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.