Back in February, I decided that for Lent I would take a moderate break from social media. That decision came from a combination of things: an Ash Wednesday homily from a priest, an overly empathic reaction to the news cycle, and a realization that I had become more connected to my phone than the people I loved.
The priest’s Ash Wednesday words really resonated with me. “We give up a vice to find a virtue. If you give up coffee but it makes you a terrible person to be around, for goodness sakes, DO NOT give up coffee. It defeats the purpose. Do something or give up something that brings you closer to the virtues you seek.” Did he give me permission to keep drinking my three cups of coffee a day? Yes, he did. But what really spoke to me was that last line. What virtues was I seeking? My simple but complicated answer was to be a better mom, a better friend, and better partner to my husband.
And that is why I deleted Twitter and Facebook from my phone and vowed to only check Facebook at night after my kids went to bed. It was my hope that they could get the best of me during the 3.5 hours I have with them each evening after school. I kept Instagram. We all have limits.
It really was a detox process. The first few days I picked up my phone at work to check Facebook and Twitter no less than 30 times. I hadn’t even realized that it had become such a habit that I would just mindlessly go to that whenever my mind wandered. I worried a lot about what I missed out on in my news feed and in my few important groups. I would hurriedly check it after the kids went to bed, and most of the time I realized that I really hadn’t missed out on much of substance. The things that were substantial ended up being completely fine if they had to wait for me to read it.
It got easier. My family was happier. I had more patience because I wasn’t devoting my brain power to whatever thing I happened to read when I was supposed to be doing something else. I read more actual books. We all snuggled more. I paid more attention, and in turn, so did they. I wasn’t using up my empathy on some scrolled story I read—instead I was using it on my family. That is not to say that the goings-on of the world that Facebook and Twitter expose me to aren’t worthy of my empathy; but if my end goal is to send empathetic and kind kids out into the world, I need to start by extending more empathy and kindness in my own home first. Bringing myself close to a virtue I seek and all that.
As more time passed, funny things started to happen. Some days I didn’t feel the need to check it at all. I often went days without checking. I stopped feeling like I was missing out. I was getting more stuff done at work. The world didn’t end. No one got mad at me for missing something they posted online.
After six months of happy appdetoxification, I put the Facebook app on my phone again for most of the month of August to do social media for two big events. And to no one’s surprise, I went right back to being addicted to it. I hated it. I was grumpier, I checked out from my family more often, and I felt disconnected from everything, even though I was supposed to be more connected. I snapped at everyone more. I felt heavier with the weight of all of the extra junk I was taking in during my endless scrolling. I wanted to be free again, but I didn’t (don’t) have the willpower to just not pick up the phone and scroll mindlessly. It sounds so ridiculous typed out, but it’s true.
The irony is not lost on me that if you’re reading this, it’s likely linked from Facebook. But if you’re feeling drained and disconnected, I’m here to say that yes, a social media detox is scary, FOMO is real, and maybe you think you can’t go without it. But you can, and everyone may be happier for it. You never know until you try.
I’m off to go delete apps from my phone.