My Social Media Hiatus and What I Learned

Important lessons from my social media hiatus

In the last quarter of 2015, I seemed to be picking up my phone or sitting down at the computer every time I turned around. Facebook. Instagram. Facebook. Email. Facebook… and so it went. Consciously or unconsciously, checking for notifications, responding, and doing “needful” updates had turned into a habit, an addiction, more than just a simple way to connect with others and instead a bona-fide taking over my life activity. I didn’t like my social media dependency, but figured I “needed” to keep posting – for my business followers, to cheer on friends, and just to “keep up.”

Announcing a social media hiatus at the end of December was, truthfully, a spur of the moment decision. I intensely craved a break – complete and utter absence from any “responsibility” (I use that term lightly) to my accounts. I wanted to spend the holiday vacation focused on my family and my artwork. I also wanted to see what it felt like to not check Facebook every 30 minutes or less. (Embarrassingly, that’s what was happening.)

So from December 23rd through January 3rd – 12 glorious days – I abstained from most social media. It rocked my world and I’ve decided I need to make taking a hiatus a regular ritual.

I won’t lie – I was pretty twitchy the first day. I lurked a for a few minutes when I found myself with my phone in hand and looking at Facebook out of habit. The following days my husband was off work and I had gifts and wrapping to finish for the holidays and I just… didn’t. It helped that I settled into an intense week of creating artwork after Christmas. I made an exception for Pinterest use, because I often use it to find photo references for colors and plants in my artwork. And I did miss Instagram. But the longer I went without checking anything that required my active participation, the easier it was.

Facebook made matters more interesting by oh-so-helpfully emailing me every 12 hours:

“A lot has happened on Facebook since you last logged in. Here are some notifications you’ve missed from your friends.”

(I am told they eventually give up emailing you if you resist long enough.)

I had 82 notifications when I finally logged in. Want to know how many I actually needed to look at? Five. Five!!!

Talk about staggering realizations. I really expected at least a few more important notifications after twelve days.

My absence made me realize how much time I spend reading updates that aren’t relevant to me. I’m talking about notifications from business groups and accounts only loosely related to my interests and goals – not genuine life updates from friends.

The amount of time I “gained” during the break (and used doing other things) made me think about how inefficiently I use social media. My first day “back,” I sorted all my kids’ clothes for the too-smalls, did two loads of laundry (and folded them!), cleaned out my jewelry drawer, and sat down to read with my youngest – in addition to being online for 40 minutes. I accomplished everything I needed to in that time period, and I know it was 40 minutes because I set a timer on my phone. (I’m not trying to brag, I’m just stunned by how much I can do when my energy isn’t divided.)

My relationship with myself – ie: my confidence and happiness – improved immensely during my break. That change snapped into sharp focus when I logged back in, started seeing everyone else’s New Year’s resolutions and goals, and noticed all the advertisements for classes that I “should” take to be successful in my business. I immediately began judging my own half-formed ideas for the coming year against what I saw others doing – and then I noticed what I was doing – because I hadn’t been doing that before. As a result, I’ve started considering whether my self-worth and goals are evaluated based on what “others” say I “should” do – instead of listening to my instincts and heart.

I did miss – truly missed – genuine online friendships and relationships I’ve made in the past year. Not having contact with those people made me think about the ways I use social media now, how I want to use it, and how the “business experts” say I should use it.

Overall, I felt relieved. There was nothing waiting for my attention, no notifications popping up (other than Facebook’s regular “we miss yoooooouuuu” email, which surprised me and then made me laugh). My brain was quiet for the most part – not skittering from one made up “to do” to the next, and that, more than anything, made me realize how unquiet my mental state had become.

This isn’t meant to be a social media diatribe. I have, and still do, find immense value in some things that require social media to exist – the friendships, the writing classes I took last year, a sense of community with other women doing the same thing I do. But I do not want to go back to checking my phone every 10 minutes to see if I “need” to respond to something. I want to keep my time online focused and stay present in the here and now in front of me.

I don’t have the answer to what appropriate social media use should look like, and really, I shouldn’t. It looks different for every person. But I know it’ll be an ongoing consideration for me and I’ll be looking for ways to “hack” my online experience – trying to filter out the meaningless stuff and engage genuinely with what is truly worth my time.

I’d love to know your thoughts about this – have you ever taken a complete or near complete break from any form of social media? What were your thoughts about it when you came back? Or on the flip side, how have you felt when other people have taken breaks?

