My Month Off Social Media Will Make You Want To Take A Social Media Break

This post is about what happened to me when I took a one-month-long social media break.

Last year around this time, I wrote a very different sort of social media article. In “This 2018, Social Media Will Change The World,” I argued that social media has accelerated the process by which we become a mix of our friends’ opinions, and that by continuing to post on social media, we had a better chance at progress. This is a very different sort of article.

The Mechanics: What Changed, And What Didn’t

First, a quick overview of what it meant for me to take a social media break. I deactivated my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you didn’t know, deactivation is a nifty feature that allows you to temporarily delete your account. For example, check out this guide to deactivation on Facebook. Most top social networks offer some version of this feature, which allow you to pause and then come back to your account when you’re ready, with everything as it was before.

Except on Twitter, which I learned the hard way. More on that later.

Deactivating Facebook still didn’t deactivate Facebook Messenger—those tricksters! But this turned out to be fairly convenient. That way, I could still complete conversations I was having, and use it to message people whose phone numbers I didn’t have.

LinkedIn stayed mostly because it turns out you can’t deactivate it without losing all of your connections, and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to all of my 500+ connections—even though they’re, admittedly, mostly useless. But, I took the app off my phone.

I didn’t 100% take a social media break. Keeping the Twitter app on my phone, and logged on as @CalderaWP, felt okay. I figured any time spent interacting with people as Caldera WP is time well spent. When logged in as Caldera WP, I won’t “like” news or other things that make me angry as Caldera WP, so that in effect prevented that account from becoming a source of tormenting news.

Immediate Improvements

Before I get into the improvements, a small disclaimer: this is wasn’t, by any means, a controlled experiment. I imagine many people will read this wondering if you should take a social media break for your mental health. That’s how I ended up here: in the span of a few weeks, my boyfriend dumped me, one of my friends died, the city I moved to became the site of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in United States history—in the birthplace & home of my Jewish business partner at Caldera WP… and that’s just the first round of things that happened.

I wasn’t OK, and I noticed that I was developing an unhealthy relationship with social media. I’m no stranger to unhealthy coping mechanisms and compulsive behaviors because of a nasty past with disordered eating. But, I identified social media as a potential component of a problem, not the problem. Alongside taking a break from social media, I restarted therapy and medication.

In other words, if you’re worried about your mental health and you’re trying to treat yourself by researching cutting out social media, please don’t stop at reading my blog. Your mileage may vary greatly from the positive effects I experienced. My improvements in mood and productivity this month came from a combination of remedies, not from quitting social media alone.

If you think you have a “problem” with social media, you’re likely observing unhealthy and compulsive behaviors within yourself. Just because it’s not something you deem more serious doesn’t mean that a professional can’t help you look within yourself to learn more about what’s going on.

Many people think therapy is too expensive and avoid going for that reason. If this is you, consider using the internet to see if there are therapists in your area who work on a sliding scale. A sliding scale allows you to “choose what you can pay” based on your income, and is intended to get the most vulnerable members of our society the right support.

Off the soapbox, now. Let’s talk about what it was like to quit social media.

I Checked My Phone And Put It Down. Then I Picked It Up Again.

Has that ever happened to you? When I deactivated my accounts, that behavior immediately went away. It was strikingly noticeable that it was gone. I was concentrating on my work, or if I wasn’t working, whatever else I was working. Like a light switch, I was more present in everything I was doing the immediate next day after I deactivated.

Scientists have started to discover that the “new information” feed of services like Facebook, Twitter etc. work on the same reward centers in your brain as food, sex and alcohol. Now, as a technology writer, I’m the person least likely to spin that into some doomsday statement about how that means social media is hijacking your brain. Social media is not hijacking your brain any more than eating or learning are behaviors that “hijack” your brain. With that said, learning about social media’s effect on dopamine and being depressed makes the following add up—

Where Did The Last 2 Hours Go?

I knew that social media was becoming a problem when checking my Facebook was becoming a black hole of time. I would sit on the couch with my phone, and emerge 2 hours later, unaware of the passage of time, having learned nothing of substance, and full of guilt for not doing what I was supposed to be doing.

Social media was becoming my mechanism for avoidant behavior. I was down, life was overwhelming, and social media was something I could consume endlessly, for free, giving my brain those desperately needed bursts of dopamine. It was the “I put my phone down, and then I picked it back up” effect, but worsened to the max.

