A social media sabbatical

Having been on social media since 2009 this is the first time I've taken a full month away from the platforms! So, this is how it's going so far.

First of all, let's look at the practical stuff – what I'm doing to help myself have a healthier relationship with my phone and not be tempted to hop on to Instagram or Facebook.

Before my social media sabbatical began:

  • I switched off notifications on my phone a long time ago so the only alert I get is for text messages. No banners or bleeps for anything else.
  • I've had the Do Not Disturb function switched on for years (no alerts from 9pm to 7am) but as I have notifications switched off anyway it doesn't really make a difference.
  • I've deleted the apps on an old phone, apart from a radio alarm app, and I'm using that as my alarm clock. This means that I don't need to have my phone on my bedside table.
  • I've signed up for a lot of newsletters as I won't see updates from my favourite bloggers, brands and businesses on social media. So that my Inbox doesn't become flooded with newsletters I've set up a rule (I use Apple Mail, I'd guess you can do the same in your email system) so that emails from named addresses (ie the newsletter senders) are automatically filed into a folder. This means I can keep all the newsletters safe in one place, read them when I choose and my Inbox isn't so busy.
social media sabbatical aug 2021 gabrielletreanor.com
Since the start of my social media sabbatical:
  • I've deleted the Instagram, Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone so I can't check in without reinstalling them.
  • On my computer I've set the same social media sites as restricted (I used Screen Time in my system preferences but there are websites that you can use for this too) so that if I try to access the sites it won't let me.
  • At night I'm charging my phone in my study, not my bedroom, so there's absolutely no way I can be tempted to 'just have a quick look' before I go to sleep or when I wake up.
  • There's definitely some FOMO going on as I feel out of the loop – I've felt the need to explain at the start of some emails that I'm off social media so haven't seen their posts so don't know how they are!
  • I'm writing each day – part diary, part journalling – about how I'm feeling and what thoughts are coming up, as a whole, not just around social media.
  • My head feels quieter because I'm not thinking about writing social media posts, wondering if there are any more likes or comments or what other people have posted since I last checked, as well as not having the information overload that scrolling gives you.
  • And at the same time I'm more aware of my thoughts, the constant ticker tape that runs through our brains is more noticeable because I don't have social media to distract or numb me.

Let me explain

The reason I’ve deleted the apps from my phone, blocked the sites on my computer and I’m charging my phone in a different room at night is simply to make this sabbatical as easy as possible for me to stick to. I don’t need to rely on willpower alone when I can make technology work for me.

These apps are designed to prompt chemical reactions in our brains so that we are drawn into checking our phones over and over again. Every time you get another like or comment the reward centre of your brain lights up so it learns that this feels good and wants more and more opportunities to feel that way.

Of course, if you don’t get more likes or comments or instead dive into comparisonitis that feels pretty crappy, and yet we still keep checking just in case we get another dopamine hit (we feel pleasure and satisfaction) instead.

Even the refresh action where you pull down on your screen to refresh your feed mimics slot machines so your brain feels a thrill of the possibilities of what posts could appear next on your screen.

So sheer willpower isn’t necessarily going to be enough and why not make things as easy as possible for myself by deleting or blocking the apps and putting physical distance between me and the root of temptation?!

Alone with your thoughts

I know for some the thought of being alone with your thoughts is off-putting, alarming even, because a) you're not used to it because you're hardly ever alone with your thoughts if you're on the go the whole time and b) there's a fear of what thoughts you might have and how you'll handle them.

This is why I’m making a point of writing in a notebook every day to jot down how I’m feeling, what I’m thinking and any stories that are coming up. Stories of what I could be missing out on, stories of how I’ll ruin my business by my social media absence, stories of how I should be more productive because of the time I’m saving not being on Instagram or Facebook…

By journalling through worrisome thoughts you can identify what's at the heart of your unease or fear. You may find that by bringing them into the light, rather than letting them lurk in the shadows, they aren't as sinister as you imagined. Perhaps they're just stories with little truth behind them.

Distracting and numbing ourselves through always being busy, through scrolling on social media, or something else like shopping, alcohol or drugs, disconnects us from our feelings and thoughts.

Reducing or removing those distractions and numbing techniques puts you back in touch with yourself. Which allows you to build self-trust, invaluable for living a calmer, happier life.

This social media sabbatical is an experiment in which I’m both the subject and the observer. So I’m noticing, and noting, with an open, compassionate curiosity. And when the critical voice in my head starts piping up I’m noticing that too, and intentionally taking a step back rather than being caught up in it.

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the month goes!

gabrielle april 2021
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