What I Learned From Taking a Six-Month Social Media Break

I haven’t been around on social media since the start of 2019. It wasn’t a New Years resolution or anything. It was more the result of a gradual, building frustration.

I’ve long been aware that Facebook is designed to be addicting – that, similar to a Vegas slot machine, the notifications “conveniently” show up just often enough that you’re compelled to “pull the lever” again and again throughout the day. But I didn’t feel that I could actually get off of it. I felt that I owed it to everyone to stay – even though I desperately wanted off. I thought that the blog was a good reason to stay. But then I realized – I have to do what’s best for me. If it means taking a break from blogging, that’s fine. The world won’t end if I stop posting for a while.

And guess what? Everything was fine. I stopped posting. I stopped checking. Life went on as usual. 

I didn’t really plan on taking a break for this long. But it was really nice to reset. I wasn’t sitting there, counting the months till I could get back on. Not even close. It was a total gear shift – a new way of living.

Here’s what I took a break from:

  • Blogging
  • Facebook
  • Instagram (still not back…and possibly never will be…)
  • Twitter (barely use it anyway)

To be completely transparent, I still used Messenger and my two favorite Facebook groups. I did this by keeping the Messenger App on my phone, logged into my old account so friends could reach me. For the groups, I created a new Facebook profile with no friends so there was no newsfeed to scroll – and virtually no ads either! Then I requested to join those two groups (and assured the admins that it was really me since it totally looked like a fake account!) This gave me access to events and information in those groups, without being lured in by hundreds of notifications and an endless newsfeed. I could check my groups quickly and then be done! I didn’t even check them everyday – a couple times a week was enough to stay on top of it.

We Don’t Owe Facebook Anything

We’re lying to ourselves if we think we owe the world our presence online. We don’t. Your life is yours to live, and if it isn’t serving you to be on social media, it’s time to think about getting off. Your friends will be fine. Your family can call you if they want to catch up. (More on this in a moment.) But don’t be like me and put it off because you think other people will care. Firstly, it’s a little narcissistic to think that everyone cares so much – when truly they probably barely think about you. They are out there busy living their own lives and such. And secondly, if they do care, here’s a little guide I wrote about not giving a crap what people think.

Regardless of whether people care or not, you owe it to yourself to do what is best for you. Your life, your mental health, your ability to thrive. Don’t believe the lie that you owe anyone online anything. Before there was social media, we all got by just fine. I guess we sent Christmas cards instead of minute-by-minute life updates.

Life Without a Screen in Your Face

Okay, I’ll be honest, between texting and doing other things online besides social media, I still had a screen in my face more than I would have liked. But it’s amazing how little there is to do on your phone when you’re not on social media. It’s amazing how many hours there are in the day when you’re not constantly checking notifications!

There were times I wanted to waste time on my phone, but there was nothing to do on it. I was forced to quiet myself and just be. I had to face that fact that social media keeps us from feeling lonely. But deep down, it doesn’t cure the loneliness. It just masks the feeling. It masks pretty much all feelings actually.

If we’re never present with ourselves, if we never just sit and think, how do we even know how we’re doing? I believe this is why there’s been a recent rise in the popularity of meditation. We’re so distracted because we’re never alone with ourselves. We’re no longer listening to our own thoughts. It’s worthwhile to take some time each day to just be. To just listen to your inner voice. Maybe you haven’t heard her in a while.

What Motivates Us?

I used to take photos of everything I did. I mean, I still like taking photos – but when I was posting to social media, it was little ridiculous. I put great thought into lighting, camera angle, and what I would say in the caption. If I made a great dinner, it immediately went on Instagram. If I looked cute that day, I had to share a selfie with the world. I struggled when I wasn’t allowed to take photos, because I wanted everyone to know what I was doing.What was the point of doing anything cool if I wasn’t able to share it?

