In late December of last year, I was deep in the mindset of reflecting on the year coming to an end and dreaming and planning for the year to come when I had an idea to do a one-week food fast and social media break. I’m not typically the type of person who does any type of fasting. I’ve never celebrated Lent in my life. Not because I think there’s anything wrong with Lent or fasting, it’s just never been a big focus in the churches I’ve attended.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe I could pull away for a week to try out what it would be like to live without social media and food. I’d spend more time in prayer and really try to gain some direction and wisdom for the year to come. At the very least, I’d see what the experience was like to know if fasting was something I should consider doing more often.
My experience with a social media break
I picked a week and made a plan. I removed all the social media apps from my phone on Sunday night, I avoided social media websites on my laptop, and took a complete social media break for the entire week.
It took a while to figure out what to do without social media. I kept finding myself with my phone in my hand, trying to find something else to do with it without any social media apps. I was playing games on my phone that I haven’t played in months. I even read the news a couple of times. Eventually, though I realized that playing games and reading the news were just other ways to waste my time, so I pulled myself away from those too.
I won’t try to tell you that the experience completely transformed every area of my life or anything like that. But by the end of the week, I was kind of sad to see my social media break come to an end (I was completely fine with the chance to eat like a normal person again). It was nice to have a break, give myself the chance to think and experience life without the constant noise of everyone else’s business and opinions. I also got so much accomplished during the week which made the whole thing worth it.
Scheduling regular social media sabbaticals
I’ve now chosen to regularly take a social media sabbatical. Since I set quarterly goals I’ve made it part of my end of the quarter routine to select a week to take a social media break, do some kind of food fast, and spend extra time in prayer and reflection to plan for the months ahead. My third social media break week was just a couple weeks ago and each time I enjoy it even more.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love social media. I think that there is so much you can do and so much potential benefit from social media. I am grateful to live in our modern world of technology, Google, and the connectedness and information we can find through social media. But just like everything else in the world, there are certainly some downsides and dangers. It can be overused, misused, and abused and I think it’s important to find a healthy balance when it comes to technology, the internet, and social media. Taking a regular social media sabbatical helps me to keep that balance.
Whether you’ve considered a social media break or not, today I want to share some of the reasons you might want to give a social media sabbatical a chance and some of the benefits you might experience if you do. I’ll also share some tips and steps to take if you are ready to embark on a social media break of your own.
Signs you might need to take a social media break
1. You experience anxiety when you can’t be on social media.
Have you ever run to the store and forgot your phone at home? You know everyone will be safe and fine, you don’t actually need your phone for emergencies when you’re just running down the road for a few minutes. But the idea of not having your phone and therefore not having access to your social media kind of makes you feel uneasy. What are you going to do when the checkout lines are long? What if something funny happens and you don’t have a chance to snap a picture to post about it?
Whether its the grocery store, a long meeting, a day of travel, or a hectic schedule, if you experience a time where you can’t be on social media how do you feel? If you feel anxious, upset, or like you’re going to miss out on something, it might be a good time to take a social media break.
2. You emotionally binge on social media.
Most people have experienced an emotional food binge at some point in their lives. You have a bad day and come home to decide that the best thing to do is sit on the couch with a carton of ice cream. Or maybe something really great happens and you decide to celebrate so you plow through an entire package of cookies, a specialty latte, and a piece of cake.
Have you ever done the same thing with social media? You have a bad day so instead of dealing with the difficult circumstances facing you, you plop yourself in bed and spend the rest of the evening numbing out with the endless scroll of social media. Or perhaps you’re having a fantastic day, but instead of being present and soaking up the experience you feel the urge to capture and post every single good thing, and then constantly check back in to watch all those hearts and likes and comments come in. These might be signs that you could benefit from a social media sabbatical.
3. You regularly experience low-level anxiety, unworthiness, or feel low, especially after scrolling.
Scientists are paying attention to our use of technology and social media and they have discovered that high rates of social media usage are linked to high anxiety and low self-esteem. They’re also talking about things like social media anxiety disorder and social media addiction.
When we’re on social media, we constantly see everyone else’s highlight reel. She’s on another tropical vacation, he just bought a fancy new car, they have a gorgeous and perfectly decorated house, her husband is always helping around the house, she’s doing amazing in her career, and on and on it goes. Sure, there are some people that post the downsides to life, but the overwhelming majority of what we see on social media is everyone else’s great life, which can make our lives feel less than.
If you’re finding it hard to feel joy, hope, and peace, and you’re constantly plagued with worry, unworthiness, and lack then it might be a good indication that you could use a healthy break from social media.
