In July, I made an overnight decision to embark on something I had never considered before, a social media detox. At the time, I took this purely because I’d found myself frequently checking WhatsApp and Instagram to a point where I was not able to focus on my job.

I was addicted.

I was hoping to reduce my dependency on social media and be able to increase my focus at work.

While I knew staying off Instagram and Facebook wouldn’t be much of a problem, my main challenge was WhatsApp as it was my most-used tool for communication to keep in touch with not just my social circle but also my family. Ultimately, with this social media detox, I was hoping to reduce my dependency on social media and be able to increase my focus at work. And so it began with a post on my Instagram that I was going offline until further notice.

Then, I deleted every social media app from my phone.

In all honesty, I expected my phone to go off with messages and calls from family and friends asking why I did what I did, instead I was met with radio silence except from two of my closest friends.

The first two weeks were largely uneventful, to say the least. My daily routine went on as usual but I kept wanting to check WhatsApp, more than anything, just to see what was happening and it took god-awful amounts of self-control to ensure I wouldn’t slip.

Simultaneously, I often wondered why no one wanted to know why I went offline and I felt sort of disappointed because we expect people would notice our absence… right?

This feeling, however, dissipated by the next week, when eventually some of them did come around and ask me what was going on; when I said I needed a break, they seemed to be satisfied.

Eleven days into the detox, I chose to email my inner circle about my experience so far. While I set out not expecting any responses, apart from a few calls here and there, my three musketeers would reply as often as they could; if by the third day I hadn’t responded, they would email/call to check up on me. By the end of Week 4, however, I felt like I had another problem coming in. While the need to check up on Instagram and WhatsApp had reduced, I had unknowingly become dependent on checking my emails.

Instead of focusing on cutting the addiction, it would be better to first focus on why I was addicted in the first place.

This got to me and I found myself on a wild rant with a close friend about how lost and useless I’d been feeling. Even though this detox was a self-imposed one, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything differently. He replied that instead of focusing on cutting the addiction, it would be better to first focus on why I was addicted in the first place.

Frankly, that conversation threw me because I hadn’t even considered that. I had intended this detox to be a way for me to lower my dependency on the digital, because that’s all I thought it was, but it was a symptom, not the disease.

Over the next few days, and after a lot of conversations with him, I realized that certain traumatizing life circumstances – a personal loss and abuse – had me develop a habit of constantly putting things off instead of learning to deal with what had happened.

And that maybe this addiction was the result, a symptom of a much bigger issue that I had been carrying with me since I was a teenager, something that I wasn’t even aware I was doing. While I was capable of putting out fires and adeptly managing crises, thinking about myself and my feelings with respect to what was happening in my life was never a consideration I took into account.

It occurred to me that I was using WhatsApp and Instagram as active fodder for distraction from my pain.

In the vast scheme of things, I didn’t think I mattered. So, I was constantly putting the needs of others before mine. The idea of even just sitting with my thoughts, let alone putting them under a microscope, was not something I wanted to do for the fear of facing my insecurities and ideas of self-worth.

It occurred to me that I would suppress things that mattered to me, that impacted me and the pain I felt, forcing me to use WhatsApp and Instagram as active fodder for distraction. My growing dependency on social media was the result of my brain’s stubborn attempt to focus on the external to avoid the internal.

This realization was not what I had expected to be the outcome of my detox.

Today, I’m glad that it did because although I have returned to social media, but this social media detox was not without its challenges. Now, I actively choose to deal with my thoughts, and this, in turn, has considerably lowered my need to check my phone as a means of distraction. And in doing so, I now possess the mental clarity and control I sought in the beginning, along with the control I was unknowingly lacking before in my life.

  • Arshidha Azeez

    Arshidha ("Arshi" as is she fondly referred to) is a BBA gradaute from Heriot-Watt University Dubai. She has lived in Dubai her whole life, is a lifelong feminist, works as an AML analyst by day, and moonlights as an agony aunt, grammar nazi, and bibliophile in her sparetime.