This past year, I’ve been trying to take steps to improve my mental and physical well-being. Although I’m not doing so great with the physical, I’ve definitely taken steps toward the mental. How? I’ve (mostly) stopped looking at Facebook.
SO HERE’S THE STORY
It’s hard to believe, but I’ve had a Facebook account since 2005. It began when I was preparing for college and received a flyer from my university suggesting that I sign up for this future behemoth. I’m channeling Iliza Shlesinger here, but back in my day, Facebook was so much simpler. You had your page, your high school and new college friends had their pages, you posted random funny shit, and you poked each other for attention. There was no newsfeed, you couldn’t really share external content, and – gasp! – you could only add 60 photos to a photo album.
I think Facebook really changed when they started allowing anyone to have an account. It used to be you had to have a school email address to create an account. I’m guessing that evolved as the early users graduated and still wanted to retain their accounts. Once everybody’s moms, dads, little sisters, older brothers and even grandmas got in on the Facebook insanity, the focus shifted from “who got drunk at a frat party” to accidental wall posts that really should have been private messages.
As a result, the changing Facebook landscape has become much less shallow in terms of what people are sharing. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, many people use it almost as a personal diary and document every moment and thought from their lives. This garners attention, particularly if the posts are inflammatory in nature – hard to avoid in the current political landscape.
So what does this mean for me as a longtime user? Since I didn’t post very often, I mostly used it to keep tabs on updates from family & friends – not so bad, right? WRONG. I realized I became addicted to watching other people’s lives play out through this medium, and allowed it to define what I perceived as reality. I was convinced that everyone else’s lives were better than ours, and that there must be some secret they knew that I didn’t because they were all buying houses and having babies well ahead of us. Every time one of my friends posted their pregnancy announcement, I spiraled into a self-made depression because this was another reminder of the one life event I want more than anything else.
After years of this vicious, never-ending cycle, I decided to follow in the footsteps of a good friend who had also given up Facebook. She mentioned how much happier and focused she was by not constantly checking Facebook notifications, and I figured if it worked for her, it could work for me. I slowly weaned myself off my addiction by only checking it once or twice a day instead of the amount I had been doing. Then I started limiting myself to every other day. After about a month of this slow retreat, I metaphorically girded my loins and posted this:
Ever since then, the only times I’ve gone on Facebook are to update this blog’s Facebook page with my latest posts, and if I need to do research for work – hence the “sort of” from the post title. Otherwise, I’ve done my absolute best to make this a clean break and keep my days Facebook-free. I will readily admit that it’s a struggle to feel so out of the loop, especially when I know that I’m potentially missing event invitations or my friends’ big announcements. However, my FOMO is vastly outweighed by the peace I’ve found.
If you’ve found yourself feeling the way I did, I highly recommend doing research into this phenomenon. Here are some articles for a starting point: Psychology Today, Forbes & Independent. The distorted perception of reality as a result of social media is well-documented and can cause damaging long-term effects if people don’t acknowledge it. Talk to your friends, talk to a therapist or a counselor, your significant other, anyone who will listen. Make any changes that feel right to you, and take the control back. It’s empowering, and you’ll be able to live life on your terms.
All the best,