When I eliminated social media, my avoidant behavior didn’t go away. It just got redirected. Most of the time, behaviors we don’t like are filling some gap in our hearts. This is something I learned in therapy for disordered eating. To truly overcome them, we have to explore the cause of the bad feelings, and we have to identify healthier ways to take care of ourselves.

With social media gone, I found myself now newly avoiding my work and responsibilities by reading fiction. Watching this change in myself shifted my thinking from “hey, maybe social media is bad for me” to “what’s going on within me that causes me to avoid my work, procrastinate on my responsibilities and hide from my friends?” and I was able to take that question to my therapist and doctor to start working on it.

With that said, I think reading books (actual, real books!) is a much nicer vice to have than endlessly scrolling Facebook. I discovered new authors I enjoyed, and I was able to tell myself that hey, if my brain can’t do anything other than read a silly novel right now, that’s okay. Let’s let that happen.

Curious Developments

The more interesting things happened in the weeks following my decision to quit social media. First came the text messages and Slack DMs from an assortment of people:

“Hey, Did You Delete Twitter?”

All of the sudden, I found myself texting a lot more than before. My friends started checking in on me. I had actual conversations, where I talked with people about how I’ve been having a really tough time. It made me reflect on how much I lean on social media as a sort of social “crutch,” a way to stay in touch with everyone while staying in touch with no one at all.

“WordCamp US Seems Like A Bad Time To Quit Social Media”

Here’s me being all smiles at WordCamp US 2018, carrying my Qualpay bag, not looking down at my phone as I walk because I’m off social media.

The following curious development came on December 6th. This day was WordCamp US, the largest WordPress conference in North America, where I was a speaker last year and an attendee this year. As the conference hours passed, I kept getting more and more messages:

  • “Hey, I can’t find you on Facebook. This person wants to speak with you…” – a Slack DM
  • “Hey, did you delete Facebook and Instagram? Wanted to see if you’re in Nashville.” – a LinkedIn message, which I didn’t see until way too late and then struggled to follow up with

Shockingly, the world didn’t explode. I just got the messages somewhere else. Some I ended up not getting. I still found out about plenty of after conference events, what everyone I knew was to, and had an overall great conference experience.

Perhaps more importantly, you’ll remember that I had @CalderaWP on my phone. So, I tweeted about the conference as Caldera WP. This earned us new followers and shares from many interesting people—including Matt Mullenweg, creator of WordPress—attention I rather direct at the company than at myself. When people tweeted about the question I asked, unable to tag me, they tagged Caldera WP. Grand success.

(Except for the person who accidentally tagged Christy Chirinos, a sports journalist with the Sun-Sentinel. Sorry, Christy!)

Is This Urgent Or Important?

The following development was a challenge to my break. On December 14th, I caught a glimpse of Caldera WP’s Content Manager, Fike, asking for somebody to respond to a Facebook conversation in the Caldera Forming Facebook group. She let me know that a conversation was happening about how terrible and dissatisfying support for Caldera Forms was.

This isn’t even my job. Yet, it had been brought to my attention, so I activated immediately. What! What’s going on? Who’s dropping the ball? Do I need to help?

Should I reactivate my Facebook? Is this an emergency? My brain, and anxieties, started whirring. As a last-ditch attempt to solve this and ease my worry, I asked Josh to look at it so that I could not reactivate my Facebook.

Then, Josh said no.

“Nothing productive will come from me looking at that.”

And if Josh could say no, so could I.

So I said no.

And nothing bad happened.

If I Do Something And Don’t Share It, Did It Happen?

Turns out, yes. I found that much of my attraction to social media had to do with creating content. The part that hurt the most was not being to share the one-liners I heard or came up with, the funny occurrences of everyday life, or the things that went really well. I found myself celebrating and recording in my journal, privately. Turns out, if I do something and don’t share it, it still happened. I began to question: how much of my social media use was a desperate need to create in life where I don’t feel I get to do that much creation? Is social media a mechanism where, instead of profiting off my own creativity, others get to?

I traveled to San Diego for the Do Big Things executive meeting while off social media. Turns out, this beautiful sunrise totally happened even when I couldn’t post it to Instagram.

You may have heard that on December 17th, a giant development happened that affected many people passionate about creativity on social media: Tumblr banned all adult content.

As a joke, I had kept a Tumblr blog about fancy meals I ate with my boyfriend, which I had mostly forgotten about during this project. This brought it to the forefront of my mind. With creation on social in mind, and wanting to boycott Tumblr, I recreated the fancy meals Tumblr on Instagram. This opened a whole new section of my month observing social media.

