Is quitting social media the key to millennial happiness?

From the feeling of never quite scrolling to the end of a news feed to those perfect pictures on Instagram, is it healthy to take time out every once in a while? Two people tried it with encouraging results.

Olivia Blair
Thursday 19 January 2017 17:38 GMT

In my daily routine, both the first and last things I do, in bed, are to scroll through Facebook and Instagram looking both at the news and what all my friends are up to.

It then permeates through the rest of my day too: I check Twitter on my commute and read any notifications that light up my phone throughout the day.

Social media has become second nature to us millennials but is the fact we are never truly switched off doing us harm?

The first hurdle is popularity. For example, the worry when you share a carefully filtered photo on Instagram and wait for the likes to – hopefully – rack up leading your brain to somehow equate your popularity and value IRL with how many people enjoyed that photo of your eggs benedict at the weekend.

Similarly, how many followers you have on Twitter does not mean you have that many actual friends. Yet for many on social media the lines can be blurry as followers can be seen as a validation for how funny, witty or interesting you are.

If you have lots of followers, the fear of making a blunder and causing outrage is also omnipresent.

Social media makes us think we are just having conversations with friends but the amount of time we spend oogling wealthy, beautiful and seemingly perfect strangers on Instagram and comparing our lives and appearances with theirs only fuels existing insecurities. As does, that Snapchat story of all your friends at the party you couldn’t attend, which to be honest was probably rubbish apart from that moment they all collectively posed for a selfie.

The rationale that nobody’s life is perfect and that what they share on social media is carefully curated and edited often goes out the window during these times.

The never-ending stream of tweets, status updates, pictures and news can feel overwhelming and like you are constantly missing something if you do not read all of it. So is it healthy to take the odd break every now and again?

A 2012 study by Anxiety UK found that 45 per cent of people who are not able to access their social networks or email felt worried or uncomfortable as a result. Additionally, 60 per cent of those studied said they felt the need to completely switch off their phones and computers in order to have a proper break.

Ben Jacobs, a DJ who has over 5,000 Twitter followers, took an indefinite hiatus from Twitter in January, 2016 and, so far, has not looked back.

“One of the reasons I quit was because I found myself devoting an unhealthy proportion of my spare time on Twitter,” he told The Independent. “I was one of those people who would wake up in a cold sweat at 3am and drag down the little glass rectangle to see if I had received any responses to my latest pithy proclamation.

"Twitter did indeed make me feel anxious from time to time as it slowly dawned on me I was concerning myself with the feelings of the thousands of strangers I followed, while they didn't necessarily know who I was.

“Since my Twitter hiatus, I have had a clearer head with plenty of time to devote to other things such as waking up in a cold sweat at 3am and reading a book instead,” the 42-year-old said.

Jacobs is contemplating whether to return to the site and might do when he has another musical announcement, "these things take time," he says.

Stina Sanders, a model with 119,000 followers on Instagram, has been open about her struggles with anxiety on social media. She says that while she notices social media affecting her anxiety, she does not think it causes it.

"It affects people in different ways," she tells The Independent. "I know from my experience I can get FOMO when I see my friend's photos of a party that I didn't go to, and this, in turn, can make me feel quite lonely and anxious. On the other hand, if I'm feeling great in myself, I've noticed that I don't get as anxious when I'm on social media. So personally I don't think social media causes anxiety but I do believe it can play a big part in heightening your feelings."

As social media is a vital part of Sanders' job, she is unlikely to delete her accounts anytime soon. However, when she notices it getting too much, she is happy to take a break from her phone.

"If I do catch myself feeling low whilst I'm scrolling through social media then I tell myself to put down my phone, go for a run or call a friend. I find this slight break helps to remind me that social media isn't real. It is a projection of what people want you to see. It can be easy to get caught up in it all and compare your life to others but the reality is no one's life is perfect. So to make myself feel better I just have to remind myself of that every now and again."

Nicky Lidbetter, the CEO of Anxiety UK, said: “If you are predisposed to anxiety it seems that the pressures from technology act as a tipping point, making people feel more insecure and more overwhelmed.

“The rise in social media has had an effect, with people comparing their lives with others and young people feeling socially anxious about communicating face-to-face”

Of course, social media has also brought us great things: The ability to connect to loved ones across the world within a matter of seconds, a huge encyclopaedia at our disposal for information, forums and support groups for people experiencing bullying, health and mental health issues and instant news. But a regular break back into the real world every now and again can only be a good thing, right?

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