My daughter and I just returned from a four-day Disney Cruise to the Bahamas. The trip was supposed to be for my entire family, but at the literal last minute, a family emergency required my husband and son to make the eight-hour drive back home and my daughter and I to board the ship without them.
It was a strange thing to navigate. I was grieving the loss of this family vacation—the one I paid for from a portion of the advance from my book deal, which was also my birthday trip. I wanted to cry, to go to our stateroom and lay there in a puddle of self-pity. But my five-year-old daughter was there, and she deserved to have the magical vacation she was promised. Right then and there, I decided to make lemonade out of the lemons we had been served. I was going to create the most magical mother-daughter vacation this world had ever seen, pouring every ounce of energy and enthusiasm into making my little girl feel like the most important person on earth.
The first decision I made was to completely log out of my social media accounts. I had purchased a data plan for the trip with the expectation that I would post blogs to my website, work on my next book, and post the occasional vacation update to Instagram. But at that moment, I decided that the only thing I’d use my phone for on this trip was to stay in touch with my husband and son, and to send as many photos and videos to my family back home as possible.
As the trip went on, I noticed myself feeling lighter, less anxious than usual. I was taking small setbacks in stride, being more present with my daughter, and overall feeling a sense of peace and positivity that, looking back, I don’t think I’ve felt in many years. At first, I figured this was due to being in the happiest place on earth. After all, it’s pretty hard to be unhappy when you’re cruising with Disney. But then one morning, while my daughter was still asleep, I decided to log into my “safest” social media app—Medium. Since it’s more of a place for readers than for consumers of social media, I tend to get relatively few comments on my posts. When I do get comments, they are usually thoughtful and in good faith. But this one morning, I opened the app to find a comment at the top of my notifications feed that just rubbed me the wrong way. It was rude, and clearly made in bad faith. Instantly, I was transported back to that ugly place where peace goes to die. When my daughter woke up, I was irritable. I snapped at her that morning for the first and only time on the entire trip.
And it was that moment that I realized the supreme and unquestionable power that social media has over my well-being.
I thought back to every day of our trip so far. How nothing my daughter had done had gotten me irritable or anxious. I had felt, for the first time in a long time, like I was actually being the kind of mom I want to be: kind, patient, attentive, and fun. I had truly enjoyed every moment with my daughter, not “surviving” it, the way I feel some days, but truly soaking up every moment with her. The good and the bad.
Something struck me just then: how many times had we had a “bad day” at home, with the kids being “difficult” and me being “overwhelmed by them,” when the bad time we were having had nothing to do with my kids? It was undeniable that looking at one, singular negative comment had provoked my one and only impatient moment with my child on this trip. And when we are at home, I am inundated with comments like that literally all day long. Social media is part of my job. I post multiple times a day to my several platforms. My largest platform has over 600,000 followers and a very active comment section. But even my smaller accounts, like Instagram, where I have around 55,000 followers, are usually flooded with comments every day. And, sadly, a large percentage of those comments are nasty, rude, and unprovoked. They send me into a negative headspace that, if I’m honest, has an impact on my mental health and my interactions with my family.
Is it possible that I haven’t been handling these daily intrusions as well as I thought?
For the rest of the trip, I contemplated this question in my quiet moments. I realized that, over my years on social media, I had developed a curmudgeonly attitude toward humanity. Humans are inherently wicked and unkind, I decided, prone to giving in to their most ugly impulses when given the opportunity. This is what social media taught me. But being on this cruise, surrounded by real people who couldn’t hide behind keyboards and a sense of anonymity, I was reminded that people are actually not that bad. People can be kind, and caring, and warm. In general, we tend to look out for each other, to treat each other decently.
My daily trips to the well of negativity on social media have impacted every aspect of my life off social media. Cruelty and unkindness, working through frail people to touch upon my frailty and trigger points, leave me weak, angry, and tense. I become impatient with my children. Snippy with my husband. Easily annoyed by my friends. And this, I had come to believe, was just what life was like in a post-COVID world. Perhaps the lockdowns, the fear, and the collective trauma changed us in some way. Maybe irreconcilably. But being on this trip and estranged from social media—forced to spend time around decent people without the barrage of hate delivered to me daily by my own phone, made me realize that the problem isn’t humanity. The problem is social media.
Social media is a place that equips and enables the darkest impulses in some people. It would be a mistake to think that social media isn’t an accurate reflection of humanity because, at its core, it is. It just so happens to be a place that makes cruelty easy, and thus, we see disproportionately more of it there than in real life. But what takes place on social media isn’t a full representation of our humanity.
Humanity, in its barest essence, is good.
In order to maintain this positive image of humanity, and to enable myself to be the best wife, mother, family member, and friend I can be, I must set boundaries with my time on social media. I can’t step away from social media entirely because I cannot do my job without it. So, I must learn how to keep the bull shit of social media out of my mind and out of my family.
I’m doing a few things toward this end:
First, I am blocking and deleting deliberately cruel comments. I don’t need to give intentionally unkind people access to me, and I certainly don’t deserve to waste my precious time on this planet arguing with them. It’s time to start making their worlds smaller, not bigger.
Second, I am creating smaller communities made up of people I know and trust, and spending my time engaging with those people. My main accounts for my business and brand will become outbound only—places where I post, engage with the people I recognize, and ignore the rest. I’ll be posting my content from my main page to my Close Friends and Friends Only pages on TikTok and Instagram, and engaging in conversations there. I’ll also be posting to my Subscribers Only pages and engaging with comments there, for the people who don’t know me in real life but who support me and want more access to me and my time.
Third, no more scrolling social media notifications before bed and first thing in the morning. I don’t need to go to sleep or wake up with cruelty on my mind.
Over the coming weeks, I’m going to work on creating more boundaries for myself. I see this as the only way to keep social media where it belongs: in a very small corner of my mind.
Being on this cruise with my daughter and untouched by the heartache that comes with being online made me realize how much better I feel about myself when I’m disconnected. I am a better mom. A happier person. A kinder and more cheerful friend. I want to be that person all the time. And what I’ve learned is that I can be. The answer, the solution, is so simple. Why not make this easy fix so that I can be the best and fullest version of myself at all times?
There is no excuse to let the misery that dwells on social media peer its ugly head into my beautiful life. And its reign of terror on me, my mental health, and my family ends today.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.