@snacks.agency

I called the Instagram account snacks.agency from an inside joke between my boyfriend and I. I copied the photos over, captioned them fun things, and left the account alone.

All of the sudden, I got Instagram.

Instagram was the easiest social media network to let go of. It never appealed to me. Most of my life is sitting in my office in front of a computer. It’s not picturesque. Instagram’s superficiality also always annoyed me in a way I can’t really explain.

But all of the sudden, I was creating on Instagram. I started capturing shots of fleeting moments – in this case, meals out, which previously existed in a space of “should we be really spending this money?” and “isn’t this kind of bad for us?” Photo album-ing the meals, applying filters to them and sharing them with hashtags was fun. I had taken the guilt and the mindlessness and replaced it with the art of curation.

It reinforced the growing feeling I had that my relationship to social media had gone south because I had lost track of the creative aspect of it. I forgot the fun in exchange for the “should”s – I should be building my following, I should be following influencers, I should be interacting with potential customers.

This begged the question: was I doing this—sucking joy in favor of “should”s—in other parts of my life?

Space To Think

It was easy to tack my unhappiness to social media. I eliminated social media, and I deployed a whole set of other tools at how low I was feeling. It became apparent that my unhappiness came from another place.

I started all sorts of different pages in my journal. Writing letters to my former self, to old friends, and even to family I don’t get along with was a cathartic exercise. I expressed my frustrations, I drew, I made trackers of “things that make me happy today” and “activities I actually love.”

The longest term change that quitting social media did not kickstart, but certainly fueled, was that without the noise of social media, I could look inward.

I always feared that if I wasn’t active on social platforms, I wouldn’t be in touch with what’s going on and that would be bad. The truth is, I don’t actually care about half of the things going on. I can’t do much of anything against the bad news, and I can’t do much of anything about the good news, either. What I do care about is making sure that I’m doing my best.

So, Are You Ever Coming Back?

The million-dollar question then arises here at the end: am I ever coming back? The answer is: maybe. I was back on Pinterest before the 30 days were up. Once I started to explore this creative aspect of myself, and look inwards towards my desires with the quietness I had created, I realized that if I don’t use social media as a crutch, Pinterest is actually a great way to find more ideas for things I love.

I used it to find concepts for pastel makeup, and dedicated a whole day to doing unusual makeup on myself. Using Pinterest to explore dig into the yoga teacher community and see what others’ experiences have been like was a lot of healthy fun, too.

Twitter

As for Twitter – oh, Twitter. This is the worst part of this article. Twitter has a policy that deactivations after 30 days are permanent. I thought I was just in time on December 31st. I was clearly wrong.

That’s the story of how I lost 10 years of my Twitter account.

Sounds devastating, right? Especially for other tech professionals out there, your skin is probably crawling. Twitter is where we live!

Yet, I’m not that upset. I might try to rebuild my following at some point, maybe when there’s a purpose. But honestly, right now, I want to blog and create a lot more than I want to tweet.

1/6/19 Update: I’m trying to rebuild my Twitter following now. Please follow me at @xtiechirinos.

Facebook & Instagram

I’m not going back to Facebook in January. I don’t even miss it! I think that at some point I will because most of my article readers and share come from Facebook according to my analytics tracking. At some point, I’ll have to get back on there to promote my blog. But honestly, I don’t feel a rush. Just like Twitter, I feel more compelled to create inward and then go out to promote when I have tons of content I’ve created that I want people to look at—in the way that snacks.agency accidentally happened. Unlike Twitter, Facebook will always be there (mostly because Facebook is evil, but that’s a different conversation).

I probably won’t put the LinkedIn app back on my phone. It doesn’t feel like it makes a lot of sense. I never liked LinkedIn and the world did not fall apart by checking it from the website about 3 times during this month.

Finally, I will probably get back on my personal Instagram after Facebook. But honestly, I’m getting a lot more out of Instagram with snacks.agency than I ever did with my personal Instagram. This Christmas, Zac (yep, we’re back together) got me one of those Instax cameras I found I really like having a paper print of a photo. I’m decorating my apartment with the prints.

A Prediction

One of my favorite sayings is “I’ve never had an original idea in my life.” I’ve long had a feeling that we’re going to start to see a rebellion against the way technology is running us, and it’s going to start with us high-tech early adopter types. Mark my words: in 2019, analog is going to be the newest innovation.

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