I spent the past week in Derry, visiting family. Pictured above is the view I had from my apartment window.
The River Foyle flowed. The traffic flowed. Life flowed. Each night I would sit and watch it unfold. It was peaceful yet stimulating.
Things were happening. Yet nothing was happening.
On the day before I flew to Derry, I removed the Facebook app from my phone. I recall hesitating before I did so.
My friend Chris decluttered his phone some weeks earlier. He told me his life was better as a result.
“No Facebook?” I asked.
“No Facebook” he smiled.
I felt much the same as when people tell me they have swam with sharks. Part of me was thinking “Wow that’s amazing.” The rest of me was thinking “Wow, I could never do that!”
But Facebook had become a problem for me.
They say that habits are in place once we are doing things on auto pilot, unthinking. That’s how Facebook has been for me.
The chain goes like this. Link one: A micro second of boredom. Link two: reach for phone. Link three: open Facebook app. Link four: scroll. Link five: scroll. And so on, until I put down the phone a good while later, feeling less content than I did before.
I noticed that I was checking Facebook every few minutes. Even if just for a moment. I was reaching for my phone without even thinking. Sometimes I’d stop myself. Often I didn’t.
It would happen even if I was already doing something else. I’d be watching a film. A dull bit of the story would happen and I’d reach out to the phone to solve it.
I got to feeling unstimulated if I was only doing one thing. It was common for me to be sat on my sofa, book in one hand, Facebook in the other.
What was I doing? I couldn’t be reading both! Reading two things at the same time is impossible.
Yet this was the level of stimulus hunger that I had trained myself into.
My friend Chris said he likes the first thing he reads each day to be meaningful. This makes sense to me. But what did I do when I woke up each morning? Reach for the phone. Scroll through Facebook.
Hence why I debated with myself about removing it. Could I cope?
Here’s what I learned.
Waking up and not looking at Facebook improved my life. I regained instant control over what poured into my head space at the start of the day.
My Facebook habit was too difficult to do without the app. My usage went from every few minutes, to just a few minutes per day.
When I checked Facebook, I felt less well. Less content. More down. Facebook has a detrimental effect on my emotional well being. I stopped having these regular mood drags punctuating my day.
Instead of Facebook, I read an actual book, or listened to a podcast. Something that I had chosen. My focus was now self directed. This was much nicer.
I was in control of my head space again. The ideas I was putting into my mind were things I had chosen. Facebook doesn’t work like that. It’s a stream of the unexpected, and often unwanted.
Scrolling through Facebook turns your head space into a dumping ground for other people’s emotions.
It outsources your own focus to others. You may not wish to focus on hate, murder, terrorism, outrage, vengeance and heartbreak. But if that’s where your Facebook friends are focusing, so are you.
The River Foyle was ever changing like a Facebook news feed. But it was a more nourishing, more peaceful alternative.
I arrived back home yesterday morning. Last night there was no River Foyle to look upon as I sipped my late night cup of tea. There were no taxis passing across the Craigavon Bridge. No late night joggers to catch my eye.
Just four walls and some closed curtains for stimulation.
I reached for my phone. I wonder what’s happening on Facebook…Alun Parry is Director of The Liverpool Psychotherapy Practice