It was not only work to get the photos, but it was a constant, steady pressure building up inside of me for validation. I couldn’t believe the release of pressure when I stopped sharing. Suddenly, I was able to enjoy things for myself – not for the photo. I went on vacation and I didn’t post anything. It was my memories, just for me. Forget trying to keep up with the exotic travel accounts of Instagram. Forget those people who make a living as “influencers” and flaunt their 5 star hotel rooms online. I was able to find actual contentment in what I was doing because it wasn’t for anyone else. And the photos weren’t glamorous, but they were mine.

Extrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from outside of ourselves. The old me really cared about getting a great photo and sharing it with the world. The new me sometimes takes cell phone photos, but doesn’t usually post them anywhere. They are just for me, so I can re-live those moments of happiness. I care more about the smiles and the memories than about the lighting or camera angle. Intrinsic motivation comes from within. How many things do we do just so that we can post them? How do we even know the difference?? Because I’m not posting it anywhere, I know I’m genuinely just doing it for me – not the likes.

Avoiding the Ads

One thing I noticed when I recently got back on Facebook was how bad the ads have gotten! I swear there didn’t used to be so many ads! It was never my main motivation, but yet another benefit of getting off social media was avoiding all that targeted advertising. 

I have no idea how much money I saved by not being on Facebook and Instagram. This is one where I think Instagram might actually be worse. At least on Facebook the ads look like ads. On Instagram, virtually all the accounts with a lot of followers are selling something. Yes, the photos might be soothing and beautiful, but nearly every post is sponsored. Affiliate links, discount codes, click to buy. Suddenly the website many people think of as a soothing escape from the drama of Facebook, is causing you to want to spend your whole paycheck. Funny how that works. There’s a reason that the hashtag #Instagrammademebuyit exists. The truth is, the best way to not be tempted by lovely things you don’t need, is to never know that they exist in the first place. Unfollow. Unfollow. Unfollow. Log out.

Staying in Touch is Hard

I wrote a lot about the good parts of quitting social media. Now it’s time for the bad. I really did struggle to stay in touch with people who don’t live nearby. I’m not very intentional about checking in on people who I don’t see. I’m much more of a face-to-face person. This is usually fine. But I missed seeing photos of my nephew and I had no idea what my sisters and all my brothers-in-law who live out of state were up to. Yes, messaging them was still an option but it takes a lot of intentionality on both ends to stay in touch that way. Scrolling and seeing someone’s updates and photos is a much more passive way to know what is going on in their lives. There is no “effort” involved. So is this a good thing or a bad is the question?

I still believe that reaching out individually or via group text and being intentional about long-distance relationships is still the best way to go. The problem is that I often failed to do this. So maybe an intentional connection is better than a passive connection. But a passive connection is better than no connection at all. So this was the one big con in spite of all the many pros – at least for me.

The Takeaway

Habits are powerful. They truly power most of our waking hours – for good or for bad. What I learned from this break was how to change my habits. I no longer waste hours at a time scrolling the newsfeed. I’m remembering how to listen to my own thoughts without shying away from them. I’m truly living my life differently because I’m living it in the moment, without thinking about posting it later. Social media is built on two main things: addiction and validation from others. Taking time off helped me break the habit, control the addiction, and learn to not need constant validation in order to thrive. I’m hoping that I can now start integrating a little social media back into my life without losing my new mindset. If you’ve been thinking about doing the same thing, I’d encourage you to take the leap. Break free while you can. Start new habits. Live your life.

 

Photo credit: Robin Worrall

4 Comments

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  1. I think taking a social media break might be more difficult for younger folks. I’m older, so I do miss it, but not that much when I take a break. I know I have commented about this before, but I feel more discontentment with my life, clothes, home, etc, the more time I am on social media.

  2. I took the APPS off of my phone and that helped as I was limited to when I could check and posting pics was time-consuming. But every time I put the APP back on my phone, within a couple of weeks, I’m back to where I was. Another are of struggle is YouTube vloggers. I’ve had to cut my list WAY back. Good post! You’ve inspired me to seriously consider taking an extended break from FACEBOOK and IG.

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