A Cleanse for the Mind

My experience without social media for a week 

By Alyssa Ford

Portlandia, 2013 (IFC)

Portlandia, 2013 (IFC)

Have you ever opened up an app, scrolled continuously through the memes, parties, food pics until you got bored or the FOMO started to seriously kick in, so you closed the app, only to find yourself clicking the same icon again within minutes? This has happened to me multiple times, like some sort of weird instinct. I started finding myself in a place where my phone felt more like an extension of my hand, rather than a device with a specific purpose. Do you know there was once a time when people kept their phones in a bag, pocket or didn’t take it with them at all? I know, shocking right. I grew up when this ancient phenomena still existed, and recently I decided to explore it again.

Although social media offers many benefits like quality laughs and an increased global connection, it can be seriously detrimental to your mental health. If you’re not familiar with the side effects that can occur, this Forbes article shows a breakdown of the negative effects experts are finding social media to have on the human psyche.

Lately, I have been noticing more of my own bad social media habits. As someone who already lives with anxiety and depression, I can admit that there are times when scrolling through my feed actually made it worse. I’ve experienced many of the effects researchers are discussing, but comparison to others and addiction to the instant gratification of likes, were the factors that really made me stop one day and think, what the fuck am I doing?

I realized I was living in this in between state of feeling bad about myself from seeing everyone else’s extravagant lives, beautiful bodies and amazing accomplishments, but also became addicted to the rush and satisfaction I got from getting likes and praise on my own posts. Talk about a strange digital paradox. I do find enjoyment in social media, but sometimes I found my own sense of self getting lost within everyone’s else’s thoughts, actions and perceptions.

my reality, of rain filled clouds hovering over the white mountains like ufos, was all that existed. and i am content with that.

I decided that I needed to break free from this virtual twilight zone and log off for a while. I was leaving for a trip to New Hampshire with some family, so it was the perfect time to do this mental cleanse.

My cousin Adriana in front of our condo in Glen, New Hampshire.

My cousin Adriana in front of our condo in Glen, New Hampshire.

I deleted all of the social media apps off my phone to help combat the temptation I knew I would have. I’m proud to say I successfully made it a full seven days without stalking some model or posting every action of my day. And let me tell you it felt so good to just live. The White Mountains hold a special place in my heart, as I vacation there every year. My mom used to hike those trails with me strapped to her back. But as I got older and the Internet blew up, I found myself being less present on our trips and more focused on what picture I was going to post and what my friends were doing while I was away.

The White Mountains in New Hampshire on a rainy day.

The White Mountains in New Hampshire on a rainy day.

This time it felt like I was a child again- experiencing the fresh smell of pine, rushing waterfalls and winding farm roads for the very first time. I kept a journal to document my feelings everyday. On day one of my social media cleanse, after writing how refreshing it was to not view someone else’s lunch or sunset boat ride, I wrote “My reality, of rain filled clouds hovering over the White Mountains like UFOs, was all that existed. And I am content with that.”

Finally, my mind was no longer racing or trying to keep up with the fast paced motion of the digital world. I documented in my journal how slow and still time can be, and how strange the concept of time is in general. Sometimes it will be noon and I’ll consistently keep checking my apps like they are pets in need of my love and attention, and suddenly I’ve learned to time travel and it is 4 o’clock in the evening. While offline though, I truly felt every minute, not taking a second for granted.

The thing about the effects of social media is that you can’t blame your feelings on anyone else. People are not posting things about their life with the intent to make you feel bad about yourself (maybe some people are, but that’s a different story), they are simply doing what all of us are guilty of. Humans enjoy sharing ourselves with others and this can be a beautiful thing, but it is up to you to recognize how you react to it. I noticed my bad thoughts and knew I was the only one who could take action to help myself.

I realized I do not need that false gratification from others to be satisfied with my life. Everyday I would look up at the sun and mountains smiling down on me, see tiny chipmunks scurrying through the garden and feel fulfillment. Rather than spend every free minute with my eyes down and thumb sliding up glass, I looked ahead.

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Heart’s “Crazy On You” blared through the crackling radio as we winded through Franconia Notch one day. I kept my eyes on the nimbus clouds that combined with fog to create a thick blanket, falling perfectly atop the mountains. Simple things like sitting in the passenger seat of my aunt’s minivan became much more special. I paid closer attention and noticed all the little details in the verdant scenery before me. I didn’t do this with the intent to post, it was just real and before me and my eyes absorbed every second like sponges.

The moon the night my family and I gathered around the campfire.

The moon the night my family and I gathered around the campfire.

One night of my trip plays in my head on a loop like a scene from a favorite film. My cousins with sticks in hand, scavenged from the woodland area beside the river in the back of my aunt’s hotel, skipping to the bag of marshmallows that rested on the broken picnic table.

My aunts' (two of the women who helped raise me) faces lit orange from the glow of the fire. We blasted “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston while dancing circles around the fire, pure glee painted on our faces like makeup. I have no pictures or videos of this moment, I did not showcase it to all my followers, but it is something I will remember forever.

In the first few days the muscle memory in my fingers would pick up my phone without warning, which only proved to me how much I truly needed this break. Sure it was hard at times, with my family members talking about what they saw on Facebook, wanting to show me posts from the rest of the world and my younger cousins still glued to their tablets. In a way however, seeing that just made me want to stay offline even more. After the seven days were up, I almost didn’t even re-download.

Arethusa Falls

Arethusa Falls

Of course I am back online and I’m not trying to say social media is all bad. Technology has brought incredible advancements for the world and can be a very useful tool; after all I did join SUSTAIN by responding to an Instagram story. Social media can be a really cool place and has changed the way freelancers like myself, artists and people in general find and share work. We just need to know how to balance it with real life. If you find living your life and engaging with social media to feel like walking on a tightrope, I suggest you hop off the rope, delete the apps for a few days and remind yourself who your life really belongs to. I promise a short break will leave you refreshed, recharged and ready to scroll happily ever after once again.

 

Photographs by Alyssa Ford