The Struggle to Break Free: Real Life vs. Social Media

Our phone habits are giving us anxiety. We must find a balance.

Unplug for a while—or not—at a Wanderlust Festival this summer. Find out more | 2016 lineup | Buy tickets

I bet I can guess the first thing you did when you woke up this morning.

Were you perusing through your notifications—morning breath still in full effect? You’re not alone if checking your phone in the a.m. comes in as a higher “first thing to do” priority than hopping out of bed and brushing your teeth. In fact, a staggering “80 percent of 18–44-year-olds” have the same morning routine, according to SocialTimes.

The Social Media Struggle

Screen addiction is so real, as is social media addiction. A lot of the time Americans spend on their phones isn’t even to communicate directly with others. Instead, it’s on social media. According to Digital Trends, people in the U.S. spend “the most time per day on their phones … a staggering 4.7 hours.” This face-to-phone time translates to checking social media an alarming 17 times a day—that’s “at least once every waking hour, if not more.”

Now, I’m not playing the shame game here, because I’m guilty of ‘gramming my perfect #tacotuesday spread, and can’t help but snap a photo of the plane wing and sky view outside my window seat. We are constantly in share mode. When we experience something new and exciting—from an amazing trip to a ridiculously photogenic salad—our first inclination is often to take a picture and blast it out on all platforms.

These days it almost can feel like if you didn’t photograph and share it, it didn’t happen. It’s a problem—and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, struggling to put down my phone and find balance between real life and technology. In fact, according to Tech Times, FOMO (fear of missing out) can lead to depression and anxiety in teen social media users. A balance must be found.

Knowing When to Unplug

My cousin Meghan, a mindful yogi, understands the struggle between unplugging and staying connected. Having just returned from Wanderlust Stratton, she spoke about her indecision between wanting to post photos of what the festival—and her experience—were like, and wanting to abandon her phone entirely.

Her inner-struggle went a little something like this:

An argument to put her phone away: “Without my phone in my hand, I got to experience things constantly—as they were happening.” she said. “Being on my phone, taking pictures, and posting things would take my attention away from what was going on. Instead of recording concerts I simply watched, experienced, and participated. I wanted to stay in the moment.”

On the flip-side, a solid reason to keep her phone handy: “I wanted to share what I was experiencing, and the place I was in,” Meghan said. “The grounds were awe-inspiring. I wanted people to remember and realize that these places exist—and probably somewhat close to where they live. They’re worth finding and visiting.”

Two valid arguments. So how do we determine which to follow? How do we find the balance between wanting to disconnect and stay in the moment—phone out of reach—and wanting to share inspiring content with our friends and followers?

A balance is possible—we just have to be strategic about it.

Guidelines for Phone Balance

Consider these points the next time you find yourself reaching for your phone:

Post with a purpose. If you’re going to stop what you’re doing to post on social media—and take time away from your experience to do so—make sure it’s with good reason.

Make space for you. If you’re attending a yoga festival, like Meghan, keep your phone off your mat. Allow that space to be sacred, and just for you.

Photos from a friend. While it may not be exactly what you saw with your own two eyes, grabbing photos from a friend can offer a whole new take on an experience you shared together. Get them at the end of your journey so you can keep your eyes up.

Picture now, post later. Find yourself in a perfect photo op? Take the moment to snap the shot, but stop there. Post it later, and stay engaged.

No phone zone. Designate certain times and areas where phones are an absolute no (like your yoga mat). Mealtimes and moments where attention should especially be paid—speeches, hikes, social face-to-face time—these are no phone zones. Wherever you are, be all there.

Connect in real time. Checking in via text or social media with friends and family can be great. Technology is amazing for helping us keep in touch, but, are we missing out on genuine real-time connections? If your face is buried in your phone you’re preoccupied, and subsequently less approachable. Put your phone down and allow new connections to be made… Face-to-face. Who knows, your soulmate could be just beyond your screen.

Find alternatives. Our phones are basically our lifelines. They’re more than just a means for connection. They’re our alarm clock, camera, planner, and where we store all our to-do lists. We rely on them. Try adopting alternatives to bring yourself away from your phone. Jot down your thoughts and ideas in a journal, use a physical planner or calendar to remember dates, and buy an actual camera to take photos. You’ll be less inclined to start poking around on your phone when you’re using a single-purpose item instead.

How do you find a balance between real life and social media? Share your tips in the comments below.

Maggie Peikon bio2Maggie Peikon is a New York native, writer, and sufferer of insatiable wanderlust. An avid endorphin seeker she has a constant need to be moving, seeking adventure in all she does. She is a lover of travel, daydreaming, fitness, thunderstorms, and her dog, Finley. Despite the fact that she has to take medication daily due to a thyroidectomy, Maggie still believes that laughter will always be the best medicine. Follow her musings on Instagram and Twitter.