4. You are on social media for more than two hours a day.
I was so excited when I found out that Apple now allows for screen time tracking and limits on iPhones. When I found out about this feature, I immediately set my phone to lock my social media apps after two hours of use each day. It seemed like a very generous amount of time to be on social media throughout the day so I figured it would be a good starting point to curb my addiction. And then I realized that most days I’d hit my limit and be locked out before lunchtime!
The amount of time we spend scrolling on our phones is staggering. I’m constantly complaining about not having enough time to do all the things on my to do list, but you better believe I still know all about what happened in the lives of all my friends on Facebook.
You can choose whatever time limit you think is appropriate for your life situation, two hours just seems like a reasonable amount to me personally. The point is, if you find that you’re spending hours of every day on social media and you’re simultaneously complaining about being busy or not having enough time to do all the things you want to do, then it might be a good idea to take a sabbatical from your social media for a while.
5. You spend more time on social media than you spend engaged in your real life relationships.
Who else lays in bed or relaxes on the couch at night, next to their husband, while you both scroll through your social media feeds? You are literally inches away from the most important human in your life but instead of spending time interacting and connecting with that human you stare at your phone catching up on all the happenings in the lives of people you haven’t actually seen in person in years (and in many cases you wouldn’t want to see them in person anyway).
You have a real life with real people in it that would like to interact with your face and your voice. If you’re finding yourself more engaged in the social media world than in the lives of the people in front of you then it might be time to step away and take a social media break.
6. You adjust your life and experience for the post.
A friend of mine used to have a blog. He stopped blogging years ago. One of his main reasons for quitting his blog was that he had begun to view every experience in life through it’s “blog potential”. How can I use this story for a good blog post? What deep meaning can I extract from this experience to share about on my blog? Instead of living and experiencing the fullness of his life he was living so that he could have a good blog.
How many people do this with their social media? We constantly run through quippy phrases or funny stories to get the most laughs and engagement from our friends and followers on social media. Every experience is scrutinized, not for how it impacted our lives, but rather, for its worthiness and value on social media.
I’m sure we also have been in experiences that seemed to be manufactured specifically to make a good social media post. You’re at an event and just trying to enjoy yourself and have a good time when someone decides to take a picture. But not just any picture, everything has to be staged just perfectly, we have to find the best light, remove all the background clutter, be sure to include a glimpse of a product or logo, and everyone needs to look fully engaged so we can give the appearance that this is a candid shot when it actually took 20 minutes to set up.
If you find yourself manufacturing and viewing your life for its social media potential, it might be time to take a break.
7. You have a lot to do and/or struggle with productivity.
We are all busy people. And I’m not trying to claim that we constantly need to be working or that there should be no time in our lives to rest, relax, and scroll through social media to stay connected and informed about the lives of our friends and connections. However, it can be really easy to go from resting and connecting to mindless, endless scrolling. And the mindless, endless scrolling can suck you in for hours. Those hours could be spent doing some productive things so you won’t be so busy and you might actually have the time to do something that is truly relaxing and fun.
If you’re going through a particularly busy season or you just really need to get some things done, you might want to consider taking a social media sabbatical to give yourself hours of extra time each day.
8. You use social media without thinking.
It drives me crazy how often I find myself staring at my phone and I don’t even know how I got there. One minute I was productively working on something around the house and then suddenly, I’m not. I don’t even make the conscious decision to pick up my phone and go check out my social media feed, it just happens. It’s like this involuntary automatic response that takes over my body.
If you find yourself getting on social media without any real reason or conscious thought, it might be time to delete the apps for a little while to give your brain a chance to make some new neural pathways about how it can better use its time.
9. You feel stressed and angry about what you see.
Does everyone in your social media feed believe the same things about every issue as you? I hope not. I’m a firm believer that we don’t all have to agree or believe the same things. It is good to surround ourselves with people who think differently than we do, experience life differently than we do, and look differently than we do. However, the internet also makes monsters out of a lot of those people.
In person conversations, in the context of a relationship, and with body language and vocal nuance, allow us to discuss our differences, learn from each other, and develop empathy, compassion, and influence. Conversations that happen online, without any kind of relationship, hiding behind the safety of our screens can be dangerous, damaging, and divisive.
We’re gearing up for another major election. There is a lot of unrest and problems in the world. Everyone has their own opinions about these things and many people feel it is their duty to express these opinions and attack everyone who doesn’t agree with them online. It’s not helpful or healthy. If you’re finding that what you see on your news feed is making you stressed, angry, or depressed you should remember that you can unlike, unfollow, and block to your heart’s content. And you might also consider taking a break from social media altogether.
