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Photo credit: KERDE SEVERIN VIA PEXELS

What I’ve learnt from a 30-day digital detox

Letting go of my favourite social media apps was difficult but necessary to combat my phone addiction.

Noreen Shazreen

Probably the coolest cat lady you’ll ever meet.


Published: 28 May 2021, 1:58 PM

I have a confession to make: I used to spend a whopping nine hours on my phone each day.

It didn’t fully sink in right away, but the more I used my phone, the more I realised I had become heavily reliant on the rush of dopamine that social media provided me. Of course, I felt guilty about being a phone addict, especially when I was learning to transition to a more minimalist lifestyle. 

To combat my phone addiction, I decided to go on a 30-day digital detox to withdraw from social media and see if it would benefit my life. In February, I deleted all of my favourite social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok and Twitter.

Here are the four lessons I’ve learnt from surviving without all of my most-used social media apps for a whole month.

1. No more comparisons

Like any other Gen Z, I fall prey to social media comparisons which adversely impacted my mental health. 

Every time I logged onto Instagram, I found myself aimlessly watching everyone else’s Instagram Stories and constantly compared my life to friends and celebrities who lived a more “exciting” life than I did.

 

Catching a glimpse of everyone else’s life made me feel envious of others as mine wasn’t as fun or exciting looking as theirs. PHOTO CREDIT: CHAD MADDEN VIA UNSPLASH

 

On TikTok, I would spend roughly an hour each day scrolling through my “For You Page”, only to feel even worse about myself. It didn’t help that the platform provided me with a breeding ground of insecurities, with trends of unrealistic beauty standards such as having a ‘fox eye’ or symmetrical face. 

With the pressure from social media for girls to look a certain way, I felt compelled to adhere to the beauty standards created by society – such as being slim, fair-skinned and having full lips. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I felt inadequate in comparison to these stunning girls when I had no makeup on. 

Detaching myself from the digital world stopped me from nit-picking my flaws and comparing myself to others as often. 

I was no longer looking at photos of picture-perfect girls for countless hours on my screen. Putting these unrealistic expectations aside, I started to view myself more positively and accepted the little quirks I had. 

2. Embracing the ‘joy of missing out’

Honestly, feeling FOMO, or the fear of missing out, was my biggest concern going into the challenge. I was afraid that I would lose out on the fun when all my friends were having a good time. 

Whenever I was spending time with my friends and family, they would chat about celebrity gossip and hard news that I didn’t know about.

To prevent myself from being totally secluded from the world, I started looking for news on the internet rather than depending on social media to ensure that my informational needs were met. 

While staying informed about the world is crucial, a news overload was detrimental for my mental wellbeing. Searching for only news that I cared about was great as it allowed me to set healthy boundaries around news and social media. 

I could also actively engage in conversations with friends and family when they were talking about world issues.

 

The fear of missing out was real when I didn’t have a clue about issues that my friends were talking about. PHOTO CREDIT: PRISCILLA DU PREEZ VIA UNSPLASH

 

The benefits of unplugging began to develop when I forgot the feeling of what it was like to consume social media from the moment I was awake. 

Opening social media first thing in the morning was causing me anxiety, especially reading about the ongoing COVID-19 global crisis. My unhealthy consumption of social media also caused me to resent others’ lives. 

But I’ve learnt to embrace the ‘joy of missing out’. Oddly enough, I started to feel better not knowing about what was going on in other people’s lives. 

 

Shutting down the rest of the world and focusing solely on the present moment was beneficial for my mental health. PHOTO CREDIT: MAKSIM GONCHARENOK VIA PEXELS

 

I became more present in real-world activities and could fully pay attention to conversations with my loved ones. It also felt freeing to not be consumed with media messages and things I didn’t care about daily.

3. More time for personal growth

Spending five hours a day on social media (according to my screen time) made me realise how much time I had truly wasted. That would add up to an insane 35 hours spent scrolling through Instagram, TikTok and Twitter in a week!

Thankfully, going on a digital detox meant that I had more free time to engage in activities that would aid in my personal growth – such as exercising, cooking and reading a book.

While I used to spend at least two hours every morning on social media, I transformed that bad habit into a productive one by creating a new morning routine instead. 

 

It felt liberating to conquer my social media addiction and engage in more productive activities like exercising. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/SITOH SHANICE

 

On Saturday mornings, I would use my free time to go on a jog around my neighbourhood and exercise at home. Afterward, I would read a book or watch documentaries about minimalism, which is an aspect I am trying to work on in my life.

Diverting all of my attention towards my personal growth made me feel more empowered than ever. I started to have a more positive outlook in life and felt more at ease with myself.

Previously, I complained about how I didn’t have enough time to pursue activities that would benefit my personal growth. Little did I know, all it took was a few clicks to solve the root cause of my problem.

4. Enhanced mental clarity and focus

Not only did unplugging help create a distraction-free zone, but it also increased my mental clarity and ability to focus on tasks.

By detaching myself from the digital world, I could get more things done within a short period. I stopped taking self-proclaimed breaks online while I was doing my school work. 

Attending online lessons at home would usually cause me to feel distracted as it disrupts my level of attentiveness during class. But without any interruptions or buzzing from my Instagram notifications, I could pay full attention to my classes and focus on completing my school assignments. 

 

My academic results improved even though I only unplugged for a month. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/NOREEN SHAZREEN

 

By the third week of doing the digital detox, I saw a significant improvement in my academic performance. 

Seeing a jump in my grades made me realise that going through an entire month without my favourite social media apps was worth it after all, which further motivated me to work even harder for school.

In the span of 30 days, I’ve learnt to stop comparing myself to others and caring so much about what was going on in their lives. The digital detox challenge has also helped me reclaim my time and enhanced my level of focus. 

While it is not easy to unplug currently due to my job scope as an editorial writer, I’ve adopted the habit of going on a digital detox every weekend to continue gaining the benefits it has provided me. 

Nonetheless, the temporary break from the digital world was much needed and worked like a charm. 

If you find yourself feeling down during this season, check out our mental well-being resources here.


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