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Monday, October 29, 2018

What I learned stepping away from Facebook

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It happened three weeks ago and when I think about it, I cringe.

Waverly, my one year-old daughter was playing with her little wooden beach blocks, giggling amd waving at me. I didn't see it though, because I was too busy reading Facebook on my phone. I scrolled through my social media feed and liked new profile and cover photos and pictures of dogs and little ones. I watched food prep videos and posted my thoughts. It wouldn't have been bad if it was just once or twice a day but whenever I had a spare moment, I checked Facebook.  I didn't realize how bad it was until my baby had to try hard to get my attention. 

In that moment, I felt like I was hit by a brick. What kind of role model was I being to my daughter when I put screen time ahead of interacting with her? I put my phone down, got on the floor and played blocks with Wave. Later that night after she went to bed, I took a hard look at my social media habits.  Yes, it's a useful way to connect with family, friends and companies, but it can also be an addiction and/or cause emotion turmoil. Here is why I knew that there was a problem.

It didn't make me happy. In fact, it added to my unhappiness.
  • At times I was emotionally drained after reading Facebook 

  • I would check Facebook even if I was with friends at a social event

  • I checked Facebook dozens of times a day, mostly mindlessly

  • I had put browsing social media ahead of spending quality time with my daughter and husband

  • Checking Facebook was the first thing I did in the morning and the last thing I did at night

  • Dozens of times throughout the day I thought "I should post this (a picture of my food, a cute thing Waverly did, my plans for travel...) to Facebook." Instead of being in the moment, I would think about taking a picture to post to social media rather than enjoying what was actually happening 
I was  addicted. I needed a full stop but because my job is in social media, how could I deactivate a social media account? I knew I had to though.  I called one of my closest friends, Megs, and told her I had a social media addiction which was having an adverse effect on my life. She encouraged me and said she would do a social media detox with me.  I decided to deactivate my Facebook account. I went to bed feeling free. 

The next morning I hadn't even opened my eyes yet, when I reached for my iPad. I looked for the Facebook icon and it was gone. It felt strange not to see what was happening with all of my friends. I spent time with Waverly and L at breakfast. I kept picking up my phone to check Facebook, forgetting that I deleted the app. Throughout the day, on my computer and on my devices (in line at Starbucks, sitting in the car going through the carwash, in the loo, while Waverly fell asleep cuddled against my chest...) I mindlessly thought of checking Facebook. 

The first few days felt strange. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was missing something. I felt angry, like when I quit caffeine. Megs and I texted often, supporting each other when one of us wanted to go back. It was hard to go cold turkey but the biggest positive from this experiment was seeing how much better I felt not being on Facebook all the time. I didn't have to worry about posting anything. I didn't have to see events I was missing at home on the east coast when I was now here on the west coast permanently. I felt free. The obsession with constantly checking social media was gone. Megs texted that she spent time reading news articles rather than scrolling through social media while she was eating dinner alone. We were changing our habits and feeling the immediate rewards.

I wondered if I felt this way, did anyone else? I texted a few of my friends and asked them if they had any social media issues. I found out I wasn't alone. Here is what some of my friends told me:
  • "I not only deactivated my Facebook account, I deleted it. The whole security thing scares me."

  • "I had to take a break from Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. I started feeling jealous of what my friends were doing without me which I know is silly but it started hurting my relationships. I realized it's better if I don't know what every one of my friends is doing all the time. "

  • "I started paying way too much attention to my girlfriend's Facebook posts. When her college boyfriend comments, I find myself getting jealous. I know nothing is going on, and it's my own self-esteem issue but I can't stop myself from looking. It's like the new version of going through your partner's wallet."

  • "I had to quit Instagram. I thought I'd feel inspired by the fitness and food Instas but I just end up feeling fat and unmotivated. How are they traveling the world for free and I'm stuck in this cubicle with a mountain of graduate school debt and ramen for dinner? Where did I take the wrong turn?"
I realized that social media did not always make us feel connected, informed or educated. People were starting to realize the effect that social media had on their emotional wellness and they were deciding, like me, that they needed a break.

I was a few weeks into the Facebook detox when I found out that I missed the registration announcements for several events that I was excited to attend that were now sold out. A friend of mine had a major life event that I missed. After being gone from Facebook for several weeks and feeling better about the decision, could I go back in a "light" version? Should I? Could I have just the proverbial one bite of cake or did the benefits of being off social media outweigh what I was missing?

I decided to reactivate my Facebook account on my desktop computer. I scrolled through a couple of days and checked the accounts of several companies/authors I followed. Then I stopped. I closed the tab. Done. I didn't feel the need to go down the rabbit hole. I decided that I would return to social media with the following caveats: 
  • I would only check Facebook on my desktop when I got into my studio in the morning and just before I left for the day. I wouldn't install the app on my mobile devices. I still have my other media accounts on my devices.

  • If I sensed that I was allowing my social media addiction to overtake my life again, I would delete it for good, regardless of what I was missing.
Social media addiction is a powerful pull. In an appearance in New Zealand yesterday, the Duchess of Sussex, once a social media power user and founder of the blog, The Tig, said "Your judgment of your sense of self-worth becomes really skewed when it's all based on likes."  It's true. It feels good to see that your online village likes you. I realize now, though, that what matters is how you feel about yourself. Your happiness and self-worth can't come from other people (online or in real life). If you like and respect yourself, that's enough. Everything else is just cake.

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