Today marks two months since I gave up social media.
If you’d have told me 15 years ago that it would be such a big adjustment—and somehow a small adjustment at the same time—I’d have called you crazy.
Sadly, it was a pretty big behavior change for me. But I can say, unequivocally, that giving up social media has had a real and very positive impact on me—my mental health in particular.
I wasn’t really planning on giving up social media (in my case, that means Facebook and Instagram). It happened in an instant, really.
At nearly 40, I know my emotional triggers. Being “left out” is at the top of that list.
It stems from a childhood where I was left out near-constantly… but it doesn’t really matter where it comes from. It’s my reality now, and I have to own it.
My left-out reflex manifests in an emotional overreaction to situations where I feel I’ve been excluded. I’m working hard (and have been for the last 15 years) at viewing these situations with less emotion and more logic. (I’m a work in progress, friends.)
But on that night two months ago, while mindlessly scrolling through my Instagram feed, I came across a friend’s photographs of an outing she went on with some of our mutual friends. I’m embarrassed to admit that my “left out” overreaction came out in full force. There were tears. I was angry.
But I had no right to be angry, and deep down, I knew it. I was embarrassed at my emotional response. My friends didn’t do anything wrong. But I needed some time to calm my left-out reflex before I could see reason.
My solution: a boycott
While my emotions were still high, I came to a conclusion: I wanted to go back to the 1980s. When I was growing up, if my parents went on a trip with another family (which we often did), the only people who found out about it were the people they chose to tell. There was no social media to broadcast one’s activities to the world. And we were just fine. In fact, I’d argue that we were happier because of it.
I truly knew my friends had done nothing wrong. But my feelings were still hurt, and I needed to direct all those feelings somewhere. Zuckerberg & Company were a convenient target. Lucky them!
Rules of the boycott
I allowed myself to use Facebook for three things:
- Check the Facebook group for my gym to read weekly announcements
- See the weather forecast from my local National Weather Service
- Respond to something where I’d been tagged (this required turning on email notifications if I was tagged, because scrolling through notifications was a no-no).
Out of sight, out of mind
I moved the Facebook app onto the very last page of my home screen. I turned off the little red notification on both Facebook and Instagram. And I removed Facebook from the bookmarks bar on my Chrome browser.
The first few days
The most horrifying part of the first few days was realizing how often I had been picking up my phone to check Facebook, and/or clicking over to a Facebook browser tab between tasks at work.
Spoiler alert: A LOT.
In the early days, I’d scratch the “pick up the phone” itch by opening the Apple News app and scrolling through that feed instead.
Quickly I discovered that it wasn’t worth it. The news is depressing. (Trump is president. People—apparently a lot of them—actually give a shit what the Kardashians do/say/wear. We’re destroying the planet, yada yada yada.) So I stopped picking up my phone altogether when I was bored.
Within a week, I discovered just how much time I’d been wasting on social media. The time I regained in my day was like found money. I put it to good use!
Benefit #1: I have time to read again.
I love to read, and since starting to work out in the mornings 3 years ago, I’d given it up for the most part. Who has time to read at night when you put the kids to bed at 8:00pm and yourself 45 minutes later?
As it turns out, when I’m not wasting 30+ minutes a night scrolling mindlessly through the feed, the person who has time to read is me.
I’ve torn through five books from the Flavia de Luce series. Bookworm Lydia is back, people.
#2: I’m more productive at work.
Removing a major distraction—especially one that’s notorious for rabbit holes—means I’m getting more done at work. And for a gal with no shortage of work to do, that’s a very good thing.
#3: I can ignore how crazy the world is.
I know The Ostrich Effect gets a bad rap. (That’s when you stick your head in the sand and ignore what’s happening, because you don’t like it.)
Its reputation is undeserved, in my opinion. Avoiding negative information can be a form of self-care and self-preservation.
Being off social media means I don’t have to learn about the bad stuff—the crap that doesn’t affect my life in any tangible way.
For example, the status update from that friend who just can’t get her shit together and has lost yet another job because she didn’t show up to work. Or Facebook posts that have no business being public information, like marital spats or sores that won’t stop oozing.
I can avoid the political fights, the Mommy wars, the blatant judging women do.
IT’S GLORIOUS, you guys.
Bonus: I can retain a slight amount of respect for my Trump-supporting friends, because I don’t have to see their inaccurate posts filled with Fox News talking points. Ha!
#4: I have fewer “left out” overreactions.
The most obvious benefit, for me. I can’t possibly care about what people did without me if I don’t know about it.
#5: I control who knows what about my life.
Sharing in this method means I have complete control over my information, and in this day and age where digital privacy is an oxymoron, that feels really good.
This control produces less stress over what I share and how I word it. When you’re broadcasting information to 500 people, what you say will almost always annoy/piss off/offend someone. It’s a lot more likely if you don’t know the receiver very well (not sure about you, but my Facebook friends list is like an abyss—at least once a year I see names on my friends list and ask myself, “Who the hell is that?!”).
