reasons. It keeps us constantly connected with friends and family, no matter where they are in the world. But it also presents idealised, over-filtered versions of reality which can make us feel like our lives are boring and unfulfilling, as we are constantly comparing our lives to the small snippets people decide to share on social media.

The night before the big day was spent refreshing Facebook, posting pictures and enjoying my final few hours on Twitter. But when the time came round to logging out on my computer and deleting the apps from my phone, the anxiety of being cut off from the world kicked in. I’d only been gone a few minutes but the FOMO was going strong. What if I miss a party because they made a Facebook event? What if I miss out on important work info? I had two main fears: the first being unable to un-tag myself from unflattering pictures on Facebook, and the second being that I wouldn’t actually hear from any of my friends, and I’d be a hermit for an entire month. That night I went to bed wondering what exactly I’d got myself in for.

I’d be lying if I said the first week was a breeze. It was anything but that. It was mentally draining and a real struggle. Everything felt strangely quiet. Colleagues who didn’t know about my little detox would come up to me asking why I was ignoring their messages. Even though texting and calling exists, I felt unreachable.

I’d be sat at my desk like any other weekday, writing articles. But I kept picking up my phone as if to check Snapchat or Twitter. It’s become an unconscious thought, and is like a reflex action I have no control over.

So why did I feel like I was attempting Dry January? Researchers at Chicago University conducted an experiment into the cravings of hundreds of people for a few weeks. They found that social media addiction can be stronger than an addiction to drugs and alcohol, because the cravings were higher.

A couple of days in I went shopping for a ball dress with a friend. It was all fun and games, and I completely forgot about my social media ban. That was right until she spent 45 minutes in a changing room trying on the same five dresses (naturally she went with the first one). It got to the point I was so bored I downloaded Snake. 2/10 would not recommend on a smart phone.

The FOMO was always worst after a night out. There is nothing I enjoy more than waking up and watching everyone’s Snapchat’s from the night before. That morning a wave of fear hit me hard. It was a classy affair, and I didn’t get ridiculously drunk. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the potentially horrific pictures I would be tagged in. I did not want my 1,000+ Facebook friends seeing my double chin.

I started to feel like I was being ignored. Which is so far from the truth. I was meeting up with friends, and speaking to them every day. But I wasn’t getting any of the satisfaction and feelings of ‘happiness’ that comes from someone liking the selfie you just posted on Instagram. I just felt sad and more alone than ever.

I spoke to Liz Cervio again, to explain to me why social media was having this effect on my day-to-day life. She said: “We can show ourselves in a completely controlled and narcissistic way on social media – think how many selfies you might take before you get one you’ll post on Facebook – and getting a form of recognition and mirroring that we have not had in the past. The combination of the desperation that drives us to compulsive use of social media and the hedonic cascade in the brain that is set off when we receive ‘likes’ or other public recognition can set us up for this particular addiction”.

Just over a week in I screwed up. I was on my laptop, catching up with the day’s news when my ‘need’ to see what others were up to got the better of me. I logged into Instagram. I felt awful. I felt like I was on a strict diet but I caved and scoffed a whole chocolate cake. After a couple of minutes, I logged out and shut the lid of my laptop, consumed with guilt.

But by the end of the month, I feel cleansed and refreshed. In fact, the social media ban may have gone better than expected. Logging into social media after a long month I realised I really didn’t miss anything. I caught up on my notifications, had a quick scroll and posted a photo on Instagram before getting on with the days’ work with very little distraction.

I didn’t feel like I was being left out of anything, and I spent way more time seeing my friends in person. I enjoyed life without caring what other people would think about what I was doing, had a lot more time for myself, and slept better than I had in ages. Getting over the guy things ended sourly with was so much easier when I didn’t have to see his face on Instagram, or read his indirect tweets. It’s proof that we can (almost) live our lives perfectly fine without the wonder that is social media.

Words by Stacey Turnbull

Alice is your lifestyle editor.

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