College is tough. Period. Maintaining a balance between school, work, sleep, and a social life is really hard.
Some days I feel as if I’m taking on too much. Maybe my aspirations are a little too high. I’m just an overwhelmed, sleep-deprived student. There are days I wish I could go home and hide from people and responsibilities for a while—that I could be a complete introvert.
The constant thought of “I need to . . .” eats at me. I need to push myself harder. I need to be successful.
Do I let my worries show? Of course not. I’m strong; I’m independent. I often don’t voice my feelings because students around me appear to be managing. Why throw myself a pity party?
People may think I have my life together. I smile big and greet people as they pass in the halls. I offer help to those in need. I volunteer for charities. I appear to be on the road to success. However, in my head, things aren’t that simple. I’m pedaling on a never-ending cycle of “needing to reach higher.”
Yet a larger problem looms. We live in a society that is constantly on-the-go. Advertisers and employers tell us we have to be the best and have access to the best—the latest iPhone, Amazon Prime, Uber, and Netflix—all designed to make our lives easier. But do they actually accomplish that? The truth is, technology can be debilitating and addictive.
A number of my Facebook friends have posted they’re going to deactivate their account—and if I want to get in contact with them I’ll have to use email or the phone (old school!). They log off with the intention of never logging back on, yet that rarely happens. Weeks, sometimes months pass, but eventually most reactivate their Facebook profiles.
I wanted to see just how different my life would be if I eliminated social media. How much time do I spend “liking” Facebook and Instagram posts and viewing Snapchat stories? To find out, I embarked on a five-day social media fast. Surely it wouldn’t be too difficult. After all, I’m trying to manage 17 credit hours and four part-time jobs. I could give up wasting what little free time I have scrolling through social media.
My rules were simple: Get through an entire school week without checking social media. I set just one stipulation—even though I would refrain from social media for the week, I could communicate via email and text message. After all, I’m a college student living halfway across the country from my family, so this seemed like reasonable middle ground.
This wouldn’t be the first time I had gone without social media. I had been on a two-week mission trip to Belize a few months prior with no internet access. Also, I had traveled to Serbia multiple times, for both mission work and to visit relatives, for weeks at a time, and social media definitely hadn’t been a priority for me there. I could do this easily.
Monday morning. Yuck. Mondays are one of my busiest days, so surely I wouldn’t spend much time thinking about social media. However, as I was sitting in Algebra, my first class of the day, my mind began to wander. Not thinking, I pulled out my phone and opened Facebook. Oops. I quickly remembered my social media fast and started writing a grocery list to pass the time instead.
Later that day, I grew tired of hearing my phone beep notifications, so I not only turned them off but also put all of my social media apps in one folder on the last page of my phone screen so I could avoid them. Perhaps this was going to be more difficult than I thought.
Tuesday was a little easier. I felt a few Instagram withdrawals, but I managed to go the entire day without accidentally opening an app. I guess that folder was beneficial.
On Wednesday, I was working on a Photoshop edit for graphic design class and the results were great. I wanted to Snapchat a picture of it to a couple of my friends who were across campus, but then I remembered I was still fasting. I ended up taking a picture and showing it to them in person.
Thursday was different from most other days—I had free time! After classes I enjoyed a solid two-hour chunk of time. After finishing homework, I would typically have used a portion of this gift to check and update my social media accounts. Instead, I ended up taking a nap—a win-win situation!
Friday was smooth sailing. My fast was over at lunch time, after I had finished my classes. I hadn’t even thought about social media. I sat down and ate with a friend. He asked, “How did your social media fast go? Are you glad to be done?”
I had completely forgotten! I was technically “allowed” to use social media, and the thought hadn’t even occurred to me.
Overall, my experiment didn’t turn out quite as I had expected. I was more attached to my phone and social media than I had originally believed. Also, I learned it is much more difficult to refrain from social media here at home than in foreign countries. Checking our apps throughout the day here becomes habitual.
Staying away from apps and networking sites during the week provided me with such freedom. I wasn’t distracted or tied to my phone. Taking a much-needed break provided me with peace of mind.
Researchers from the University of Missouri recently performed a study on 40 young adult smartphone users ranging in age from 18 to 24.1 The study found that people who were separated from their smartphones actually suffered from both physiological and psychological effects. Participants were stationed on one side of a room with their cell phones placed at the other end. When their phones rang and they were unable to answer them, participants experienced an increase in blood pressure and heart rate as well as feelings of anxiety.
It’s crazy how much impact our smartphones can have on our daily lives.
To discover just how much social media affects the lives of today’s Adventist young adults, I surveyed 335 current college students from both Adventist and public colleges and universities.2
The results are intriguing. Social media is a great way to communicate with friends, according to 83 percent of respondents. However, over 50 percent find social media to be stressful, and just less than 79 percent of students agree they find themselves easily distracted while using social media. Of those surveyed, 33 percent agreed seeing what their friends post on social media makes them feel like their lives are boring.
More than 64 percent of respondents (215 people!) said the thought of deleting their social media accounts has crossed their minds. What stopped them? What brought them back to social media? Perhaps they felt the need to keep up with the Joneses?
In addition, 160 people agreed a large amount of their time is spent contemplating what to post. These numbers aren’t surprising—we live for the Facebook “likes,” the Instagram “hearts” and the Twitter “retweets.” We crave recognition and affirmation. Why do we feel such a need for approval?
Maybe it’s because our minds are uneasy. We’re seemingly all put together, but we’re secretly falling apart. We don’t quite realize our good deeds and plastered smiles don’t mean much if we aren’t kind to ourselves.
Simply put, we need to maintain peace within before we can radiate peace to those around us. How do we obtain peace within? Here’s a thought: Focus on the now. Anxiety can be caused by regret of the past or uneasiness of the future. But why dwell on something we cannot change? Why stress over something that hasn’t even happened yet?
Live in the now. When we take our focus off things we have no control over, we come to appreciate the value in things that do matter.
Do we spend as much time recharging ourselves spiritually as we spend recharging our smartphones? Do we open up God’s Book as often as we scroll through Facebook? I can speak only for myself, but I know my answers often aren’t something to be proud of.
Jesus provides assurance in John 16:33. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
If we’ll accept it, Jesus gives us peace. He’s willing to take me—an overwhelmed, sleep-deprived college student—and tackle the craziness I just can’t handle. He has overcome the world, so imagine what He can do in our technology.
—Danica Eylenstein is a junior studying communication with an emphasis in emerging media and a minor in business administration. She is from Bridgeton, New Jersey.