Recently, I made the decision to delete TikTok permanently to get my mental health back on track. Here’s my journey from when I first downloaded the app on my phone to delete it permanently.
Trigger warning: I mention my struggle with disordered eating habits and anxiety. If these topics are sensitive for you, please be cautious when reading. Always remember to be kind to yourself and your needs.
In the fall of 2019, I was just beginning my first year of college at Virginia Commonwealth University. My ambitions and love for science led me to pursue a degree in Biology on a pre-medical track. Needless to say, the classic “premed stress” factor kept me up late nearly every night. I was trying to make sure my grades were as high as possible.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t complain about any of it (even now as I write this article post-graduation). For the first time since I graduated high school, I was in a much happier position. I balanced daily activities with work and relaxation, got enough sleep, and actually enjoyed being myself. Finally, I started believing in myself again and rebuilding my confidence.
Around this time, social media was still fairly new to me. I wasn’t allowed to have social media until I was a junior in high school. In hindsight, I smile at the blissful ignorance I once had. By late September 2019, I only had Instagram and Snapchat accounts. I was happy with just those two.
How I fell down the TikTok rabbit hole:
I’d heard of the popularity of TikTok. Although I was tempted to download it, I initially refused. Ironically, it was because I’d heard that it would become addicting. However, my skepticism died over time as I made new, close friends in college with who I’d watch funny TikToks with together. Together, we’d laugh our stresses away. Slowly but surely, watching TikToks became something comforting. Since I could balance my other responsibilities just fine, I decided that my comfort was bigger than my doubt.
Diving into the world of TikTok, I realized just how different the app was from other social media platforms. Truly, it felt like TikTok was a whole other world. It was filled with inside jokes that only people who were on the platform could understand. Until early 2020, I found myself being able to regulate my scrolling through TikTok very well…
The case with COVID
The onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic made the world turn upside down. Suddenly, my entire life was online: school, friends, extracurriculars, along with any escape I had. I took comfort in TikTok. Scrolling through my FYP was a way to relax, become inspired by influencers, and seek some kind of comfort during the uncertain early days of the pandemic. From trying to learn the popular TikTok dances to participating in trends, I was doing it all to save myself from my anxiety of the world falling apart.
This was just the beginning of my social media addiction to TikTok. However, I didn’t know it at the time. This is because I was still managing my work very well, completing everything on time and scoring high grades. Thus, because I wasn’t just scrolling through the app 24/7, I didn’t quite view it as an obsession. Looking back, it’s easy to see the slippery slope that I was on.
Scrolling away all day
By the fall semester of 2020, all my classes were still online. As a student, I learn best in person, as I am able to focus on the lectures more when I can see my professor explaining things to me. Even though I was getting good grades, the stress became too much to handle at times. On top of that, I was beginning my daunting journey into taking Organic Chemistry, as required for my major. Needless to say, the pressure was ON. My anxiety was at an all-time high (probably the most since I had left high school).
Suddenly, scrolling through TikTok turned into a leisure activity I’d engage in a few times a week to being a full-on coping mechanism to escape from my stressful reality. I found myself back to the old habits of my high school years, which led to very low self-esteem and poor mental health. Constantly, I was comparing myself to other people (those who I knew personally and other influencers) for almost anything and everything. Of course, seeing traumatic news events from the real world all over social media (especially TikTok) didn’t exactly help my anxiety or hopeless feelings either.
Eventually, in the fall of 2021, classes were back to being somewhat in-person. There was a sense of new normalcy, yet my habits were not any better. Luckily for me, my academic performance and extracurriculars had never suffered because of my TikTok addiction. Still, I was suffering because even though I knew I was getting hurt, a part of me felt too scared to let go. Looking back, I recognize that it was the infamous fear of missing out (FOMO). Little did I know just how much worse I was going to be suffering in the future.