My decision to take a break was also influenced by this fascinating article I read about the link between depression and social media use. I do manage depression and anxious thoughts, and definitely felt myself spiraling downward in December. It was a low-level depression that was manageable, but not fun. (As if depression is ever fun, ha!) I was curious to see if staying away from social media would help. I’d say it did – I am more aware of my emotional response to “the best side of everyone else” that I see, and am better able to manage it because of that awareness. 

Facebook. Instagram. Facebook. Email. Facebook. Consciously or unconsciously, checking for notifications, responding, and doing “needful” updates had turned into a habit, an addiction, more than just a simple way to connect with others and instead a bona-fide taking over my life activity. So from December 23rd through January 3rd – 12 glorious days – I abstained from most social media. It rocked my world.

28 thoughts on “My Social Media Hiatus and What I Learned

  1. Yes! I took a break for over a month, and for most of Nov. & Dec. also, and I loved it. It was hard at first, but I started taking more time for my “real life” family and spent more time doing artwork than before. I’ve returned to blogging daily in the new year, but already thinking about taking another break, or only posting artwork that people may really want to see, something I really invested some time in. (It’s just harder to find extra time to invest when I’m still blogging daily.) I totally agree with you. So, how are you coming back? On a scheduled, limited basis, or just whenever you feel like it? This is the part I’m struggling with right now.

    1. Laura, that is so awesome that you took so much time off. I agree, it is hard at first. For me it was a combination of both filling the time (which seems silly, but there it is) and letting go of that jittery “missing out, need to respond” feeling!

      To your last questions – I’m going to work hard to schedule more things, I think, and schedule time to schedule things once or twice a week. I already use the FB scheduler for my business page about half the time, and schedule with Tweetdeck for Twitter. (Ironically, Twitter is the one social platform where I feel like I have a handle on scheduling a one+ tweets a day, and then just scrolling through quickly to see what everyone is up to! I have two lists – one of people I really *want* to keep up with, and one of everyone. 🙂 ) I’m going to look into potentially presetting some of my art/business related posts for IG, leaving space there to be spontaneous and post what I want. I can’t really completely disappear from FB altogether because I do help manage that FB group, but I do want to get my time “online” limited to one or two sessions per day. I’m not sure how IG fits into that, because I follow enough people now to make it challenging to just sit and catch up quickly and engage meaningfully! (Same with my blog reading, actually… and I’m shamefully behind there.)

      I got SO much artwork done last week when I was off social media, and I really want to continue that trend. And I totally agree with you – it’s hard to find that balance between creation time and networking/social time. To some extent, I need the social feedback on my art/writing to feed my need to create. I still would draw and write, without it, but more sporadically and without too much purpose. Do you ever feel that way?

  2. So, somewhat ironically, as soon as I started reading your post I was like “Oh, I should check Twitter!” and then actually did go check FB. And then I get myself back on track.

    Social media really is an addiction! I sometimes I find myself continuously going onto to FB just out of habit. It’s awful! Yes, there are some amazing things about social media, but it can also me a massive time suck and mentally draining. While I didn’t have a social media hiatus, I took a huge step back from it, as well as blogging, the end of December. I’m still not blogging until next week — I decided I deserved an extra week. As a small business owner, I think there is all this pressure to constantly be on and engaging, but we also need to engage with the real world. And granted I wouldn’t have met people (you included!) if it weren’t for blogging and social media, but we also need to nurture our offline relationships as well.

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

    1. Oh my gosh, Bev. YES, I know *exactly* that… “oh, I sat down to this, but I need to check my _________!” I had to reign in my impulse to work on Jetpack when I wrote this post. (I’m having some trouble getting it to do what I want.)

      Yes, I think there is SO MUCH pressure to engage as a business owner. I really, really agree with you there. We’re always told to post every. single. day! I actually have pretty much abandoned Periscope for that reason. I still have the app installed but I haven’t watched anything in a few months. I don’t have time – either to watch or broadcast. It’s a fun app, but the pressure of the 24 hour thing is just too much. I think I’ve also always wanted to slow things down, and I realized Periscope (and participating in it) is kind of the antithesis of everything I feel strongly about.

      And yes – I am so grateful for the relationships I’ve found – social media is such a mixed blessing!

  3. Ahhhhhh… no wise words really, except I SO HEAR you. There are some days where I feel totally drained from trying to juggle social media with my ‘real’ duties as a mother, wife, person, writer, etc. I find my best balance is checking in briefly a few times a day, mostly because promoting a published piece really does feel important to me, and social media is a way for me to do that. I also value social media for the friendships I’ve made– you, of course, would have been someone I would probably have never met without the computer! Same with a few other friends. For that I am grateful. Still, I need to take a day off here/a day off there more often to regroup…

    1. Promoting a published piece is super important – I so hear you there! I’m glad you feel like you have a good balance though. I imagine that makes it a little easier!

