Unplugging to Recharge: Navigating the Need for a Social Media Detox

Today, when we use the term ‘open’ to describe our lives in the digital age, we are describing not accessibility, but permeability: the vulnerability that we face in those vast, unexplored, uneven seas that are the platforms of social media. If the digital age has brought unparalleled opportunities for connection and sharing, it has also brought its own particular hazards to mental health. It is in this way that the frantic, gripped, harassed feeling of living in the 21st century has given us our first glimpse of the paradox. The more we ‘open’ to the outside world, the more we seem to crave that place where we ‘feel alone’ – somewhere to step back from the relentless pace of 24/7 life. This article is the final installment in a series of three, which began with a personal exploration of how it felt to go offline and ended with a list of my recommendations for going offline, although I hasten to add that I don’t endorse these as ‘guidelines’ that everyone should adopt (as if!). I simply wanted to offer a glimpse into what changing my own relationship with the digital world has led me to discover.

Recognizing the Mental Toll

When OPENing Up Doesn't Feel Right

At first, social media is seductive. It’s a doorway into an unspeakably vast world, a space where a few taps are supposed to usher in limitless possibilities. With every scroll, we’re meant to find ourselves hopping from one revelation to the next; what could be better than that? But once the initial adventure wears off, and you stare endlessly at the perfect lives of others, social media can become an insidious trap. You open Instagram or Facebook to get out of your own head for a couple of minutes, and you’re met with the highlights reel. This has the effect – obviously enough – of making you doubt yourself, makes you feel bad.

The Open-Ended Scrolling Loop

Perhaps we all have a sense of that seductive lure of the endless scroll, that hook of each new app, pulling us into a communion with a stopped clock, until we blink our eyes and it’s two hours later, and we feel hollow and hazy and we wonder how the hell we got here. Who hasn’t had that feeling, that something has been stolen from us, and stealthily so – that we’ve wasted a precious hour on some unfulfilling engagement? That’s when, hopefully, one comes to one’s senses, and decides: I’m not going to do that again, at least not tonight.

Posting: A Chore Rather Than a Choice

The Obligation to OPEN Up

The pleasure of broadcasting bits of our lives can quickly turn to an insidious obligation. Posting once felt joyful, even fun, but now it feels like a chore. It has become an act of presenting, rather than sharing, and it might be time to take a break.

Embracing a Digital Detox

OPENing the Door to Self-Care

An exit from social media is never an easy decision but it is a necessary one, a means by which one can regain agency over our personal digital territories, and therefore over our everyday lives more broadly. Cancel an account or delete an app – they are small, doable steps to take.

Rediscovering the World Beyond Screens

All that open space captivates us for the time we’ve given back to ourselves. We can rediscover our own beings, and the land that cradles us. We can connect with others with more meaning, we can utilise the invaluable time, and we can use our mental space only for things that bring us further in life.

The Reopened Mindset

Returning with Renewed Perspective

And the trajectory of this ‘digital detox’ experience is that, if you stick to it, you emerge on the other side with an appreciation for the beauty of real life – one where it’s possible to create healthy boundaries, tune in to who you are and what your needs are, and to cultivate authentic relationships in the real world. If you do reopen your social channels, it’s hopefully with a renewed ability to self-regulate, embrace mindful use, and engage in a balanced and meaningful way.

Understanding OPEN in the Context of Social Media

The word ‘open’ as used to describe the space we occupy in our social-media interactions expresses this nexus between accessibility and permeability. What it means to be ‘open’ online is to be free in our ability to articulate ourselves and to connect with others, but it also carries with it the dangers of fallible self-branding and comparison as well as the risk of misusing time and energy. To be able to know when ‘open’ has become too open can be a useful strategy to heal or minimise the dangers that come of being online. From now on, while our increasingly customisable social media space continues to evolve, the capacity to open and close digital doors will always lie in our hands.

Jun 10, 2024
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