Quitting social media to save your mental health

The first daffodil of 2021

My covid breakdown hit last July: a spectacular evening meltdown that had me doubled over on my desk, wishing I could delete myself. It was born from a combination of factors: impostor syndrome, family drama, work stress. I knew I had to make drastic changes in order to continue to function. And among the many changes I made that day, the hardest has had the best effect on my mental health: quitting fandom Twitter.

When I first joined Twitter maybe a decade ago, it was a niche site with a lot of geeks like me, and pleasant. Over the years as more people have joined the platform, it’s become something different: a place to get news, to scream about politics, to wage war against people who have more than we do, to bully creators that don’t deliver the media we want. It’s a wonderful place too. I’ve met some of my dearest online friends through that network. But when I was still using it, I would leave feeling worse than when I logged in. 

My relationship with Twitter was never healthy. It bordered on addiction and suffered from a lack of boundaries. I used to reach for my phone every couple of seconds. It seemed I couldn’t go a minute without checking to see if something was going on. I felt pressured to produce a steady flow of content so people wouldn’t forget me. I worried friends would forget I existed if I didn’t check the site every hour. I worried about maintaining a certain follower count and persona. I suffered constant FOMO (fear of missing out), but what was I actually missing?

As it turns out, what I missed was my own life. At the height of my Twitter addiction, I was probably spending anywhere between two and five hours every day on the site. It’s easy to leave it up in one tab and check back to see what’s happening, or to open the app on your phone. I would check it before work and during work, and on my lunch break, and when work was done, and then I would talk about what I had seen on Twitter with other people.

Now I spend that time writing, or playing with the dogs, or talking with my family. Cleaning my house. Catching up on a backload of reading and anime. I’ve studied Japanese daily for almost 200 days! And I’m finally dedicating some time to this blog. 

I won’t say that quitting Twitter was easy. It wasn’t.  I missed it constantly at first and felt out of the loop. I missed the dopamine hit I got from likes. But with the exception of promoting a couple of events, I haven’t looked at that account or checked the notifications since July 2020. But I don’t miss it. People stayed in touch in other ways. We moved to Discord where we can have proper conversations and connect with each other on a deeper level. 

The last year has been tough. I know people are looking for outlets, and it’s fun to fight online, to feel like you’re on the right side of an argument. But if a social network is routinely making you feel worse when you use it, your relationship with that network isn’t healthy, even if you enjoy it sometimes. Even bad relationships have good memories. 

If you’re not ready to say goodbye to your account just yet, seek out communities so you have a support group when you do leave (or to provide company while you’re taking a break from social). Set a daily time limit for the app. Unfollow, mute, and block liberally. It’s on each of us to tailor our own experiences. No one can do that for us. Re-frame how you think about the way Twitter affects you. We have the power to tell it, No, I won’t let you make me feel bad anymore. I won’t give you that power.  

If you are ready to quit and you were addicted to the site like I was, here are some steps that might help you overwrite the habit:

  • You don’t have to announce you’re quitting. This is entirely your decision and other people’s opinions about what you’re doing are not your concern. If you think people will worry, update your profile and/or post a link to another contact method. 
  • Delete the app and log out from the browser on your phone and computer. If you constantly find yourself opening the site in your browser, consider installing a blocker. 
  • Decide on something you can turn to when you feel like checking your notifications. I went with apps. Mine were a combination of learning and entertainment apps including Lingo Deer, YouTube, Lumosity, and MasterClass. You could also choose something like jumping on the elliptical machine, walking into another room, hugging your dog, playing a song on Pandora. It doesn’t matter what you pick as long as you’re consistent about ignoring Twitter. The goal is to overwrite the existing habit with new behavior. This is going to take a couple of weeks, so don’t be surprised if you lean on your replacement heavily for a while. 
    • It might help to recognize when you feel the need to check Twitter and ask yourself if anything happened that led to that. Are you checking it when you’re bored? Are you checking it because you feel frustrated or lonely? See if there is a pattern. Is there anything you can do about the initial trigger?
  • Keep this positive & create a reward system. If you can stay off of the site for a week, treat yourself to a bubble bath or a favorite movie. If you can go a month, read a book that’s been on your to-read list for a year. 

I probably need to quit Twitter entirely. I still have my real life account, which I use to share art and quotes about writing and cry about the MCU. But it’s too easy to jump on the bandwagon of someone else’s anger. I’m being careful to limit myself and close the browser when I feel upset. Right now, I’m trying to set boundaries so I can continue to use it, because I do like being able to connect with people.

Whatever you decide, take care of yourself. You are a real person, and your well-being is more important than strangers’ opinions of 2D people.

ETA: It’s been a month since I wrote this post. I stopped using Instagram and deactivated my remaining Twitter. I feel really good.

ETA December 2021: Since I wrote this post, I have maintained my ex relationship with Instagram, and have no intention to return to it. It was, ultimately, the site that made me feel worst. I have resumed limited Twitter use for writing and (usually) keep Discord off of my phone.

The featured photo is my first daffodil that opened this year!

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