  4. My Facebook time isn’t usually distracting me from things I need to be doing. The nature of my job requires me to sit at a desk waiting for a phone to ring, and in the down season I’ve frequently got spurts of time from 2-10 minutes where I’m just waiting for the next call. I check all of my favorite websites several times a day, and I’m even able to use Facebook and Gmail chat features to have drawn-out conversations with my friends. I spend way more time posting than I ever used to, and have gotten in several debates, sometimes with complete strangers, that made me so angry that it ruined the rest of my day. I’d like to go back to what I used to do with my downtime: refresh my French verbs and practice Chinese characters so I don’t forget them. I’ve been happiest at the computer in the last couple of weeks, when I’ve been cheerfully writing my own blogs or editing a book written by a friend.

    I’d say my Facebook use is out of boredom, not of need, which just shows that I need to be looking for more creative outlets that can be accomplished in two minute bursts.

    At home we stay unplugged. My husband and I both have flip phones, and our families and friends know that they’ll rarely be able to catch us with a phone call or text. My phone lies forgotten at home at least once a week, and I won’t notice that it’s gone. We don’t have internet at home, and the only thing I miss about it is the ability to Skype with my overseas friends.

    My mood is usually always better when I come home from a day of other pursuits in between phone calls rather than enclosing my life within a plastic box. Thanks for the reminder, Dakota!

    1. Thank you for commenting Meghan! Yes… I’ve experienced that phenomenon too in a couple of jobs I’ve had in the past. I always felt like I was spinning my wheels doing the internet version of a hamster wheel spin. I’m glad you’re able to start shifting to happier pursuits!

  5. Dakota!! I missed you while you were away, but I completely get your sense of relief and increased sense of well-being. I was phoneless for five days last summer and after the initial, 24-hour withdrawal, I felt so, so liberated! More relaxed, better able to focus. Sigh. It’s a hard line to navigate although sometimes it doesn’t seem it should be so. Welcome back. For now. 🙂 xo

    1. Emily, thank you so much! Yes, I agree. It feels like it *shouldn’t* be hard to manage that line, but somehow it really is. 😛

  6. Hi Dakota! Loved this post because I gave up my smartphone all together almost 2 years ago and never looked back. The only thing I miss about my smartphone is the camera, lol. So now I lug aroung a large (in today’s terms) point and shoot when I want to take pics. In summary, even in taking photos I am more focused. And I love not being tied to a phone. I have a 9-5 job now, and am on the computer all day, so when I do check in social media I get tired of being on the computer very quickly, and do find what notifications I do get are really not worth looking at. I am enjoying the real world much more, and loving it. When I am home I do other projects and spend more quality time with family. I do sometimes get caught up on social media on the weekends, I do love Pinterest, but even then after a while I have had enough. I think it is great you found out real life is more awesome than social media. I wish more would learn that. Enjoy!
    Rebecca

    1. Hi Rebecca! Thank you so much for commenting! Yes, I totally hear you on the being exhausted by the computer at the end of the day. I’ve experienced that before too. I do find some of the things on social media to be valuable. I’ve found some friendships with other women that are just as real and supportive as ones I have here in “real” life – so it’s definitely an interesting line to walk! 🙂

  7. Before I logged on today, for the second time, I had already made the decision to also take a sort of hiatus and to only use for business posts on a regularly ‘scheduled’ basis. I like social media but I use it to procrastinate way too much. Thank you for sharing your experience! I am sure I will find it a necessary and insightful experience as well.

    1. Thank you so much for commenting Penney! I really hope you find your experience to be just as valuable. I agree with you on your procrastination comment. I have been watching my use since my return, and I realized I tend to use it to “take a break,” when really I’d be better served by sitting quietly, or having a cup of tea, or something else off-line!

  8. I am certain there is a certain magic in you . If it takes a few days off to get back in touch with the uncertainty of things – the source of it all, you Certainly must! I always break into a smile whenever I am here!

