Digital content creator Lorna Claire Weightman’s work means she spends a lot of time online. When she realised social media was bringing her down, she went cold turkey and left social media temporarily. Here’s how that went.[restrict]
There is a piece of music by Agnes Obel called September Song; have a listen to it. It’s how I always thought a calm mind should be; succinct but fluid thoughts moving in complete harmony, not competing but complementing each other.
No such luck for me.
I’m more of a mash up between Rage Against the Machine and Placebo. My mind can get loud, and chaotic. As a long term sufferer of anxiety, I’ve learned to manage those times when my thoughts suffocate any prospect of calm. The key has always been to keep busy, keep moving and have plans. The pandemic had other ideas, however. And with the creative industry in which I work at a halt due to what seem like everlasting restrictions, I’ve found myself a bit still.
And that’s a feeling that makes me and my heavy metal mind very uncomfortable.
For the first time in a decade, since I changed career from the financial world, days are void of work. The corporate life relies upon principles of structure, organisation and strategy. As a result, I thrive on being an organised person and having a plan, so on quiet days, I’ve tried to lean on these things. For the first lockdown, I walked the dog, cleaned, made banana bread, decluttered, ran miles every day and trained.
Negativity and comparison
But by lockdowns two and now three, the enthusiasm had dissipated. Motivation was sparse and I started to feel down, and bored. I was spending hours on my phone with no purpose, except to scroll social media looking at what others were doing at home, feeling jealous of anyone who lived in a sunnier climate and drooling over Dior handbags that I will never own.
Instagram in particular can conjure up feelings of inadequacy in me, and it’s a bad habit. Why are my numbers not growing? Is there something wrong with my pictures? Why does she get so many likes? And so on.
Experts say these feelings are common negative side effects of social media since the start of the pandemic began. Laura McDonald of the BrainWorking Recursive Therapy (BWRT) Centre of Ireland describes the internet inspired decline in self-confidence.
“Social media is full of posts of the perfect home, life, outfit, body, face, hair, jewellery, friends, family, baby, yoga practice, etc. If you have those things, you may find yourself comparing yours to everyone else’s; if you don’t have those things, you may find yourself wishing you did, or feeling inadequate because you don’t,” Laura explains. “Social media ‘addiction’ increased for many people because there was, quite simply, not much else to do, and no other way of seeing friends and family. Our phones really did become our lifelines this time. Every platform is filled with Covid news, conspiracy theories, arguments, even hate. People have developed heightened anxiety from what they are reading, and from not being able to see their loved ones in the flesh.”
Twitter especially seems to have found a whole new level of negativity since Covid. A toxicity that, once exposed to through scrolling, I noticed had an immediate impact on my mood. It led to a bad habit of complaining about everything, both online and in my home. The negativity online was palpable and, for want of a better word in current times, contagious.
I need to disclose at this point that social media has been a huge part of my job as a stylist and digital content creator; I create images, videos and creative concepts for these platforms on my own channel and for brands.
I love my job. I am in my happy place creating social media plans, curating images, writing copy and captions. But since March 2020, those jobs have dried up, and with restrictions imposed on how and where we work, creative projects have suffered. I’ve kept my content going with a view that momentum is a good thing. My Instagram is like my CV, so when work returns to a normal pace, I can show that I tried not to give up.
But since the start of the new year, even that has become a challenge. If I added up the time spent scrolling, the time spent making my daily content that was mostly unpaid, and the time spent ranting or reading complaints on Twitter, it was hours every day. And unproductive hours at that.
So it was time for a break. Cold Turkey. Deleting apps. No scrolling or posting for one whole week.
I didn’t even “announce” to my 30,000 or so followers that I was taking temporary leave, I just removed myself. The first feeling was relief, which was very unexpected. I surprised myself by being not even slightly inclined to just check Instagram quickly on my first day – no FOMO at all. The big moment came when I deleted Twitter from my phone. It was like my own declaration of independence. I did this on a Monday to start the week as I meant to continue.
Instead of 140 character tweets, I took out a journal and wrote my thoughts, just for me and no one else. I swapped out my try-hard witty repartee on social media for meaningful notes on my work, my life, my home. I’m a devout reader; I chose a book to read that I couldn’t put down. This was especially useful at bedtime, where I would usually have an “end of day” peruse of Instagram stories. Lockdown had disrupted my sleep cycle. A “phone free zone” bedtime meant I saw a notable difference in how I slept. I woke up less, and when I did wake up, I diverted my mind from the temptation to pick up my phone.
Breaking the habit
As the week progressed, the phone-shape pose of my hand naturally slackened. As the saying [somewhat] goes, “three times a habit” – by Wednesday, I had broken the chain. There was no panic to check my likes or see if anyone new had followed me, no craving for a quick stalk of people I follow. It was quite liberating. My handwriting improved as I spent more time holding a pen and, rather oddly, my furrowed brow from a near constant state of screen reading relaxed.
But one week without both Instagram and Twitter was just a pause. I’ve learned a lot about how I spend my idle hours, but how can I sustain these positive changes? Laura suggests a couple of things that are easy to implement. “Don’t deprive yourself. Like a diet, if you tell yourself you can’t have something, you’ll want it more. Instead, stick to a schedule. Only allow yourself 5 (or 10) minutes at a time then put the phone away. Utilise the feature that is on most phones that tells us how much screen time we have had that day.”
Laura’s tips became my homework after my week long social media sabbatical. I’ve given myself rules. No screen after 9pm (unless it’s for a work emergency) and that includes replying to messages and DMs. They can all wait until daylight hours. I have edited the accounts I follow; I see content that inspires me and my work. Small changes, but towards a more focused, clear mind. As with the focus I have placed on keeping my body strong and healthy, my mind needs equal, if not more attention. I feel lighter after this break, some of which is attributable to consuming news in the morning only, and not obsessing over real time updates of the pandemic via Twitter.
There seems to be more space in my head to think, and I’m trying to allocate that space to activities that do not include ranting or getting annoyed about the current state of things. I may not yet be the full version of September Song, but at least I can have a few chords.
Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels[/restrict]