Learning to unplug for my offline life

A student discusses her toxic relationship with social media and how she keeps it in check.


It’s nearing 2 a.m and yet again the blue glow from my computer is the only light left in my room. My eyes move back and forth between two screens. Twitter is open on my laptop while I scroll through TikTok on my phone, no longer taking in the content flickering under my thumb. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I’ve been spending more time on social media as I quarantine in my parents’ house. It seemed like everyone I followed on Instagram was doing something productive, like learning a new skill or language. But instead there I was, repeating the same cycle of lounging on my bed and scrolling through my feed of eccentric coffee trends and aesthetic montages. 

It was during these moments that my lack of direction in life due to the pandemic seemed more pronounced. The more I scrolled, the more I felt bad about myself and my lack of productivity.

Social media is great in theory, but it’s ultimately an exhausting performance. People are constantly trying to prove their lives are exciting and fulfilling to make others want to be like them. The more I watch these performances, the more I feel like I’m not doing enough, which subconsciously translates to, “I am not enough.” Despite knowing this isn’t true, I can’t seem to quit social media and believe me, I’ve tried. 

I feel the need to quit social media every so often because, on top of the stress of performing, it keeps me from being productive. It’s the days when I’m stuck in an endless loop of Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok that I feel the furthest away from both my responsibilities and other people. This ultimately leads to me deleting social media altogether, but in a few days, I’m back to re-downloading apps and endless scrolling.

I’ve repeated this process several times, and it always ends in the same way. 

While I recognize how calm I am by not routinely checking my social media feed, at the same time, I feel anxious at the thought of disconnecting from social media altogether like I’m missing out on something. 

This is my toxic relationship with social media: no matter how many times I break up with it, I always come crawling back. I rebound after my social media cleanse with another day of using TikTok to avoid productivity. 

Like with any toxic behavior, I’m realizing that the only healthy way to enjoy something is in moderation. I find after a period of not having to look at notifications or playing catch up with my feed, there is less of a need for me to waste time on social media. I have more of a desire to be deliberate with my time, using social media more intentionally to check in on my friends and the things I care about as opposed to mindlessly scrolling for hours at a time. 

The days I feel my best are not the ones where I spend the first two hours of my day in bed, mindlessly scrolling through TikTok. Rather, I find social media to be the most beneficial to me when it’s something I can check in on once in a while to interact with friends or catch up on current events. 

Unplugging doesn’t have to be deleting an app that I keep going back to, only to ultimately re-download it: it’s learning to be intentional with what I am consuming virtually so I can be fully present in the rest of my real life.

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