I Took A Social Media Sabbatical, And I Learned A Lot About Myself

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 
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When I bought my first smartphone, I marveled at how far technology had come since I was a kid. At first, having a computer, phone, gaming, and social media at my fingertips was exciting. But, over time, that excitement turned to an insatiable need to be connected with the online world at all times. And over the years, the business of managing notifications, emails, texts, and messages has slowly but surely taken its toll on me. I have become addicted to having information and communication immediately, if not sooner.

And I know I’m not alone.

At one time or another, I’ve had discussions with most of my friends about how we’d like to hide from our email inboxes or throw our phones into the lake because of incessant group texts about carpooling. We complain that the noise of social media has become so deafening that we can hardly hear ourselves think. There’s a price to pay for having access to news and information 24 hours a day, and if you are like me, your phone is seemingly glued to your hand for most of your waking hours.

Social media addiction is a thing, and I was (and still am) suffering from the inability to look away from my phone for more than a few minutes at a time. My kids and husband make not-so-funny jokes about Mommy and her phone use, and though my job is “in the computer,” even I realized that my social media habit had gotten out of control.

As our family summer vacation approached, I made a big decision. I was going to go cold turkey when it came to social media — no phone or laptop for the 10 days we were on vacation. When I told my friends of my plan, they all pretty much said the same thing: “Yeah, good luck with that.” Even I was dubious, to be honest.

On the day we left, I removed social media apps from my phone, turned off all forms of notifications, and put my phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode. While I opted to bring my phone with us on vacation for emergencies and the times when my husband and I would be doing separate activities from the kids, I left my laptop on my desk at home.

I’d like to say that I instantly felt free, liberated, the minute I started my social media break but I’d be lying.

Taking a break from social media was not easy.

And as embarrassing as this is to admit, I definitely had a period of withdrawal in the first few days. I realized just how much of a habit my phone use and social media interactions had become. It was shocking, really. My phone had become a social crutch and a boredom blocker, and the more I realized how often I reached for my phone, the more I realized that I needed to make real changes when I got home.

After 10 days without access to the internet (yes, really!), I noticed that my general stress level was down, I could focus more clearly on conversations with my family, and my ability to be present in the moment seemed to increase. In the last days of my social media break, I found myself sitting quietly with a cup of coffee and just my thoughts, and though it still felt awkward and a little weird, I have to admit that I’d forgotten what it was like to be still, and being still was more enjoyable than I’d remembered.

I was a little nervous to return home and ruin the progress I’d made.

When I came home, I reintegrated social media into my life, but I made a few changes that have really helped me find balance.

If you, too, are looking to take a break from social media or hoping to find more balance in the time you spend online, try a few of the following small changes that I have found to be significantly helpful:

Uninstall your favorite social media apps from your phone and use the apps only when you are near your laptop.

It’s harder to get sucked into Facebook and Instagram during activities when you don’t have the apps immediately available.

Enable notifications only on apps that are necessary for work or school.

For me, that little red number icon telling me just how many emails I have waiting is a temptation, and a distraction. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Keep your charging devices on a different floor or out of the common areas in your home.

Most devices take an hour or two to charge, and if you leave your chargers in your bedroom or out of the areas where you spend the most time, you are forced to distance yourself.

Prioritize your social media needs.

Keeping up with social media can feel like a full-time job. And if you are honest with yourself, there are probably social apps that you might not even really enjoy all that much anymore. Take a look at what is causing time sucks in your world and KonMari that shit: If Snapchat doesn’t bring you joy, delete it and move on.

Leave your phone at home in small doses.

Sometimes, taking a break from social media can happen in small doses with big returns. Leave your phone at home when you take the dog for a walk or when you take the kids to the bus stop. Leave it in the car once a week when you hit the playground. Or simply set a timer and put your phone in a drawer for an hour. You’ll feel refreshed, even if it’s a short break.

Going cold turkey on social media in this day and age isn’t realistic long-term, and frankly, there are a lot of aspects of being online that are fun and engaging. Online friendships, work-from-home jobs, and having useful information available with a swipe of your finger make social media a necessity for many of us, but if my social media break taught me anything, it taught me that boundaries and rules are the key to having a healthy relationship with technology. And I don’t miss Snapchat one bit.

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