In a year of uncertainty, confusion and heartbreak, it seemed that one of the only ways to stay connected with people was through social media.
When Boris Johnson announced the first lockdown in late March 2020, I like so many relished in the first few weeks of lockdown, it was something like an episode of Netflix’s Black Mirror. And perhaps for a while the uncertainty and excitement of being confined in our homes with Zoom as our education base was weirdly fun. For me though, the novelty wore off slightly later than others around mid-summer 2020, I was beginning to obsess over stupid things that had I been living my normal life would have barely bothered me, and as September came, I started to focus on that ‘normal life’ I could see coming with the return of university.
That return to normal was short lived, due to unforeseen circumstances I had to go back home after just four weeks and by the time I was able to go back to university to return to a form of normal which I really needed, it was around the time of the student window for coming home for Christmas. The decision was out of my hands and I had to stay at home.
I didn’t realise at the time, but I needed that small return to normal even if it was just a few weeks. I needed to be with others, to have a need to put on normal clothes, to be able to cook my own meals, to care for myself. It was then when my mental health really started to decline.
I know across the pandemic mine is a story like so many others, but it really is lonely being in an anxiety bubble, even if you are at home with your family.
The night that I guess I really realised how upset I was, just seemed to happen. I can’t place what made me, but I had a breakdown, and realised that I was getting upset over seeing people posting on social media. Something which across the lockdowns I had previously relied on to keep in contact with my friends. Something which I had taken more of an ‘active’ role in by posting more, commenting more, reading more was now something that I had become addicted to. My anxiety around social media was so bad I had my phone attached to my hand most hours of the day and was checking Instagram, Twitter and Facebook every 15 minutes or so, sometimes in quick succession of each other: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and then straight back to Instagram to repeat the process again.
I dreaded going on these platforms but couldn’t seem to function without them.
What I was looking at and obsessing over was how others were living their lives. Whether that was my friends and their lockdown experience or others such as actors and athletes who were starting to return to their normal lives while under Covid restrictions. I dreaded, but needed to see these professionals travelling, mixing and being normal. I needed to torture myself by showing myself how much I was or wasn’t missing out on.
An interesting report from the Centre for Mental Health suggested that ‘social media addiction’ effects around 5% of young people and is “potentially more addictive than alcohol or cigarettes.” The report later goes on to say:
“Its ‘addictive’ nature owes to the degree of compulsivity with which it is used. The ‘urge’ to check one’s social media may be linked to both instant gratification…. The desire for a ‘hit’ of dopamine, coupled with a failure to gain instant gratification, may prompt users to perpetually refresh their social media feeds.”
So perhaps it’s not so much of a shock that the exact reason why I was on social media, was the same exact reason it was torturing me.
I had wanted to log out of my social media but the thought of that was too hard and upsetting, something which I knew was awful because normally I was barely on social media. But it’s when you rely on something to replace your normal life that that reliability is what is stopping you from being a form of your own ‘normal.’
After too long I did log off Instagram. It took me hours of being sat, with my finger hovering over the log out button to actually do it. I even had my sister offer to pull the trigger for me. Something which had I not been a pandemic version of myself would have been easy to-do and honestly not really needed.
I came off of Instagram the week before Christmas and after that initial withdrawal I found my mental health was getting better. I didn’t come off Twitter or Facebook because for some reason I didn’t see them to be the problem. I soon found that Twitter replaced Instagram and had to repeat the process of the constant checks and thankfully, much quicker than before logged out of my account.
I haven’t been on Twitter for two months and Instagram for just under five. I believe that it’s helped my mental health. Yes, sometimes I hover again over the icons on my phone, but I never actually feel the overwhelming need to log on and in fact they are in a seldom used folder on my phone which almost makes me want to delete the apps altogether. I won’t. When I am back to my form of normal, when I’m not shut at home, I will log back on and hopefully regain my previous social media habits, but not the obsessive habits I developed late last year.
But its not just me who has temporarily come off of social media; many organisations across the world have come off of social media for periods of time too. This past weekend saw many from the world of sport join a social media boycott in support of Black Lives Matter and to end online abuse.
Before this campaign there was also the Be Kind campaign which closely followed on from the tragic death of Caroline Flack. The aftermath of Caroline Flack’s death showed that those who posted outpours of grief and condolences on Twitter and Instagram where, in some cases, the very same people who mercilessly hounded her not two months before. The campaign made online users think about what they said, and championed a quote posted by Flack months before her death which said: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Magazine show This Morning followed this campaign as did the whole of ITV, with adverts replaced by reminders to ‘be kind.’
This past weekend in the world of sports big names went ‘dark’ on social media to protest the abuse that so many face, whether that be due to racial abuse or bullying. Names like Lewis Hamilton said: “There is no place in our society for any kind of abuse, online or not, and for too long it’s been easy for a small few to post hate from behind their screens.”
Burnley Captain Ben Mee said: "We need to protect young kids, young adults as well. And growing up with all this social media going on, it needs to be things put in place for these trolls and keyboard warriors to take responsibility for their actions."
Whilst others, including Thierry Henry, had already removed themselves from social media earlier this year because of online abuse.
Over the weekend I listened to many sports pundits mention the oddness of coming off of social media. Most felt conflicted and lost without their platform whilst finding the whole process and experience of logging out cathartic.
I have to say that personally for me the same was true, I did feel lost but now I feel more engaged with what’s around me now.
It’s interesting to see across this pandemic how whilst many turned to social media to engage in normal, others turned to the internet to troll and abuse those who once found comfort in sharing their lives or at least moments of their lives with others.
So, whilst I never removed myself because of abuse from others I guess you could say I removed myself because I was abusing myself through social media.