The evening before I gave up social media, I had the Sunday night scaries…on a Friday. You know what I’m referring to—it’s that feeling when you have a general sense of anxiety for no particular reason other than that amorphous idea of the forthcoming workweek. This time, however, I knew exactly where my anxiety was stemming from: kicking my very bad habits on social media for seven days straight.
Over the course of my life, I’ve occasionally looked at my different habits and asked, “Is it becoming an addiction?” Back as a college freshman that meant giving up drinking for a few weeks to make sure my newly discovered love of keg stands wasn’t an issue. Two years ago, I did a similar stint of 10 days sans coffee. And now, here I was, on the eve of giving up social media for a week, and I already knew I was in trouble. I had never felt fear from giving something up arise in me before. Might getting off social media mean that I’d miss something important? Sitting in this discomfort for a week led to many lessons, which I’ve highlighted under each day below.
I woke up on Saturday and did what I always do first thing: a short morning meditation. Afterward, I had this horrible habit of reaching for my phone, opening my calendar, checking for urgent emails, and scrolling aimlessly on Instagram (my social media drug of choice) for 15 minutes. What a waste. On the first day of my digital detox, I looked at my calendar for a moment and then noticed the impulse to go to social. Throughout that morning and afternoon, I had the tendency to open an app, but would catch myself before the feed loaded and immediately closed it. By the evening, it got to the point were I would be on my phone with my finger hovering over the icon, but I wouldn’t click. If this sounds pathetic, I understand. I realized on this day that my social media habits were hardwired into my brain.
Lesson #1: I really needed this digital detox. If the mere thought of giving up your own social media causes you stress, you may need one badly, too.
By the second day of my social media cleanse, I noticed that the anxiety around not connecting to people through social media was significantly less. Maybe I was over the hump? Once the initial, “Okay, I’m going to be disciplined” attitude was established, it made me realize I could have a more nuanced relationship to my phone. Normally, I considered it this thing that tethered me to everyone in my life. Now that social media was cut out, I was less reliant on it. I would lose track of it for a few hours of a time, not from forgetfulness, but simply lack of use. By the evening, the only thing I missed was memes.
Lesson #2: Many of us (myself included) reach for our phones when we feel a moment of discomfort or stress. It’s a bit of a digital teddy bear. Bored? Click an app. Frustrated? Click an app. Stressed out? Click. Instead of giving in to this digital support system that would temporarily move me away from what I’m feeling, I found more space to simply feel what I was feeling and hang out with it. Those moments of being with our emotions actually moves us through that sensation much quicker than the temporary distraction of entertainment.
I woke up in the morning and didn’t reach for my phone. Not to check my calendar or plan my day, and definitely not to look at social media. Over the course of the day, I was no longer whipping out my phone to avoid the present moment and find distraction. Instead, if I reached for my phone, it was with a specific intent, such as to look for directions when I was lost or to listen to some music.
Lesson #3: With less time spent on trying to connect with people digitally (and on my phone, in general), I found that I was spending more time reaching out in meaningful ways to people I love, but don’t always make time for. I was calling my friends more and sending thoughtful notes to family members. By cutting social media out, it meant that I was engaging with less people than I would see on Facebook, but in more meaningful ways. My relationships became less about quantity and more about quality.
By my fourth day, I noticed that my social media habits had been broken. Sometimes, I felt an urge, such as when my dog would do something cute, to post about it on Instagram, but then I noticed that I enjoyed appreciating it on my lonesome just as much. I also felt less bombarded by news and that I could engage with the news in more disciplined ways. Plus, I wasn’t cyber-stalking a certain presidential figure, which felt refreshing.
By the end of this week-long social experiment, I found myself scrolling endlessly through Instagram, albeit with a sense of humor that felt like I was trying to “catch up” on things I didn’t necessarily care about. I haven’t been back on the other forms of social media much at all. After that initial binge, I relaxed and now feel much clearer about my relationship to social media on a daily basis, including my self-imposed no-phone-in-bed rule.
Lesson #4: For some dear readers, this may be a silly piece about a very silly habit. But for other people, myself included, we need to regularly examine our relationship to this thing that takes up time (sometimes hours) of our day as we scroll, check on exes, and follow our favorite celebs. Based on my detox, I advise that if you’re going to engage in social media, limit the time and places you do so, applying real discipline to that. If you do, you’ll likely discover what I did—that you gain a lot more time and energy for the people right in front of you in real life.