On Anxiety, Time, and Social Media: An Experiment in Digital Minimalism

black Android smartphone

Photo by Viktor Talashuk via Unsplash.com

I am addicted to my phone. Maybe this is not such a hot take, but I have been observing lately that it feels like everyone around me is addicted to their’s, too, in a way that is (mostly) highly functional and completely socially acceptable. 

Truthfully, I’m the first person to roll my eyes at the conversations I overhear about how younger generations are “ruined” by technology and how we don’t truly “connect” as a result. I think that technology can be a meaningful and powerful tool, and I think the millennial generation is making a lot of positive social change by using it. But I know, at the same time, that I’m addicted to my phone. And I know that this addiction is harming my personal well-being. 

How do I know?

I know because I mindlessly reach for my phone whenever I am bored, even for a second. Even, sometimes, when I’m with important people in my life and forget to check the impulse to consume content in a moment when I should be present. I know because I subconsciously seek superficial approval from social media each time I post something, checking on the post multiple times throughout the day. I also know that when my anxiety is heightened for any reason, these compulsions become exaggerated, and I spend even more energy and time using or thinking about social media. 

Of course, I’ve noticed all of these behaviors for a long time. I just finally feel fed up with the fact that companies can manipulate my actions and make me more anxious, less productive, and less valuable to my friends and family. So I’m changing things up. I was originally inspired by Cal Newport’s ideas on digital minimalism. If you would like more insight on this practice, I recommend his School of Greatness interview

Here are the experiments I did, in two phases:

Phase 1 (week 1): My plan at first was to set and stick to time limits on all the social media apps on my phone. I started by setting the limit to 25 minutes a day total. It was plenty of time to make sure I could check everything a few times a day without hanging around on any one app. What I discovered was that, during the work week, this made very little difference in my phone usage. It turns out that I don’t really waste time on social media on days I’m working. However, I still picked up my phone without thinking whenever I got the slightest bit bored, and this was bothering me, because I felt like I wasn’t addressing all of my problematic behaviors. So I adjusted the rules for phase 2. I should note that the 25 minute limit was actually quite challenging for me over the weekend, when I had more time and less structure in my days.

Phase 2 (week 2-3): During the week, I set a 10 minute time limit for social media apps, to have the ability to intentionally check everything for ten minutes total, and once per day. I disabled the apps entirely from 8am-10pm on Saturday and Sunday. I decided to delete Instagram entirely during one weekend, because I knew I’d probably be too tempted to check it in spite of the time limit. My intention for these changes was to take away the impulse to pick up and check my phone throughout the days when I have the most temptation to do so.

Reflection: I’m reflecting on this after about a week of not having time limits on my phone or deleting any apps. After the experiment, I went through a period of heightened anxiety, and used technology as a crutch often (even throughout the week, when I am typically off of my phone). This has furthered my desire to cut the usage out of my life. As of today, I’m going to delete Instagram every weekend and stick to time limits on my other apps during the week and weekend.

Cal Newport’s work on digital minimalism suggests that you cut social media usage entirely and limit things like email notifications, etc. He posits that you should spend 30 days doing this in order to revisit your true values, and then decide what (if anything) you would like to bring back into your life. 

My reaction, like most peoples’ (according to Newport), is fear. I am actually scared to do this. It is a ridiculous feeling to be afraid of not having social media, but when I look within, I see very clearly the insecurities that cause this trepidation. I know that one of my deepest fears is what others think about me, so it makes sense that not being able to monitor or curate my personal image would cause me anxiety. Another fear is of missing out or feeling excluded, something minimalism and personal finance has actually helped mitigate, though it lurks in the corner of my mind. And finally, I think I do have a subconscious fear of being bored; a fear of sitting for too long with my own thoughts. I am super unmindful and always thinking about the past or future, rarely ever truly focused on the present moment. This, though sometimes a strength, is often an obstacle to my happiness. 

This experiment has clarified my fears and how exactly I use technology as a crutch to cope with insecurity, dissatisfaction, anxiety, and boredom. The twisted thing is that it actually makes all of these problems worse– and I know it. I don’t know if I’m ready to quit for 30 days, but I’m happy to be making some changes in the right direction.

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2 comments

  1. This is an awesome personal reflection. Thank you for sharing. I’m reading posts like this right now to generate some ideas about when I quit social media for six years. Now that I’m back on it, I wonder if I use it a little too much and put too much of my creative life on trial.

    As you said, it can cause anxiety to scale back and take a break from “curating” your online persona… especially if it is connected to your business in any way.

    Like

    • Yes! As someone who promotes her blog on social media, I can definitely agree that it’s difficult to untether yourself from the online world. I personally make exceptions to my own rules in the name of my business.

      Like

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