I don’t have to wonder if a little humblebrag about Squeak being in the talented and gifted program will upset someone. I can proudly share that I rewired a light fixture ALL BY MYSELF, without worrying that I sound like a cocky jerk.
Sharing with the masses always made me second-guess my proud moments. I’d hold back sometimes, out of shame that I wasn’t showing appropriate compassion to my friends/acquaintances who were struggling.
Compassion isn’t a bad thing, but it shouldn’t hold me back from being proud of my children, or proud of myself.
Controlling who I share with means I can be proud out loud. It’s a great feeling.
#6: I’ve regained my focus on what (or who) is really important.
It took a little while to tamp down that urge to post on Facebook when something “share-worthy” would happen to me. My kid said something cute, I took a great photo on my phone, my daughter got her best-ever spelling test grade, I had a new p.r. on chest press… But it’s no wonder it was hard to break the habit: Facebook’s been training me for 13 years, the bastards.
After a couple of weeks without Facebook, my view on sharing life events began to subtly shift. Instead of thinking about how I could share news with the most people, I asked myself, ‘Who do I really want to share this with?’
I’d see who came to mind, and then I’d text or email them. Maybe two or three people, between my family and my friends.
My immediate family—mom, dad, sisters, nephew, plus spouses—has a big group text thread, so I can post in one place and hit them all at the same time. I send texts to 2 or 3 other friends, too.
The responses I get back are more meaningful than a thumbs-up. It’s a low-commitment activity to click ‘Like’ on a Facebook post, or ‘heart’ an Insta photo. But when I get a text back after sharing good news, I know it’s heartfelt and genuine.
#7: I see quality over quantity.
I don’t post my life events for 500 people to consume anymore. Instead, I text them to the most important people in my world. My immediate family: mom, dad, sisters. My closest girlfriends. My gym family.
That discomfort I’ve been ‘trained’ to feel—”If I don’t post about it on social media, did it really happen?”—takes some effort to ignore. I’ll admit, I still feel the urge to post on Facebook when something happens, good or bad.
Like two days ago, when we had to euthanize our beloved miniature schnauzer, Kitty, after a long illness. I want so badly to tell the world and let the sympathy comments pour in, but really, would it make this pain any better? Would reassurance from 200 people that I was ‘a great dog mom’ make me feel better about losing him?
But you know what did happen? Monday, when we made the appointment for Kitty to be euthanized, I shared the news via text message with my family and closest friends. All day Tuesday, they were checking in on me: calling, texting hearts, sending hugs, and making sure I know I’m in their thoughts. I felt, and still feel, loved and cared for.
Facebook comments can’t hold a candle to that.
I’d prefer 10 intentional and heartfelt texts/calls from the people I love most over 100 comments from a larger group, most of whom are acquaintances.
Social media changed me in subtle ways I didn’t recognize, and one of those ways was a focus on quantity over quality. Without realizing it, I’d begun to measure the importance of my life events by the number of likes and comments they received online.
Comments do not equal friends. Likes do not equal love.
My 40th birthday party is coming up this spring. I’d been picturing a big soiree at a local watering hole, creating a Facebook event, inviting everyone I knew… but now, I’m not so sure I’ll do it that way.
I’ve been contemplating a smaller party: renting the private party room at my favorite restaurant and inviting just my people. They’re the ones who would actually show up anyway, right? And that’s who I want to spend my night with: my parents, my sisters, my close friends, my closest gym friends.
Anyone else who comes to the party is probably just there for the free beer. 🙂
The negatives of giving up social media
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the downside. I say downside, singular, because so far there’s just been one.
I missed the news that a good friend was in the hospital near me. She’s on bed rest because of pregnancy complications, and since she’s on bed rest near where I work, I would’ve visited her sooner had I known. But learning about it later meant that I could visit after the initial rush had passed, which was probably better.
Otherwise, nothing else I’ve missed has been life-altering. I still read the news, but I focus on NPR’s news app, where I’m assured to find very little, if any, Kardashian content. 🙂
The future of the boycott
Once you kick the habit, it’s pretty easy not to go back. I have no intention of returning to social media like I was using it before the boycott.
I really can’t delete my accounts, because I need to maintain access to some important tools that only social media provides (the ability to sell on Facebook marketplace, post events for my husband’s comedy shows, and promote the citywide garage sales I coordinate each year).
The gym Facebook group is important to me, as is another Facebook group of friends that gets together just a few times a year. Deleting my Facebook and being excluded as a result is counter-productive.
So my accounts will stay. But the positives I listed above are far too valuable for me to give up.
*I want to mention specifically that I don’t think everyone should give up social media. Many people can use it without some of these negative mental health drawbacks, and if that’s you, good on ya! I’m not as lucky, so giving it up was the best decision for me. But that’s not the right answer for all.