Everything I learned when I came off social media for a week

Relaxing, heart-warming, fulfilling, life-changing... just four ways Dubai-based PR Rohma Nomani describes going social-media free for seven days. Intrigued? Read on...
Everything I learned when I came off social media for a week

As someone who has been on social media since my first year at uni, I can’t remember a single day of my adult life where I didn’t log into my social-media accounts. This strange, compulsive habit enabled me to escape boredom, communicate, brag and stalk, and working in an industry where social media is a way of life, I found myself grabbing my phone every morning and scrolling through multiple newsfeeds even before I got out of bed.

You know the drill: memorable moments became photo ops, mundane ones livened up by a flurry of fun filters... "'Gram, or it didn't happen," basically became my motto. And although I consider myself generally rather content and confident, scrolling through the carefully curated images on my feed always made me doubt myself. Every social-media binge left me with pangs of FOMO, anxiety and envy, and I often let the number of likes I got dictate what was or wasn’t a worthwhile experience or thought.

Speaking to friends, it seemed that my experiences mirrored theirs, and it got me thinking: what would happen if I just deleted these apps from my phone altogether? An unimaginable yet exhilarating idea that begged to be tested. So I decided to go a full week without access to any kind of social media whatsoever. Gulp.

At the start, I wasn’t sure of what to do with all the spare time I suddenly stumbled upon. I would often reach for my phone to check for notifications, only to realise there were none. Slowly, withdrawal gave way to a feeling of quiet contentment and appreciation, and I had one of the most productive and stress-free weeks of my life.

In just one week, I managed to purge my dependency on social media – and I am so much happier for it. I have since slowly got back online but in a far more mindful manner that has enabled me stay present, gracious and conscious. Ground-breaking? Not really. Life-changing? Most definitely.

Here are the top six things I learned from my social-media detox:

1. “I don’t have time.” Actually, you do
If I could have a cent for every time I heard that phrase (or used it), I would be one wealthy gal. Life is busier than it has ever been for any generation before us, but trust me when I say this, you do have time, and you'll be surprised by just how much of it is taken up by social media. Those 5-10 minute binges really add up, and studies show that the average adult spends anywhere between 2-4 hours a day on social media – that’s almost a quarter of your time awake every single day.

2. Life is what happens offline
Social media has found a peculiar way of being a socially acceptable part of every scenario in our lives. Whether it’s peeking at notifications during dinner, posing for the perfect workout selfie or posting about the breathtaking scenery on holiday. We're missing out on living those perfect moments whilst scurrying to find the best filter to get a post up. Put away your phone and savour the moment – social media won’t last forever, but your memories will.

3. Social interactions > social-media interactions
The strangest part of disconnecting from social media? You actually start to connect with people. A post or a story often makes you feel like you know what's going on a person’s life. You react with a like or perhaps an emoji to let them know you support them, then move on to the next post. Without social media, I was reaching out to friends and family; wondering what was going on in their lives. The result? I had real-life social interactions, and was able to help a few friends tackle problems they were facing – the kind of things that never make their way on to social media. Real, heart-warming, fulfilling stuff, that leaves you feeling good about yourself. 

4. Everyone should have a hobby
Remember the days when people used to actually enquire about hobbies? It seems that none of us have the time for them anymore. Without social media, you will find the time to pursue an actual hobby or interest, one that will help you develop a skill and relax at the same time. For me, it was picking up a paintbrush and completing my first painting in 10 years. The act of sitting in the garden, sans iPhone, with my easel and paints was unimaginably therapeutic and I couldn’t help but wonder why it took me a decade to get back here in the first place.

5. Dolce far niente
Social media is bold, flashy and entertaining – an arena that's used to showcase the big achievements, the big events and the big experiences. While there's nothing wrong in celebrating life’s big moments, when you only focus on that, you miss out on savouring the smaller things in life. One of my favourite Italian sayings, dolce far niente, which literally translates to ‘the sweetness of doing nothing’, celebrates life’s quieter moments – those times when you can just let your mind and spirit unwind. I am blessed enough to have my grandfather in town and spent a Thursday evening playing board games with him and a few close friends. It wasn’t a  cool event, but rather a quieter affair, filled with laughter, food and joy. On most days, I would have felt jabs of FOMO for not being at the newest restaurant opening or that party at Base Dubai, but without social media, I was able to completely relax and be grateful for having such incredible people around me.  

6. You don’t know your friends’ birthdays
I actually rely on Facebook to tell me about birthdays – those notifications are beyond helpful in ensuring I am able to post my customary birthday greetings on friends’ walls. I actually missed wishing a close friend and a cousin on their birthdays. So embarrassing! Although I know that I will pretty much always have Facebook around to keep me in the loop on these things, I have since made a conscious effort to reach out to my nearest and dearest and make mental notes of their birthdays. Call me old-fashioned, but some things are just worth remembering.

Photo: Jason Lloyd-Evans