13 Things I Learned from Taking a Social Media Break

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Last month I took a break from social media—the first substantial one I’ve taken in like 9 years.

(Full disclosure: the last time I did this I was avoiding the temptation of spying on an ex I was trying to shake. Who among us hasn’t stalked an ex but also didn’t want to have anything to do with them?) 

Now my life is wildly different: I use social media to connect with my podcast community, readers, clients, potential clients, and to occasionally share pictures of my ca-ute baby. 

I didn’t have one big reason for logging off social media. I just had this feeling that I was on it too much. I didn’t feel like I had a “problem.” But as soon as I logged off for a few days, I realized I did. Over the course of 31 days I had realization after realization of the way that social media—when unchecked—can steal joy, time, autonomy, creativity, and peace. 

Throughout my break I had lots and lots of thoughts and epiphanies about my experience. I jotted them all down and will unpack them over the course of a few blog posts. (I started in a recent post detailing how to nail a social media break without losing your mind.) 

Here are 13 things I learned during my social media sabbatical. I split them up into four main categories as these were the areas I saw were most affected: health (mental and otherwise), relationships, work, and autonomy.  I wonder if you can relate.

On Relationships

  • I have a more accurate picture of my relationships when I don’t use social media as a crutch to feel connected. I became keenly aware of who I was intentionally reaching out to and who I heard from without the crutch of social media keeping us connected. When I’m seeing my close friends’ Instagram stories every day, days and weeks can go by without an intentional check in with them. Without that crutch I realized when I was both connected and disconnected from my friends.

  • I used social media to stave off the pain of isolation. I became much more aware of my aloneness (not always ‘loneliness’) when I quieted the constant chatter of social media. I’m a work from home mom and an Enneagram 7. So while unplugging from social media reminded me of how I wanted more social interaction, it felt healthy and good to sit in the reality of my life (even if it’s painful) more often. After all, more interaction on social media doesn’t really meet the need for community that I have.

  • During my break I was blissfully unaware of the daily details of the people I’m connected to on social media but not in real life. It’s so easy to become passive observers of people’s online lives who we don’t ever interact with. This doesn’t feel in line with my values.

On Work 

  • My work became more productive and focused when I was not distracted by social media. When I was in need of a distraction after a hard think during my social media sabbatical, I would switch to some kind of simple task but it was never a black hole of distraction where I blinked and 20 minutes had disappeared. This led to more productivity and less frustration with myself.

  • I’m more intentional with my personal and work connections when I’m not distracted by social media. I’ve been sending notes via snail mail!

On Autonomy

  • On social media we are relinquishing our privacy, and we don’t even care. Companies know about our purchasing habits, political leanings, whether we’re married, a parent, religious affiliations… They have a disturbing amount of information that they can sell to third parties or use to their advantage to sell products to us.

  • These apps are designed to be addictive. Those who use them are not autonomous; we are being manipulated by tech companies. Did you know that the notification button on Facebook was changed from blue to red because humans are drawn to red? “A lifetime of looking at stop signs, flags and warnings has taught us that we usually have to pay attention to the color red…Seeing them can release a small dose of cortisol, the stress hormone, which makes them want to click the app to get rid of them. This stress is followed by a small release of dopamine…when we read the message, creating an addictive cycle which can be hard to escape,” writes George Harrison of The Sun.

  • I was not on my phone as much overall but I still found ways to passively use it to combat boredom (not necessarily a good thing). Social media can be a big time suck but mobile devices, whether on social media or not, are really a big piece of not letting ourselves get bored.

On Health (Mental and Otherwise) 

  • My mind needs to be bored more often. When I have unrestricted access to social media I am always entertained. But my mind needs the refresh of being alone to wander.

  • It’s important to take stock of what feels compulsive or toxic to you. For me: keeping social apps on my phone (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Messenger.) I eventually opted to respond to messages on LinkedIn if they were time-sensitive (and obviously, work-related). Things like podcasts, email, streaming video, text messaging do not land in the “compulsive/toxic” category for me, so I did not put limitations on them.

  • Being on vacation and not having the option of giving a live play-by-play of my vacation on social media was freeing. I spent the last week of my break on vacation with my family. I could just be present. And I knew I wasn’t giving other people a reason to be jealous or feel bad about their own lives. It made me want to always pair social media breaks with vacation! It was so renewing.

Overall Conclusions 

It is very difficult to find the discipline to have a healthy relationship with social media. I don’t often have the energy for it. I don’t want to be a passive social media addict. But also, not being one is HARD. It takes thoughtfulness and discipline. And sometimes other aspects of my life use up my thoughtfulness and discipline reserves, so I don’t have much to give to living out my ideals on social media. The easiest thing is to just disconnect altogether.

I also want to figure out how to use social media and create content that helps people feel good and not bad. I know I can’t control how other people feel. But sometimes social media can really be used to help, inspire, and encourage. And somehow, I want to be in that camp—not the camp that leaves people living in the land of comparison and FOMO. This is difficult to measure, but a good goal.

Now that I took a month off from social media I think this will be something that I do on a regular basis. It felt great to unplug and free myself from the need to keep up (in so many ways). Social media is an incredible tool, but it can easily become toxic. In some seasons the best thing to do is to step away completely. 

Hey while you’re here—want 10 seasoned freelancers’ best career advice? Grab the Freelancer Cheatsheet here.

Will You Do Anything Social Media Free This Year?

The first lady celebrated her 50th birthday on Saturday with a secret, social media free, dance party at the White House complete with a Beyoncé serenade. While that sounds about right for Michelle Obama the part of that announcement that caught my eye was “social media free.”

I also just saw a tweet from a friend who said he purposefully left his smart phone at home when he went out last night. Happiness ensued:


I don’t know about you but the idea of leaving my phone at home on purpose or not documenting one of the most epic birthday parties of the year on Instagram gives me the shakes a little bit.

And that’s not a good thing.

At the beginning of the year I made some decisions and goals for the year. Among them: don’t look at my iPhone during church.

Like seriously--how sad is that?

In this world of smartphones being an acceptable accessory just about anywhere, it’s easy to think we always need to check our phones or at least have them within arm’s length.

But what if you leave it at home so you can have coffee with a friend without mentally being pulled into the office?

What if you can leave it in the car so you’re not distracted by notifications during the pastor’s sermon?

What if you can actually experience the feeling of being bored waiting in line at Walmart without giving yourself that mindless entertainment of scrolling through your Twitter feed?

While I’m obviously all for maximizing the potential of social media to improve lives, I readily recognize that boundaries need to be made and life is not meant to be experienced with our eyes constantly glued to screens.

I’m gonna try to be a little more mindful of that in 2014. I’m gonna let myself be a little more focused on the person in front of me. A little more bored in the grocery store line.

What will you do social media free in 2014?