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What Happened When I Went On A 30 Day Social Media Break

How it happened

My husband Josh and I were driving home from food shopping, and got into an argument. Even though this happened just yesterday I already can’t recall what we were arguing about. What I do remember is my attitude and how frustrated I felt. I kept snapping back at him and he kept referring me to as a 16 year old. I was fuming. On the long drive home to South Brooklyn from Whole Foods in Gowanus, just as we turned down Ocean Pkway onto Avenue L into the serene quaintness of residential Midwood, I started to notice the connection between the feeling of my “acting like a teenager” with my compulsive obsession of social media.

What do I do when I get annoyed or frustrated? I open Facebook or Instagram and start scrolling, or in reality, escaping. I feel like a teenager, which, though clearly not a compliment, refers more to impulsivity and lack of emotional control which I should have a better handle on at 33 years old.

I realized that when I use social media, I’m 14 years old all over again (the year that AOL Instant Messenger came out and all I wanted to do was be online, just “logged in” into this virtual world like some hang out spot). I feel this way now, as an adult, being on Facebook, experiencing some illusion of being up to date and in the know of “what’s going on”.

Instagram is slightly worse, because I find myself spending majority of my day looking for something cool or funny to share on my stories. I can honestly say it feels compulsive and habitual. As someone who teaches a college course on mindfulness and self-care, I feel very much not practicing either by binging on social media. So as we drove home, I became very aware of the pull of social media and how that it brought me back to the impulsivity I felt as a teenager, and I decided I needed a social media break.

By the time I got home, I already started trying to figure out how to disable these apps on my phone. I made a post on both FB and IG saying that I was going on a break, and then uninstalled Facebook from my phone and logged out of Instagram.

I can’t express how it felt to take control of my life back. It felt like I was a drug addict checking myself into rehab. I had a pretty strong fear that I wouldn’t be able to last the month.

By that evening, I actually felt myself itching to scroll through my feed, and knowing I couldn’t, it felt like a withdrawal. I had some family issues to deal with so that took my attention away from it for the evening.

Day 1

I woke up and, having nothing to check on my phone aside from an email telling me my TJMaxx order has been shipped out, I checked the news. It felt nice! I never “have time for” checking the news when I’m busy “catching up” with Facebook in the morning, so I have to say that I actually felt a little bit smarter, as if this was the equivalent of reading the NYTimes over breakfast like a 1%-er.

I got to work early and having nothing to scroll through mindlessly before I got settled into doing actual work, decided to start blogging again. I figured this might be something interesting to document, especially since I am starting to become really aware of this addiction and what it looks like for me.

Later that day I got an email from my grad school about a continuing education training that I was interested in. I was already thinking about how I would phrase a Facebook post about my excitement. Wow.

After work I wanted to order photo prints, so I went on my laptop. I opened facebook at least once, absentmindedly and promptly closed it. Also, the amount of time I spent thinking about whether something that was happening was share-able (should I take a photo and post it?) was staggering. It felt like so many small moments throughout the day were hijacked by the need to post about them on social media.

Day 2

Josh flew out for VidCon this morning, and we were up until 1 am doing and folding laundry that he needed for the trip, so I got around 4 hours of sleep, non consecutively. When Josh was leaving, I got a feeling in the pit of my stomach that not only will I be alone in an empty house, but I won’t even have a digital world to feel “safe” in.

I questioned whether or not I can do this, but with him being away it also felt like it was an even bigger challenge now to complete.

I became very aware of each time I grabbed my phone to check social media, because I was suddenly faced with the reality that there was nothing to really check (since everything had been disabled). I satisfied the urge to distract myself with my phone by checking our Ring security app or looking at Amazon for a few minutes. It felt silly but at the same time I didn’t get sucked into 30 minutes of mindless scrolling through social media.

I was pretty out of it anyway from lack of sleep, so I took a nap when I got home to prevent the headache I felt coming on. I woke up a few hours later feeling a bit better, and managed to make dinner and clean the dishes and kitchen afterwards. 

Day 3

I don’t have work for the rest of the week due to summer hours so I got to sleep in which was wonderful. I made a lovely breakfast for myself with cassava flour tortillas from scratch. I couldn’t post it on social media and simply had to let the urge pass. This is so important for understanding the depth of my social media addiction.

I caught up on some TV, re-decorated a little, received some Amazon packages and tried on the clothes. I made a nice lunch of jasmine rice and teriyaki tempeh and broccoli (again having no one to share it with), so I sent the photo to my husband. He appreciated it and said he missed that particular meal. It’s a different (I would say more rewarding) experience to share directly with someone rather than put it out into the instagram universe.

Then I decided to give the Netflix show Shtisel a try. Usually I don’t watch series with subtitles because it’s too hard to pay attention while scrolling on my phone, but since there wasn’t as much to distract me I decided to see if I liked the show.

I got hooked and watched until 4 am. Another problem I have – for another time.

I did take a break to make dinner, which I didn’t really enjoy (cauliflower gnocchi with vegan pesto and cheese) so I had a bowl of cereal. Then I laid out on our back porch just as the sun was going down. I noticed there was a cat in the back in the grass. The cat was just laying there and hanging out, and he was surrounded by fireflies that had started to light up. It was magical. I often see cats in the backyard and share on my IG stories but it’s never good quality because of how far away it is.

I thought about how sacred moments become when we lean into them and soak up the moment, rather than rushing to share it on social media, with people who really don’t care whether you share it or not.

I laid there thinking about how magical it is that I was sharing this moment with just myself, the cat, and the fireflies.

Day 4

I went to my acupuncturist on my own. Usually my husband gives me a ride, but since he’s away I had to take the train. It was so humid out. There were so many little moments throughout the day when I wanted to take a photo to post or share something. But I just let the feeling pass.

