What happens when you deactivate your social media?

We’ve all either done it or considered doing it at some point.

Like real life relationships, our relationship with social media changes over time. People in our networks come and go; the platforms themselves evolve, along with our reasons for engaging with them.

But what happens when you deactivate your social media?

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Exploring the inner rings of a tree, during a walk round Clumber Park.

Living under lockdown

The term ‘unprecedented times’ has become more than a little hackneyed recently. The Covid-19 pandemic has taken away many of the freedoms we take for granted.

Lockdown has tested the mental resilience of us all. On the one hand, social media has helped us to keep in touch with each other and combat isolation. Yet, on the other, the way our social media channels serve to amplify much of the existing hysteria can also have a damaging and unhelpful impact.

It’s unsurprising then that mental health charities like Anxiety UK recommend that we all strike a healthy balance between social media use and offline activity and take a break from social media when we need to.

For many of us though “taking a break” isn’t always that easy. Often our social networks are a mishmash of audiences, ranging from family and close friends, down to people we work with, vague acquaintances and everything in-between. As much as we might want (or feel we need) to “take a break” so much of our activity, both professional and personal, is coordinated through online media whilst lockdown rules remain in place. 

This makes it very difficult to simply take a break.

If you’re one of those people who can mentally ‘switch off’ without having to physically switch off from your devices in these times then I envy you. I am not one of those people. My personal and professional life online has often bled together and I’m okay with that -under ‘normal’ circumstances. However, we’re not in normal circumstances, and haven’t been for a while.

At the start of the lockdown switching off mentally has been virtually impossible for me. This has resulted in some fairly binary decisions about which social media platforms I intend to focus my time on during the crisis.

What I’d like to share with you are some of the observations I’ve made as a result of deactivating specific social media platforms and the consequences of doing so.

Which platforms can’t you do without?

This isn’t a post about which platforms I think are better than others. We all have our individual preferences and bugbears. The values we place on certain platforms will be fairly arbitrary anyway and depend on a range of factors.

It is worth taking the time to reflect on each though and ask:

  • What value do I get from using this platform?
  • Do the benefits I get from it outweigh the stress and anxiety?
  • Do I need to stay present on it for professional reasons?

I’ve emphasised ‘professional’ in that last point rather than personal, because a large proportion of my social media use is for work purposes. This is perhaps where I differ from many of my friends, but as I work in the technology sector it’s not really so surprising. I work remotely (even when we are not in the throes of a pandemic) so social media is an invaluable tool to connect with others in my field.

I simply can’t switch off from certain social media platforms without it causing me a headache professionally. Whereas I can afford to be far more fluid with the social media platforms I use with friends.

I mentioned earlier that my personal and professional lives often intertwine online, but I do compartmentalise a platform with a particular audience to a degree. I daresay you make similar distinctions too, many of us do.

During the Covid-19 crisis my professional social media presence has continued, because I haven’t been furloughed – work has, if anything, become more centre stage. This has meant that social media activity has intensified, which has prompted the need to review and step back from social media where possible.

Observations

Being present all the time on social media is draining, whether you’re using it for personal or professional reasons. I find it equally draining to be in the company of a group of people in real life all the time. We all need time to ourselves – regardless of whether you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert (I don’t particularly subscribe to those labels by the way).

There are always pros and cons to all relationships – this equally applies to those in digital settings. If you do blend your professional and personal contacts online it can help you to forge closer relationships with those you work with. On the flip side, it can also make it very difficult to get the downtime you need from work when you do really need it.

So is deactivating your social media profiles the answer?

It can be, for me at least. The demand of always being present is tricky to manage, especially in these times. There is always pressure to do more; to support our friends; to offer timely support; to like or comment on this or that; and no matter how much we do there always remains that dread feeling that we could do more.

Probably because you can always do more. Unfiltered social media bombards our brains with an array of signals – and the more platforms we are on and the more connections we make, the harder it becomes to keep apace with all of it. But just because you can do more, doesn’t mean you should.

We are not superheroes! It’s worth reminding yourself of that. It’s also important not to beat yourself up for it.

Deactivating social media is not without its pitfalls. There will be pressure on you to contribute and take part or, in the case of deactivating accounts, to re-engage. Some friends will feel that you have abandoned them in some way. That can cause you a measure of anxiety and guilt in itself. You also run the risk of causing undue concern to friends who may be worried about you and be concerned for your welfare if you’re not present on social media. However, there are ways to reassure friends and keep in touch (a phone call, a video chat, a text, etc) that don’t involve you relapsing onto social media when you’re not ready, just to please others.

I’ve certainly benefitted by not having the distraction factor of social media recently and found I am generally more productive and active. It has also made me consider the types of interactions I have online more carefully. Having a conversation with close friends using video chat for example, is often far more valuable than making random status updates for all to see, that often lack context or a clear audience.

Remember – you are not a superhero. If you don’t look after your own ability to manage effectively on social media, you will not be able to support others.