The Beginning Of The End
I found myself in a place where I was constantly telling myself that I was not good enough. These feelings of low self-esteem bled into the kind of social media I was immersed in. In my burnout, I was watching a lot of videos that reeked of toxic positivity. All of those videos basically amounted to saying that unless I was being productive, I wasn’t working hard enough. This led to tearing myself down when I wanted to do self-care or take some kind of break. The sad part is I didn’t see this as bad at all. Rather, I simply saw it as “motivational.” After all, that’s the kind of content it was branded as.
I was burnt out and unmotivated to do much else besides schoolwork. Even then, it was only because I absolutely had to do the work. I found myself falling back into procrastinating again and completing everything at the last minute. I found myself scrolling in nearly all the free time I had, in a feeble attempt to escape the feelings of impending doom and self-hatred.
Body Image and Disordered Eating
To make it worse, I became very unhappy with how my body looked. I would constantly look in the mirror and pinch at the parts of my body that didn’t look good enough to me. I turned to TikTok fitness influencers to try to lose weight. This led to me falling down yet another rabbit hole of unhealthy weight loss. I was undereating and no longer enjoying the foods I once loved. Doing intense workouts took up nearly a fourth of my day each day. Eventually, it would turn into an unhealthy routine where I’d just “forget” to eat any food or drink any water until the end of the day. Moreover, I consistently used anxiety from school as a source for my denial of my disordered eating, reducing it as simply “not having the time to eat.”
By the time January 2022 rolled around, I had developed insomnia from just how much I was scrolling through the app late at night. I would go to bed in the dark hours of the early morning and wake up in the late afternoon. My addiction to the app was at an all-time high.
The Decision to Delete TikTok
Near the end of this January, I began to sort through my goals for this new year. I noticed that other than my goals for my journey toward medical school, I wanted to break bad habits and build better, sustainable ones. As I did my daily journaling, I noticed just how intertwined all my bad habits were with my TikTok addiction.
After doing some light research, I found out more about the psychological reasoning behind social media addiction. As McLean Hospital explains it, using social media stimulates the reward center of the brain by releasing dopamine. Thus, they say that “the platforms are designed to be addictive and are associated with anxiety, depression, and even physical ailments.”
Because the outcome of using social media isn’t completely predictable, the behavior of using it is more likely to become habitual. Read more about it here: https://www.mcleanhospital.org/essential/it-or-not-social-medias-affecting-your-mental-health. Doing this research also led me to think more deeply about social media as it pertains to an audience of women and just how often that kind of content serves to create, target, and exploit various insecurities. I realized that I had personally fallen victim to that same content.
Hence, I made the decision to delete the app from my phone at the beginning of this February to curb my social media addiction. Looking back, I’m proud of myself for being resilient and prioritizing my mental and physical health. I tried to stay away from my phone to avoid using my other social media as well. This is because I didn’t want my Instagram or Snapchat to become my replacement for TikTok. I was finally ready to allow some positive change.
My Journey Without TikTok
For the most part, I was able to find lots of alternate activities to scrolling. I got back into my old passions and fired up my ambitious side again. Being able to find that balance between work and relaxation again made me feel so productive and proud of myself. Sometimes, I would find myself slipping up by scrolling through Instagram Reels. However, when this happened, rather than beating myself up, I gave myself a time limit before I had to put my phone away and do something else instead. This became much easier to avoid as the month went on.
I found myself becoming more disciplined, focusing on work just as much as self-care. Whenever feelings of FOMO would try to creep up on me, I’d try to combat those feelings with positive affirmations. I would tell myself that it’s valid to not want to be a part of something if it negatively affects me, even if it’s something popular. Even now, I always remind myself how comparing myself to others is pointless since I’m my own person on my own path in life. To avoid burnout, I reassure myself that self-care is productive too. Also, I am happy to say that I’m learning to love my body for what it is and enjoying the process of fueling my body with yummy food that I love to eat.
Overall, this journey has been huge for my own personal growth. Luckily, I am in a place where I can find validation within myself and trust myself. Of course, no journey is a success all of the time. Naturally, I still have my bad mental health days every now and then. Now, the difference is simply that I can trust myself to bounce back again.