As a Millennial, I was in high school when social media made its debut. I was there when making it into someone’s MySpace “Top 8” was the pinnacle of success, and when we decided that any vacation or restaurant visit didn’t exist without a Facebook album to prove it. I spent hours selecting the cutest photos to post and crafting the cleverest responses to comments from friends of friends of friends whom I had met only once and would probably never see again.
It was an exhausting existence, but I wasn’t conscious of the burden. Gradually, over time, the hours, days, weeks, and years of maintaining my internet persona made me feel sad and depressed. These feelings intensified when I went away to college — I felt compelled to check my accounts, making sure that I didn’t miss any crucial updates from my high school classmates. On top of that, I was always worried that who I was and what I was doing didn’t measure up to what I saw them doing online. Then, one evening in my college dorm room, inside a particularly deep Facebook-stalking rabbit hole, I realized that social media didn’t make me feel good and wasn’t adding any value to my life. I deactivated my Facebook account right then and there.
The positive impact was almost immediate. I just felt free. Free from caring about what other people were doing and free from caring about their opinions. As it turns out, it’s not just me: a clinical study found that adults who deactivated their Facebook accounts experienced a significant increase in emotional well-being.
I’ve stayed off Facebook since I was 20. When Instagram came onto the scene, I was interested, so I created an account. I have a deep appreciation for art, and I was drawn to the creative aspect of posting photos. My use of Instagram now is sporadic at best, and when I do go on the app, I have to be mindful not to compare my life to the photos others are posting. As for everything else that’s out there – Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok – I stay away completely.
I can honestly say that quitting social media is the best decision I’ve ever made for my mental health. I’m significantly happier and less anxious, and I have more time for activities I love and relationships I care about. While I can speak only from my experience, I do want to share a few of the reasons why I’m happier without social media in my life.
I compare myself with other people less.
Social media is a highlight reel. There are definitely people out there who strive to make their accounts as authentic as possible, but at the end of the day, it’s still their curated version of “authentic.” This constant comparison of your real life with the curated version of someone else’s has a measurable negative impact on your physical and mental health. One study found that increased Instagram usage is directly tied to increased symptoms of eating disorders.
When I spent time on social media, I continually had to remind myself not to compare myself with others and that I never knew the whole story behind someone’s posts. Working hard to combat these thoughts became a burden in and of itself. It’s been healthier for me to remove the comparison-focused thoughts altogether by not exposing myself to the content.
I can focus on creating and maintaining meaningful relationships instead of surface-level connections.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that I’m happier and more energized when I have fewer, close relationships rather than many connections whom I don’t know on a deeper level. Social media is a trove of these shallow, surface-level connections. Stepping away from it was the first step to opening my life up for deeper, more meaningful relationships.
In practice, I have a tight-knit group of friends and family locally and in other parts of the country. The time I used to spend on social media goes into these relationships instead. My friends know they’ll never get a “like” from me on one of their Instagram posts, but they can expect a long phone conversation to catch up when we haven’t seen each other in a while.
I have more time to spend on activities that positively impact my physical and mental health.
It’s important for me to limit my screen time outside work in order to feel rested and restored, and staying off social media helps me do that. I love to discover new hobbies, and I try to find activities that are intellectual, physical, creative, or all three. These types of activities act as a counterbalance to sitting in front of my computer screen all day (which I get a lot of at my job as a software engineer!).
I’m an avid reader and aspiring cook, I’ve taken pottery classes, and I recently raced in my first triathlon! It’s not that I never feel stressed and always have time to do the things I want. In fact, I tend to get so excited about trying new hobbies that I often feel like I don’t have time to fit everything in that I want to do. I’m still figuring that part out, but I can say with certainty that I feel much calmer and more grounded than when I was spending my free time on social media.
With all this in mind, it would be unfair not to acknowledge some of the positive effects of social media as well. Even for me, there are times when only a cute animal photo on Instagram can turn around a bad mood. I’ve also heard of people using social media platforms as gratitude journals by posting a photo or description of something they’re grateful for every day or week.
Additionally, I know there are people who get a lot of value from keeping in touch with old friends over social media. The occasional comment or message makes them feel more connected to someone they used to be close to. This is a valid perspective, but I’ve found that it just doesn’t work for me. Exchanging short messages back and forth with someone I don’t talk to regularly sends me into a spiral of anxiety. Intent is easily lost in written communication, especially when you don’t know someone well. That, plus the public nature of social media, makes me worry about saying the wrong thing. It’s much more fulfilling for me to reconnect with people in person or over the phone.
The most important thing, when talking about social media or any other habit or lifestyle choice, is that you figure out what you need and how to get there. After over a decade of trial and error, I’ve discovered that staying off social media is one of the best things I can do to take care of my mental health.
When I tell my story, people often say things like, “You’re so disciplined! I could never do that.” I want to emphasize that my story and relationship to social media are not about being disciplined; they’re about paying attention to what makes me feel bad and intentionally eliminating those things from my life. I encourage you – whenever you have the space and energy to do so – to think about what’s dragging you down. Is it social media or some other source of negativity in your life? There’s so much of our mental health that we can’t control, but taking that first step to notice and try to name what’s wrong is one thing we can.
Cameron is a fervid triathlete, a dinosaur enthusiast, and a rockstar engineer on the Mood Health team. Scientists believe that the first human being who will live 150 years has already been born. We believe she is that human being.