  9. This hit home (as I’m sure you can imagine): “my self-worth and goals are evaluated based on what ‘others’ say I ‘should’ do – instead of listening to my instincts and heart.” I’ve never tried this but it might be what I need right now. Maybe not but why not try it? It sounds glorious. And if it sounds good, there’s got to be something there.
    What a wonderful post. All of it. But this was probably my favorite part: “I’ve decided I need to make taking a hiatus a regular ritual.” <3

    1. Oh Sarah, thank you. And yes… like I mentioned to you elsewhere – I’m kind of grumbly about that whole “everyone says” notion right now! But yes, I think you might try getting away from everything. It might help. And to the ritual part… yes, I’m thinking I want to try and plan a regular week off every few months. That seems like a lot, but then again, it’s not so much in the scheme of things! Twelve days was good, and probably “enough,” but longer would have been lovely too.

  10. Oh, I struggle with this deeply! When I saw you were going on hiatus I was jealous of your will power 🙂 I’ve done it before while on vacation, and the truth is, like you say, once the twitching need to check stop, I feel BETTER. Refreshed, less stressed, less tangled up in all the should’s (I should read this, I should write this, I should BE more like this). I really need better boundaries regarding Facebook especially, but even Instagram, which I must admit that I use as a crutch when I don’t check FB. Sigh. It’s so silly yet so hard. My friendships – especially my writerly ones (!) are so important to me, and yet, if they are true, then won’t they wait for me until I return? Yes, of course. But still. Fear of missing out is big. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. You’re certainly not alone in the struggle.

    1. I’m not sure if it was will power or just desperation, Dana! I hate it when my mind is constantly jumping from one thing to the next… and social media aids and abets that!

      The fear of missing out – oh yes, how I know *that* feeling too. I hear you, I so hear you on all of this. I wonder if we could just coordinate a break among all of us – taking a week off here and there. That way we wouldn’t miss out, and there wouldn’t be a ton to catch up on when we got back on. I didn’t pressure myself to catch up on FB or Twitter, but I did try to catch up on IG and I’m still working on blogs. (I was much further behind there, though.)

      Thank you so much for coming by and taking the time to comment. Let’s all keep working on this boundary setting together!

  11. This was a great post. I love reading about what people learn on social media breaks. I’ve taken them myself and for the past year or so, every month I omit/delete Twitter during the first weekend of the month. It’s so freeing. And, like you, I learn so much about myself (not all good!) and, interestingly enough, other people. I definitely find Instagram to be the one that I crave to post to the most, but Twitter to read. I think it’ll still be a while until I figure out my best balance, but breaks (I think) are definitely a step in the right direction. xo

    1. Oooh, Kristin, thank you so much for weighing in. That’s fascinating that you take a Twitter break each month. I have to confess that all of all the social media I’m on – Twitter is my least favorite. Do you try to catch up after the fact or do you just jump back in? I think the stress of catching up almost undoes the good of the break!

  12. I admire your willpower and certainly think the benefits you reaped from taking a break ring with quiet and pause and reflection. It’s such a tangled web trying to balance how much social media attention is too much, but mostly, I think it is a decision that boils down to what works for you. I am still trying to figure that out and I hope one day, I can take a hiatus like you and experience the full ramifications of being present in my non-virtual world.

    1. I completely agree with you, Rudri – what is right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another. There are so many factors to weigh! I hope you enjoy your break, whenever you decide to take it!

  13. Ugh. yes. All of this. Agree with all the comments (a little obsessed with Rebecca and her no smart phone and big camera.) It is such a habit, made worse by those of us (you, me, and all of our blogging buddies) who make their work ONLINE. So it’s so hard to step away, even for small parts of the day– scary but true. I force myself off, but it is ALWAYS an effort. The best thing I do (not that I shouldn’t be doing more) is that I leave my phone in the kitchen at night. That helps the night time stuff, but it doesn’t help the all-day-long “quick checking.”

    I don’t ever intend to be off completely because I get so much joy of it too as a writer and as a reader, but I am VERY aware that I do NOT need to be on Facebook so much. That’s without a question!

    1. Yes! We lament the situation and yet are part of it all at the same time. It’s a frustrating cycle, there, for sure. And yet, as you say, there IS joy and connection to be found.

      I left my phone on the kitchen table last night, in honor of you. 🙂

  14. Oh my goodness so true about the confidence building that would occur from NOT being on social media. I depend so much on the validation of others that disconnecting from social media and learning by myself and for myself my worth rather than what people feel my worth is would be a treasured gift indeed. I’m not a Facebook junkie but Pinterest is my Crack. I’m not sure how long it would take before the sweating and the skates would subside if I took a hiatus. 🙂

    1. Sandra, I hear you about Pinterest. I think it’s easy to compare ourselves to others, there too, with all the pretty pictures and all the DIY things we *could* do…

      Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

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