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Interview: The Life-Changing Effects of a Social Media Cleanse

Social media has reached its zenith of influence, dominating the cultural atmosphere of modern life with something as simple as an egg. However, a new, contradictory trend is spreading that proposes stepping away from social media and regaining an appreciation for the more tangible parts of life.

Ellen Cheng, a junior in high school and previously an avid user of social media, took a break from it for the month of December 2018. I had the opportunity to interview Ellen where reflected back on the profound changes that resulted.

To set the stage, can you describe your social media habits prior to your break?

Before my break, I would literally spend so much time on my social media. I pretty much just watched time fly by. I would look at the clock on my phone, and it would just be going by so fast, and I felt so out of control. I felt like I had no way to stop it. 

Photo by ROBIN WORRALL

What were the pros of doing a social media cleanse?

I had a lot more time to invest in schoolwork because exams were coming up. I also wanted more time to invest in myself, because I felt like my self-confidence was in a downward spiral because I started feeling “Oh, I need to match the person that I project onto the internet.” But you really don’t because everyone sets out their best person and that’s not who they truly are all the time.

I really wanted to spend the time to rebuild myself and look at social media a different way. I also wanted to discipline myself because I have a bad habit of abusing things once I get them.

What were the cons?

I felt like I was out of the loops because a thing in human nature is everyone always wants to be constantly updated with what other people are doing. It’s just a survival tactic, so I definitely felt like I had no idea what was going on with other people — who was hanging out with who, who was doing what, who was where. I didn’t know where my friends were vacationing at. I didn’t know anything about celebrities. I basically felt like a grandma, I didn’t know anything about memes and stuff.

It was also that I couldn’t send people stuff that I wanted to send over snapchat. I only restricted myself to texts, and I had so much time that sometimes I just didn’t know what to do. I had to find ways to make sure I wasn’t bored. 

Photo by pparnxoxo

Do you think it affected your physical or mental health in any way?

It definitely affected my mental health really positively because even now, I find that I can restrict myself on social media so much better. If I’m on Instagram and I’m like “I should go do some work,” it’s way easier to put it down. Also, when I go through Instagram, I feel like I don’t have as much anxiety. Before this, when I went on it, I had this weird, underlying, little fear.

My mental state is much clearer, much cleaner, and I know why I have it and better ways to use it. It’s just changed my life for the better, and at first, when I was doing it, it felt really weird because all the notifications on my phone were gone. I felt alone, but it was really humbling. It changed my mindset a lot.

Was it less difficult or more difficult than you expected it to be?

I guess it depends on what time frame I was in because at the beginning it was kind of difficult because my self-confidence starting going more down since I had even fewer notifications. Then, I was so busy though that I forgot to notice because I was studying for exams and everything.

It also started to get more difficult towards the end because I felt I was so much closer to my goal and I just wanted it to be over. But I went into it thinking that I could do it, so it wasn’t that bad. As long as you have a good mindset for doing these things, it’s never too difficult.

How did it feel going back to social media afterwards? 

Afterwards, it was really weird, it was like I was downloading those apps for the first time. I felt like there was so much I missed out on — I went through my Instagram for an hour, honestly, there were so many posts. It felt really nice to be back and to know that I can now handle it in a better way.

Would you recommend this to everyone?

Yeah, I would. I feel like as kids who are growing up in this generation, who are constantly around social media, it’s hard to get a break. We need time to live our lives without all these distractions. It’s like in a city when it’s really loud, and you never realize having all this white noise, but then you go into the mountains and you realize it’s so quiet. You look in the sky, and there are so many stars you couldn’t see before — I feel like that’s how I would connect that too.

Ellen spoke more of the experience on her new YouTube channel, which you can view here.

Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

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Written By

Phyllis Feng is an Ohio-based writer loves venturing into a diverse array of topics, from literature and music to mental health, and is passionate about emphasizing honesty and empathy in her work. In her free time, you'll usually find her with a book and a mug of tea in her hands.

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