10. You worry about missing out.
FOMO (the fear of missing out) is one of my biggest struggles during my quarterly social media sabbaticals. What if something important happens and I don’t know about it? What if something happens to one of my friends and I don’t see it and can’t help them? Will people notice I’m gone and worry about me? (I don’t typically announce my social media sabbaticals ahead of time.) What if someone is trying to reach me and I don’t respond? Will they think I’m rude?
The truth is that if something really important happens that I need to know about I will eventually find out about it in my real, in person life. If one of my friends is going through something and needs help they know how to reach me or they can tell me about it when we see each other in real life. On the off chance that someone is worried about not seeing me on social media, they are probably in a close enough relationship with me that they know how to reach me on an actual phone or at least by email. Eventually, my social media break comes to an end and I log back in to catch up. If someone is waiting for my response, I can reply then and if needed, apologize for the delay and explain my break.
If one of the reasons you check in to your social media accounts so often is because you are worried about missing out on something, it might be a good sign that you could benefit from an extended break. Log out of social media and discover new ways to connect and keep up with your friends, the news, and life in general.
How to take a social media break
Social media is a huge part of most of our lives. It could be part of your job or business. As someone who works from home, social media helps me feel connected to the outside world. It can help us find and reconnect with old friends. We can follow accounts that help us learn, grow, feel inspired, and get motivated. There are tons of benefits to social media and I would never say that we should all give up social media forever.
But, as we’ve seen, there can be some major drawbacks. We can get highly addicted. We can waste a lot of time and it can seriously hinder our mental health and wellbeing.
The idea of giving up social media completely, even if just for a short period can be anxiety producing and scary. But I promise, you can do it, and I’m willing to bet that if you give it a fair chance you might just find that, in many ways, you enjoy your time away. You might just decide to commit to taking a social media sabbatical on a regular basis.
How long should a social media break be?
The first thing to do is decide how long you want to log off. It’s okay to start small and just go for a day or two to get you started. If you’re feeling brave, try for a week or so. I’ve heard many people say that once they logged off they enjoyed themselves so much that they extended their break by a few days or weeks. For now, just set an initial goal for yourself knowing you can extend it as you desire.
When is the best time to take a social media break?
Then, you want to decide when you will take a break. Maybe you jump right in and start today or perhaps you schedule a time in a week or two. Depending on your life situation and schedule this is completely up to you, but decide a time and get it on the calendar.
How to prepare for a social media fast
When it is time to start your social media break be sure to turn off all notifications. If you are constantly getting notifications in your email inbox about what’s going on it kind of defeats that purpose and it’s a huge temptation. Log into your social media accounts to turn off email notifications. If you have browser notifications on your computer turn those off too. You’ll also want to disable notifications on your phone and tablets (unless you’re deleting the apps altogether).
For my first two social media breaks, I completely deleted all of the apps from my phone to avoid the temptation to log in. It was quick, easy, and it worked great. When my break was over I was able to download the apps again and log right back in to pick up where I left off. It’s super simple.
This last time I went on a social media sabbatical I chose not to delete the apps. I didn’t really have a reason for this other than I was feeling lazy and I kind of wanted to test myself to see if I had the self-control to have them on my phone without actually opening them. I moved all the apps to one folder and then shoved that folder to the back “pages” of my phone screen so it was out of sight and out of mind. This worked well this time, but I don’t think it would have worked as well on my first attempt.
If you really struggle with self-control you might also want to find a way to block social media websites on your computer browsers as well.
What to do during and after a social media break
Once you get started on your social media break, enjoy it. Use all that extra free time to get caught up on your to do list, enjoy some extra time to relax or do something fun, spend time with your real life friends and family, pray, go for a walk, read a new book, or whatever your heart would like. Enjoy and savor the quiet and let your mind think and wander without the added noise of everyone else’s thoughts and opinions.
When you come to the end of your social media break, feel free to log back in slowly. You don’t need to jump right back in and binge on everything you’ve missed for hours. You will feel like you need to. It might be really tempting to endlessly scroll to make sure there’s nothing you’ve missed. But you’ve probably missed very little and anything important will show up in the first few minutes of being back on. Check back in but don’t give up on the healthy boundaries and limits you’ve gotten used to during your break.
Are you considering taking a break from social media? Have you ever taken a social media break? What was your experience like? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
Andy Crouch has an excellent book all about setting up healthy boundaries for technology usage in our families. His suggestion is to go technology free for one hour a day, one day a week, and one week per year. You can read more about his ideas and approach in his book, The Tech-Wise Family.