As I write this, I am on day 5 of a 5-day cleanse. This cleanse does not involve any green juice or kale, and sadly, I don’t appear to be losing any weight, either. That’s because this cleanse is actually a “Digital Detox” — a self-imposed hiatus from social media.
If it’s true that “everyone is addicted to something,” then I am a social media junkie. I don’t mean to trivialize true, dangerous addictions, such as to drugs or alcohol. I’m certainly not talking about the kind of addiction that lands you in rehab; it’s really more of a bad habit. I believe I developed this habit because for the past 6 years I helped to run a company whose existence was almost entirely dependent on social media, and spending time on sites like Facebook and Twitter was a huge part of my job. When you spend most of your waking hours immersed in social media, it becomes such a part of your routine that it is hard to distance yourself from it. But I’m no longer working for that company, and I decided I was ready for detox after I realized how easily I could fritter away an hour just by scrolling through Facebook, then clicking over to Twitter and scrolling, before clicking over to Instagram, then to LinkedIn, and back again… Click, like, scroll; click, like, scroll; click, like, scroll; click, like, scroll… That sort of mindless time-wasting is not a totally horrible thing in and of itself, but it occurred to me that as I was clicking and scrolling, I was growing more and more annoyed and stressed out about everything from the hateful trolls showing up in Facebook comments, to the spreading of “fake news” by people I want to respect, to rampant misspellings and horrible grammar by businesses and professionals in articles on LinkedIn and elsewhere using “then” when they should use “than,” saying “sneak peak” instead of “peek,” “thinly vailed” instead of “veiled”– and so on and so on.
In other words, I believe I have been suffering from social media burnout — and yes, that’s an actual thing. And since this is a circumstance which has coincided with a rare moment in my life in which I’ve found myself in between personal crises, it seemed the perfect week to unplug, quiet my mind, and try to find some balance, all as a way of recharging in preparation for the next crisis, which is undoubtedly right around the corner.
As I’m sure you can imagine, like any bad habit or addiction, it’s not particularly easy to quit social media cold turkey. Addiction counselors will tell you that you can’t successfully give up an addictive behavior or a bad habit unless you replace that behavior with something else. So this week, whenever I have felt the urge to check Facebook or Instagram, I’ve been substituting things like a new episode of House of Cards, tons of online shopping, and handfuls of peanut M&Ms. So far, it’s worked.
Unplugging from social media: √
Of course, it’s much healthier to turn to the most obvious thing to do when you’re seeking to quiet the mind: yoga. A good yoga instructor will help you quiet your mind by guiding you to focus on your breath, to listen to what your body is telling you it needs on any given day, and to not judge yourself or others while you’re working on your own mat. (I like that: no judgment. That’s something you won’t find on social media.) It works. During a hot yoga class, when pretty much the only thoughts my brain has room for are, “OMG… It is so freaking hot… Am I crying, or are my eyeballs actually sweating?… I am going to die…,” at least I’m not worrying about my to-do list or my loved ones’ health issues or the inevitability of nuclear war. Yoga truly does help me quiet my mind, at least for an hour at a time.
Quieting the mind: √
Another thing that works for me when I’m seeking balance is a nice, long walk with my dog. However, I find that this activity is the yin to the yang of yoga, because instead of coming from a place of striving to quiet the mind, this is a time to unleash my thoughts and let my mind race. I think about any current crisis, people I’m annoyed with, projects I am working on, problems I am seeking to resolve–and often it’s on these walks that I’m able to see with most clarity the possible solutions. I really believe that having a designated time to hash the crap out in my mind allows me to maintain more of a mental balance for the rest of the day, and these thoughts become less likely to crop up and keep me awake in the middle of the night.
To further balance out my yoga practice, instead of paying attention to only the space inside my little yoga mat, while I’m out walking I notice everything around me–and, admittedly, I judge. Oh, yes. I am judgy. I judge my neighbors by the length of their grass and the amount of weeds in their beds and the contents of their recycling bin. I used to believe that the grass was actually greener on my neighbor’s lawn, only to inspect it up closely while my dog was peeing on it and noticing that my neighbor’s yard has bare spots and not-so-green patches, just like our lawn; they’re just harder to see from a distance. And if that literal interpretation of a metaphor come to life hasn’t awakened my spirituality enough, I also notice how excited my dog gets about being alive when we’re walking, and how he literally stops to smell the roses (and the sign posts, and the mailboxes, and the rear ends of other dogs we meet) along the way, and I think: we humans have a lot to learn from dogs about mindfulness and being in the moment.
Finding balance: √
So… now that I’ve spent the better part of a week unplugged and practicing yoga, walking my dog, Netflix binging, buying new shoes, and scarfing down M&Ms, bring on the next crisis. I’m ready. Meanwhile, it’s time to ask myself: what have I learned?
This is where I’m supposed to say I’ve learned that my life is a whole lot better without the distraction of social media, that I’ve been more productive and have found myself more engaged in my real life relationships. I should even insinuate that perhaps I’m just a wee bit better of a person than you are, because now I am enlightened, and look at you– you’re still hooked on sharing memes, taking “which celebrity do I look like” quizzes, or adding flower crowns to your selfies. In fact, 99% of you who are now reading this blog post are seeing it because you clicked on the link in your Facebook news feed.
But the truth is, while I can honestly say I have felt a little less stressed and more balanced this week, and while there are a lot of things I really don’t miss about social media, I have missed things like seeing pictures of friends’ vacations and kids, laughing at funny posts, and knowing about special occasions like birthdays and graduations. I’ve decided that the good and bad you’ll find on social media is a reflection of the good and bad you’ll find in real life–and at least on social media you can block, filter, and delete the things you don’t want to deal with.
If I’ve learned anything important from my little cleanse, it’s just this: If I ever do want to quit you, Facebook, I can. I believe when I’m back online–which will happen as soon as I publish this blog post–I will be more mindful of my usage, I’ll work harder to avoid the trolls and the politics, and I’ll try to spend a lot less time clicking and scrolling. At least for a little while. But when I find myself eventually drowning in social media negativity again, I’ll know that I have the ability to unplug and recharge, with a little help from Frank Underwood and my dog.