For college students, summer is when we have more time to do activities we are too busy to do during the school year. For some, that might mean traveling, hanging out with friends or binge-watching Netflix shows. But for others, it might mean endlessly scrolling through Instagram.
Summer is the season we are bombarded with photos of glamorous trips and beautiful beaches, making us feel envious and discontent with a summer staying home or working. Summer can make social media seem like an even more unattainable daydream than it already is throughout the rest of the year. This thought is harmful because it contributes to a skewed perspective where the heavily-edited posts we see make us feel like our lives need to achieve a similar level of filtered perfection.
It’s easy to get sucked into the fantasy of wanting our lives to be as aesthetically pleasing as they are in our posts, but this is exactly what can make social media so detrimental. Social media contributes to unrealistic expectations, which explains why Instagram, compared to other platforms like YouTube, was ranked by the Royal Society for Public Health as the worst platform for young people’s mental health. The study found that social media platforms – especially those that are image-based like Instagram and Snapchat – cause increased feelings of inadequacy and anxiety among young people.
So this summer, when you take off for a summertime vacation or explore your own backyard – put down your phone. You’ll be able to fully enjoy your summer instead of constantly comparing it to others.
I’ve made this a priority over the past two months, and it’s made me realize that I was more focused on making sure my social media posts achieved an idealized standard than I was on spending time doing things I actually enjoy that may not be “Instagram-worthy.” It’s difficult to recognize how much our online presence consumes our real lives until we spend time apart from the technology. With one month of summer left, it’s time to maximize it by swapping time normally spent scrolling through social media for another activity you may have put on the back burner.
I found that reading is the best way to take a break from the endless scrolling. As an English major, I read a lot during the school year, but it’s not the same as being able to enjoy novels I choose. That is why I decided to use the 15-minute Metro ride to and from my internship to read instead of looking at Instagram. Not only has it made me less dependent on my phone, but it reminded me of what made me want to major in English in the first place.
Using time typically spent on social media to do something else can make you happier for a number of reasons. Going offline can mean spending less time comparing your day-to-day life to someone else’s and relieve you from the feeling of constant competition that plagues social media. Even if you don’t realize it, your self-esteem plummets when a picture you were excited to post didn’t get as many likes or comments as expected. Research has proven that the frequency with which a person uses social media correlates to the extent that the person will make social comparisons based on the people they follow online. So, when a friend’s picture from the same event gets three times as many likes as yours did, it can contribute to a toxic competitive atmosphere.
This isn’t to say that we all need to delete our social media accounts or that everything that results from the technology is toxic. But, I’ve learned that even if you’re able to limit time online during a short work commute, it can make you feel significantly more centered to focus on something you’re interested in. In fact, a study from the University of Michigan and University of Leuven found that we increase our levels of well-being and satisfaction when we replace the fleeting happiness gained from comments on our photos with doing hobbies that slip away from us when other commitments are required.
If you spend the last days of summer on an activity other than social media, you will also likely gain a better understanding of the effects social media has on your life. Listen to a new podcast while waiting in the doctor’s office for your annual check-up before heading back to school. Take a break from scrolling inside and go for a hike or walk outside instead. Or, follow my lead and bring that book you’ve been meaning to read on your commute to work.
Step away from social media and refocus on something that we take for granted during the break – it’ll leave you feeling more aware of how social media affects you and reconnected to a hobby you left behind.
Natalie Prieb, a junior majoring in English and creative writing, is a Hatchet columnist.
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