One of the first things I used to look at every single morning was my Facebook feed. I would shut off my alarm clock and, before my eyes were even fully open, I would check to see how many notifications I got while I was sleeping. I’d spend a few minutes in bed scrolling through people’s photos and posts, imagining what it was like to briefly live in their shoes. As a result, I usually rolled out of bed with a cloudy head and a nagging sense of failure over the fact that I still haven’t been to Italy. This habit went on for years, and it got so bad that I actually started to sleep with my phone right next to my pillow.
I was addicted to Facebook throughout the rest of my waking hours as well. I’d open up the app every free minute I got to see what people were doing, where they were going. If I was at any social outing, I would bring my phone into the bathroom with me to check what the latest news was.
I’m not alone in my dependence on Facebook.
This behavior is standard for millennials across the board. Facebook is the social media platform we use more than any other, including Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. We can’t get enough of it. Studies show that we spend about 50 minutes a day on Facebook, which may not sound like a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but let me put it this way: One-sixteenth of our day is devoted to Facebook.
My addiction to Facebook was intensifying my anxiety.
I never really thought much of my Facebook habits, especially because I felt like I was acting pretty normally. But last year I was noticing some changes I just couldn’t ignore. The more I was using Facebook, the more intense my anxiety was getting in everyday life. I would chew on the skin around my fingernails until it was raw and bloody. I fidgeted constantly. My sleep patterns were fractured at best and debilitating at worst.
On top of everything else, I found myself wildly unhappy every time I put my phone down. All I could think about was how much more fun everyone else was having, how much more successful everyone was, and how much prettier other women were compared to me. It sounds cliché, but using Facebook 24/7 was plummeting my self-esteem, making me resent my own body, and making Italy seem completely out of reach.
Towards the end of the year, something clicked in my head. It came out of the blue. I was flipping through pictures of a good friend who works as a fitness coach. She had recently started a new workout program and nutritional program — and she was looking extremely fit (while I had just finished off half a tub of ice cream). There was a reel of cruel thoughts involuntarily running through my head, and although they were things I would never say to another human being in my wildest dreams, I was showering them on myself.
I was inspired to ditch the app on my phone.
I closed up my tub of Ben and Jerry’s, and decided then and there that I would give up my Facebook mania, at least temporarily. I deleted the app from my phone in a huff.
It wasn’t until the next day that I gave my snap decision some thought. Did I really need to have Facebook on my phone? These days, Messenger is a separate app in and of itself, so I can still communicate with people without having Facebook at my fingertips. Also, did I really need to know what my friends (and quasi-friends) were doing at all hours of the day? Nah, probably not.
I knew I would want to use Facebook again at some point (I mean, I’m not trying to claim monk status here), so I figured I could just hop on my laptop whenever I needed to visit the website. This would make my time on Facebook more intentional and less frantic. And it just might give me a little extra free time to do other interesting things with my day.
To say the first week without Facebook on my phone was an adjustment period is a wild understatement.
I’m embarrassed to admit I felt like a fish out of water. I kept trying to click on an app that didn’t exist. I no longer had something to keep me occupied in the bathroom. I was utterly lost, as it were. Over and over again, I found myself picking up my phone for no apparent reason.
There came a point early on when I was reminiscing with a friend about our old college days. I told her that one of our mutual friends just got married. She didn’t believe me. In a frenzy to maintain my credibility as a gossip queen, I whipped out my phone, only to find that there was no Facebook icon to click on, and thus no proof that our friend had ever even existed, let alone had a wedding. I felt slightly disconnected from the universe. But I wanted to keep this little experiment going, so I trudged along.
Less Facebook time meant I was actually making face time with real people.
Soon enough I realized that living without mobile Facebook meant I had more opportunities to actually interact with the people around me. Lunches were different. Meetings were different. Even waiting in line for a coffee was different. I was becoming more social, even in the smallest ways of saying hello to the person next to me. I was able to talk to my friends during meals without peeking at my phone here and there. Even though I’m not the most socially adept person, I started to enjoy my social outings a bit more than usual.
And my anxiety levels decreased.
At the same time, my anxiety was gradually decreasing, and I became less concerned with the way I looked every morning. I had nobody to compare myself to when I woke up. When I went to the gym or to yoga, my head was no longer filled with pictures of ridiculously fit women that, let’s be honest, I’m never going to look like — because I’m not them. And they’re not me. You see, there’s no pressure to live up to any kind of unrealistic expectations when those unrealistic expectations are no longer staring at you in the face.
I’m not saying my anxiety and self-esteem issues disappeared overnight (boy oh boy, wouldn’t that be nice!). But spending a lot less time on Facebook at least gave me the chance to spend a lot more time in my own life, rather than stupidly stare at what other people were doing all the time. I was inspired to use the few free minutes I had during the day to go for a walk, sit in the sun, or call my mom for once. (Big bonus: my battery on my phone lasted way longer.)
Getting rid of the Facebook app even improved my relationship.
After about a month of living with a Facebook-free smartphone, my partner commented on it with a big, fat grin on his face.
“You know, it’s so much nicer to have your full attention every time we have dinner together,” he said. “You seem so much less distracted with your phone.”
Hearing that made it all worth it, just in case it wasn’t worth it before. Sure, I still get on Facebook every day to snoop around on my friends’ profiles (lovingly, of course) and post my own pictures, but my Facebook time isn’t so panicky anymore. And it’s not done out of boredom. I took back some control over my social media use, rather than letting a bad habit rule dictate how I acted and felt. It may not seem like a lot from the outside, but kicking Facebook off my phone got me one step closer to going about my days with a clear head. Which means I’m one step closer to flying my ass to Italy to eat all the pasta.