Two months ago, I deleted over 10,000 tweets from my timeline. I was sure that my decision to quit social media would hurt. I’d spent years writing these mini missives and, like I believe many of us do but would never admit, enjoyed going back and looking at (what I thought to be) some of the wittiest messages that one could send to the world.
But I’d also just been laid off. And, since I was considering a career change, I began to get anxious about hiring managers looking me up. What would they see? A whole lot of tweets about television. My feed was funny, but it didn’t scream dude looking for a well-paid corporate job.
So I wiped clean every semi-controversial thought I’d had from the Internet. Funny observations about my husband? Gone (to his relief). Every interaction, GIF war, and legitimate beef I’d ever had? Deleted forever from my personal internet space.
The upsides of quitting social media
Though I’d been concerned that the loss of my tweets might spark a small loss in identity (who even are you if at least 20 people haven’t favorited a tweet you’ve workshopped for maximum impact before posting?), I felt … fine. In fact, better than fine. I felt free. Suddenly I had so much time. Instead of thinking about clever tweets or refreshing my feed, I had the time and energy to work on longer creative projects. Plus, I wasn’t abandoning my Twitter feed completely. I knew I needed to make a change, so I decided that going forward, I wouldn’t spend more than 20 minutes a day on social media.
If just reading that is making you a little anxious, let me remind you of something: Though social media is fun, it can also tank your self-esteem and crank up your anger levels. How many times have you been outraged by what you see as you scroll? Or questioned a friendship after seeing a Facebook status that makes you seethe? How much time do you spend jealous over the good time everyone but you seems to be showing off on Instagram? And how great would you feel if you just didn’t do that anymore?
I’m not saying you need to put down the phone and step out into the sunshine (I don’t go outside), but there’s something to be said for moderation. Especially when numerous studies have shown that engaging in social media may be linked with anxiety and depression.
But heads up: The FOMO is real
As a psychology professor, I knew this was a good choice. But still, for the first few days, the FOMO (fear of missing out) was real. Not checking Twitter first thing in the morning to see what was going on in the world, liking every tweet on my timeline that I agreed with even slightly, and responding “lol” to the guinea pig pictures that I’m sometimes tagged in, made me feel like I was truly missing out.
And while I did miss out on some good stuff — wishing friends happy birthday in a public forum, hilarious memes, and bite-size biting analysis of the topics of the day — I also missed out on the jealousy I had previously felt when scrolling through friends’ and colleagues’ highly curated lives. Without pre-formed opinions in nicely packaged 140-character tweets, I had the space to think.
It’s fun to keep life on the DL
Limiting my social media use wasn’t a cure-all for the anxiety that I feel on a daily basis, but it did help put things in perspective. While I’ll still post on Twitter occasionally (and I love to retweet), I’ve stopped worrying about whether I have to share every fun experience that happens to me with the world at large. When I take pictures, they’re more often for myself and my friends rather than to share with my followers. And I’m no less informed; in fact, I read the news way more than I did when I was just looking at headlines and counting on social for analysis.
Most importantly, I’ve begun to feel more comfortable with moments when nothing is happening. Before, I filled them with the false intimacy of social media chatter. Now, I’m more at peace with the fact that my brain doesn’t have to be stimulated every minute of every day.
Did taking a step back from social media change my entire life? Nope. But it did improve my well-being in subtle ways. It may not be for everyone (and if you love social, live your best life!) but for me, limiting it is the right choice.
Mark Shrayber holds a masters in clinical psychology and teaches at San Francisco State University and the Community College of San Francisco. His work has appeared in Uproxx, Cosmopolitan, Jezebel, Vice, The Daily Dot, and SF Weekly.