This week we saw the effects of social media in action as millions of people across the world spiralled into states of panic as the commonly used platforms Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram stopped working for 6 hours. It made for some interesting observations.

I have been on an unplanned but, in hindsight, a much needed social media detox. I caught the dreaded cold that’s been going around and it totally floored me. I used to say to my patients, you know you have the flu when you don’t even have the energy to crawl out of bed to pick up a £100 left there for you. Well, this current bout of cold took away my energy to even scroll on Instagram which is a first for me!

The first couple of days offline felt a bit odd, as if something was missing but I just didn’t know what; as the days went on and the energy returned, I felt no compulsion to log back in to see what everyone was up to. The usual FOMO (fear of missing out) had disappeared and to my surprise I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time, headspace!

Over the pandemic and through relentless lockdowns, I became a regular consumer and user of social media platforms, like everyone else. Where physical contact was restricted, we all adapted by connecting through other means and platforms, like WhatsApp and Facebook, became lifelines. I have always used social media both personally and professionally, so to take time offline felt alien to me. These last two weeks however, I got a flavour of my pre-online life back and it has been a weird but nice experience.

From young kids to the elderly, social media has become an extension of life as we know it. It has been powerful in connecting loved ones across continents as well as a invaluable tool for education and even businesses. However aside from this, such platforms have also become problematic for many people in that it has created dependence and unhealthy behaviours. How often do you sit down after a long day or during the day, perhaps whilst on public transport or even eating, mindlessly scrolling? You end up buying things you perhaps didn’t need or want because someone advertised it; maybe even compare your situation to someone else’s and end up feeling bad about yourself for no reason. You can feel an urge to “just check in” or maybe take pictures specifically to share online. Whatever the reason might be for why you use some platforms, it is important to take a step back and review; how healthy is your relationship with the online world? How much are you in control or does it control you?

I didn’t appreciate this until my recent time offline. I have had 2 weeks off now and I cannot tell you how much more productive I have been with my time. I have ticked off things on my to-do list that I have been meaning to do for the whole of the pandemic, but it has always been easier to sit and scroll instead. I have been more present with my loved ones and been spending more quality time actually meeting up with or phoning my friends and family instead of sending Whatsapp messages that seem somewhat hollow at times. Instead of consuming what others are doing, I have had so much more headspace and quiet time to do things that bring me joy – pottering around my home and some upcycling projects. All in the time I would normally be wasting online!

In fact, I went on this unscheduled social media detox at a time where the outage happened.

I missed it completely until I went in to work the next day and everyone was talking about how panicked they felt when Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram went down the night before. One of my colleagues said: “I didn’t know what to do with myself so I watched a film with my husband for the first time in ages. We had a lovely night.” Usually they would be scrolling instead.

As with all things in life, moderation is key. It is essential to always be in control of everything you are consuming and this isn’t just food but also what are you feeding your mind? We need to lean less on social media to give us rushes of happiness but seek this in our actual everyday experiences remembering to find the things which bring you joy, and do these more! Connect with those you can in real life. Pick up the phone and chat more instead of sending messages. Spend free time connecting with a hobby or interest and be more conscious and mindful about how much time you spend online. Whilst social media has definite positive uses, it might be controlling us more than we like to think.