My desire to see this social media break through the 30 days is greater than my addiction – at least that’s how it feels right now – and that’s a very empowering feeling.

After acupuncture (which takes about an hour to get to from my house, door to door), I stopped by a Whole Foods that’s nearby. Not wanting to take the R train, since the transfer at Atlantic to the B is brutal (it’s a fairly long walk through a very hot station), I took a bus down to Atlantic Ave to catch the B there. There’s a Whole Foods 365 so I decided to stop by and grab a vegan burger from Next Level (and obviously do more food shopping).

Hitting up two Whole Foods after acupuncture is nothing new to my husband and I, but this time I was by myself and taking public transportation and it reminded me of when I was in college and took the train to go food shopping at Trader Joe’s at Union Square.

When I got home, I watched Shtisel and had dinner, then watched it upstairs until I went to sleep. I kept grabbing for my phone every so often, and all I would do is open the Ring app and maybe Amazon. The phone has really become the new cigarette, some sort of finger fixation. Now I understand why fidget spinners were a thing.

Day 5

I woke up because I got a RING alert about motion activity (it’s usually the neighbors or cats running across the front porch), checked it and went back to sleep. I slept late. I watched Shtisl for most of the day, even though I kept telling myself to get up and clean.

I made a nice breakfast (tortillas again with fresh salad), and later lunch (gf vegan dumplings), and eventually cleaned in the late afternoon. My grandma said she would come over, and just as I finished cleaning she called to say she would come tomorrow. I was still very happy to have gotten the house cleaning done.

I made sweet potato pizza with vegan pesto for dinner, and baked cherry oat bars for tomorrow. It is an indescribable feeling to cook in a clean kitchen and I truly savored it.

I did realize that TV is another issue (another addiction and distraction) and I think that’s something I will tackle next. What’s interesting about watching Shtisl though, is that it brought me back to my time in Israel, and how many Hebrew words I had forgotten. It also made me feel like a “spiritual Shabbat” which I have been talking about for years, but never done, would be such a great idea after the 30 days. No social media on Friday and Saturday (maybe even the entire weekend). That way it would be a truly restful weekend. My husband is on social media A LOT and it often bothers me when we talk and he’s looking at his phone. I wonder how not using our phones on the weekend would benefit our relationship (it’s already benefited my relationship with myself).

Day 15

I am really surprised at how easy it’s been. I don’t have any FOMO. I don’t wonder what’s happening on Facebook or Instagram, what people are posting, etc. This is a huge relief.

I do still habitually pick up and unlock my phone. I’m still opening RING or Amazon, but I can’t say that it’s more than I used these apps before the break. I also feel a bit more forced to face my feelings, because social media is a HUGE feelings numb-er, and you can only distract yourself so much with your home security app and online shopping.

A few days ago an artist friend of mine had a reception at a gallery in the city, and it felt nice to be forced to be more present. I was waiting for a friend to show up and could have easily spent 30 minutes just scrolling through Facebook. But, I allowed myself to be bored and uncomfortable – which is more about being present than anything else.

I genuinely enjoy being forced to face the moment – though I think the real test of that will come when I take a break from TV.

Day 31

I am not going back. At least not today. Even though my month is up, I feel so much better right now (and all month) than I did before I started this challenge. I can’t believe that I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, and now I don’t even want to log back in.

Day 44

I hesitantly logged into Instagram a few days ago to look up some 90 Day Fiance memes, a total junk show my husband and I have been watching for years. I forgot how ridiculous and funny these pages are. I found some new cartoon artists to follow, and generally just remembered how much fun content there is on IG.

I (debated but ultimately) posted a photo from a day trip a few weeks back, after visiting my father’s grave on the 7th anniversary of his passing. If I had been using Instagram like I used to, I would have posted photos of the grave, then about 20 photos at the historic park we went to after. It was such a relief to be more present and more focused on the experience instead. I didn’t give myself the opportunity to distract myself. Because of that, I think I felt less stressed and dizzy, which I can sometimes feel after scrolling through social media all day.

Thoughts and Take aways

I really did not think I could do it – and now, I wonder how I would be feeling if I had never decided to do it at all.

The bottom line is that I feel great. I did not re-install Facebook on my phone and don’t plan to. I have checked it a few times from my laptop and I don’t have the same feelings towards it. I don’t feel compelled to be part of that world anymore.

I still like Instagram, and I feel like I’m back to using it, but I’m so much more mindful of the urge to pick up my phone and check it, and I don’t let myself scroll for too long – just a few minutes. I also immediately unfollowed a ton of pages upon my return, like restaurants that are a state over that I’ll probably never visit or companies whose products are cool but I’ll never buy. Basically, anything that isn’t in some way actively helping support a positive state of mind.

I will say that I did shop a lot on Amazon during the month, and now I have piles of clothes to sort through and send back. But amazon has always been an issue for me. I also did watch a lot of TV (I got sucked into Beverly Hills 90210 and a serious nostalgia black hole). My next challenge is to try and find the balance.

I picked up a book to read a few times this month – in the house no less, and I would like to make that more of a thing.

Cutting out social media helped me clear my head, re-prioritize, and gave me a better understanding of other changes I have to make. Most surprisingly, it fundamentally shifted my relationship with Facebook and dare I say, broke the addiction. I couldn’t be happier that I decided to take a leap to try this challenge and see what happens, and I recommend everyone try it just once.

And about those feelings of impulsivity? By removing distractions, it allowed me to take responsibility for my actions. If I get upset now, I have to sit with my feelings rather than distract myself from them by turning to social media. This has been a small but crucial step in the right direction, and I know there’s still a lot more growing to do.

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