Over winter break, I went home for the first time since summer to visit family and friends.
"You look like you're having so much fun," remarked my best friend.
"You get to do whatever you want!" lamented my sixteen-year-old sister.
"You have really cool stuff on your Instagram," said my coworker, the most honest of all.
People I hadn't seen since summer, judging by my Instagram, assumed that my first semester of college was a whirlwind of friends, concerts, and adventures. It was not.
I enjoyed all of these things, but not in the way that my Instagram makes it appear. I stayed in six out of seven nights every week. Most days, I groggily walked between classes fueled only by vague ambition and caffeine. I played journalist, covering concerts and other events, but I also worked a not-so-glamorous part-time job behind the scenes. I never considered the fact that other people would draw such extreme conclusions from my Instagram.
And then I realized I do the same thing. I form ideas of others' lifestyles and personalities based on their social media, and then I compare myself to them, and then I realize my life is not as exciting, and then I feel inferior. It's a vicious cycle. The comparison is, after all, a trap. And, scrolling through social media, I fall into the trap over and over again.
To be the best I can be, and to rediscover my childhood happiness, social media cannot be in my life in the same capacity that has been for years. However, for me, and for many others, social media is a necessary career tool. The simple solution? Dedicating specific times to engaging in activities outside of social media.
In a recent study from the Texas State University psychology department, psychologists determined that "playtime" is essential to mental health and effectively handling stress in children and adolescents. I would argue that this concept extends to college students and adults; we can all benefit from taking time to play -- offline. The National Institute for Play states on its website that play "generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy, and promotes a sense of belonging and community." If that's not enough to get you off of social media, I don't know what is.
This year, I challenge you to take at least one day each week to take a complete break from social media. For me, Sunday works best -- a break from social media fits nicely with a day of rest.
Fill the time you would normally spend on social media with something -- anything -- healthier. Try a new hobby or activity. Go to the gym. Read a book. Call your mom. Explore your city. Try your very hardest to be present at the moment. During the day, keep track of how you are feeling. Does your mind feel clearer? Do you feel more relaxed? Are you finding it easier to concentrate? Do you feel more fulfilled?
Social media, today, seems to be a necessary evil. But it is draining us. Taking just one day every week to clear your head and engage in offline activities works magic to refresh your passion and motivation. You might even start living a more exciting life than the one on your Instagram.