In early June while on my sabbatical I realized that I still wasn’t fully disconnected. Yes, I was thousands of miles away from home and work, but my connection to that life through social media still brought it to the forefront of my mind. Part-experiment, part-“hell I really want to do this”, I decided to go completely off social media for a full month. Cold turkey. I deleted all social network apps from my phone, removed them from my browser toolbar, and said farewell. No posting or checking at all.
The 30 days actually went by quickly and successfully (didn’t cheat once), but in the two weeks since I’ve gotten back on, it’s become clear how things changed while I was off. Most of the differences are those you’d naturally expect, but here’s the three most unexpected things that happened when I went off social media for a month:
- My FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) went away– As social creatures we want to know what others are up to, even if we’re completely content with our current surroundings. Without the ability to see the pictures and updates of others, I stopped feeling like I was somehow missing out on anything at all. I simply appreciated where I was. Being “off” made me far more present in my own surroundings at that very moment. I stopped thinking all thoughts like, “I wonder what _______ is up to”, because I knew I couldn’t find out anyway. I took enormous pleasure in the privacy of my days, and cherished that those moments felt like they were just “for us”.
- My interest in friendship deepened– At the start I was just happy about being disconnected. But after a week of no contact with close friends and family, I started to miss them. So I began to write long, detailed personal emails. I asked poignant questions about parts of their lives I knew they were struggling with, and offered up some of my own realizations as well… and then I received long, detailed personal emails in response. For the first time in a long time, meaningful emails were back in. I thought being off social media would disconnect me from friends, but it proved that friendships are built on something far deeper.
- My sleep patterns completely changed– Anyone who knows me well knows that I’ve really struggled with sleep my whole life. My mind runs on a treadmill all night long, keeping me up for endless hours. The ability to access immediate stimulation through social media creates a heightened sense of anticipatory tension, which really doesn’t allow your body to fully relax and fall into the deep slumber that we all deserve each night. I’ve been a major victim of that. I swear this is true, but my month off social media was the first time in over 10 years where I didn’t touch a single Ambien or sleep-aid. Rest once again actually meant rest, not the recharge that comes from a depleted energy source. The biggest surprise and benefit of all.
Social media undoubtedly has its benefits. I’m still a massive advocate, but I learned about controlling how/when I use it through this little month-long experiment. If you feel yourself going overboard on social media, give it a break for a day, a week or a month. At the very least, you’ll sleep a hell of a lot better.