Between Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Tinder and every other social media app I could name, we seem to be glued to our devices more and more each day. Early in 2016 I realized that not only was I checking these apps all day, I was occasionally using them for the wrong reasons too.
Between a busy schedule of modeling and running a business, fostering personal connections with people seemed much more efficient when I could do it online. Social media is what I often turned to for that connection at the end of a long day, and after some introspection I realized that I was often using it for personal validation.
Posting a modeling picture and getting hundreds of likes was an instant ego boost for me. It became easier to turn to Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat for than to foster it within my real life relationships or better yet, within myself.
When I realized how much of a pull these sites had on me, I knew I needed to take a break. I loved giving myself small monthly challenges and I reflected on how much my life had changed after doing a Whole30 Challenge and a sober January. I decided to take a month off from all social media.
The first two weeks were positive and even freeing. I expected that I would feel present and free and that was mostly the case.
I learned pretty early on that I had to completely delete the apps from my smartphone to avoid using them. It was reflexive to open those and login every time I grabbed my device. With those gone, even more realizations hit.
I discovered how much I was doing just for the sake of a post. One day I was walking my dog a local park and found myself thinking, “I should go walk closer to the beach because it would make a much better Instagram picture”. I realized then that I was manipulating my life for the sake of an audience. Without social media, I suddenly had to do things just for me, and I began to appreciate them so much more.
Without the distraction of social media, I found myself incredibly focused. Work, reading, meditating – For the first time in a long time, I felt truly present in my daily life.
But by the third week, I started seeing the downsides of my challenge too.
As a model, it helps to be on the minds of those looking to hire you. And these days, models go to social media to stay in the spotlight and build followings. It was as if I was no longer putting in the work to remind people of my existence, and as a result my work started to suffer. Opportunities for speaking engagements and modeling jobs seemed to fade. Friends reached out less. They weren’t seeing my in their feed and so I was becoming less a part of their life.
Beyond a following, I had also built an incredible community on those platforms. I missed talking with people and having a space to be vulnerable, to share myself, and to learn from my community.
This month-long experiment lead me to the conclusion that social media is really what you make it. If you want to use it for a charge of self-esteem, you can do that. If you want to use it to post pictures of your grandma’s 15 cats, more power to you. And if you want to use it to share experience with others and connect in an authentic way with like-minded people you might not otherwise meet, that’s definitely worth the nine extra apps on your cell phone.
Overall, going without social media for thirty days showed me just how much positivity can come from these modern communication platforms. Now, before I post anything, I ask myself “What is this giving to my community?”. I enjoy a cautious approach and maintain a healthy relationship with that multitude of social apps at my fingertips. I can’t say that I don’t use it for validation at all, but I am aware of the intention with which I am posting anything.
If you’re thinking about a social media break, I highly encourage it. My advice to you would be to commit to adding something healthy to your schedule simultaneously, because you’ll be pleasantly surprised at all the excess time and energy you’ll have at your disposal. Use it to examine your relationship with these sites, and reflect on how you can use them in a healthy way. Social media may be a coping mechanism you don’t even know you’re depending on… or it might not be so bad after all.