I never considered myself a social media addict, but my phone usage log might have told you otherwise. Facebook and Instagram regularly topped the list of apps I spent the most time on. Checking social media had become a distraction and timewaster, but I craved the connection I got from it. And while I liked to say it didn't affect my marriage, I saw the annoyed look on my husband's face when he caught me posting to Instagram while he was trying to talk to me. I wanted to see what would happen if I took a break from social media, so I resolved to quit using Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for one week. When I told my husband, Kevin, my plan, he agreed to join me in the experiment so we could experience the full impact on our relationship.
Day 1, Sunday
The first morning I was off social media, I felt restless and almost anxious. The urge to check my social media platforms was a minor distraction. By late morning, I started feeling a little more able to focus. After lunch, we put the kids in their rooms for rest time and took a nap. We went to church as a family that evening. At the end of the day, Kevin and I watched a TV show, talked and went to bed.
Day 2, Monday
I found it easier not to pick up my phone instinctively. I had a sense of relief that I didn't "have to" check all of my social media platforms. But I found myself absentmindedly clicking my social media apps before I knew what I was doing. So I hid them in folders where they would be out of sight.
Day 3, Tuesday
I was now out of the habit of checking social media. I felt as if I had more free time because I wasn't constantly reading my notifications.
Day 4, Wednesday
My engagement in all areas of life seemed deeper — especially the end-of-day conversations with Kevin.
Day 5, Thursday
I missed an important post on social media about a friend going through a crisis. However, another friend alerted me to it almost immediately, and I phoned the distressed friend, which was better and more personal than responding on social media anyway.
Day 6, Friday
I was momentarily disappointed that I couldn't post about an event at my daughter's school, but then realized it was OK to have a special moment and not broadcast it.
Day 7, Saturday
After lunch, we put our kids in their rooms for rest time and ... took another nap. In one week, I napped more than nearly the entire year before. That night, we made dinner together and enjoyed good conversation. I realized I wasn't eager to jump back onto social media the following day.
What I learned
I had some big realizations during my break from social media. Here are a few:
My relationship with my husband is enhanced when I'm not frequently checking social media. Before my break, I was checking social media sites multiple times a day (sometimes without even being aware that I was doing so). This practice disrupted whatever was going on in my life at the moment. When I asked my husband his biggest takeaway from the week, he said, "You were a lot more present. I liked not having to compete with your newsfeed. I felt like your top priority."
I feel more rested when I'm not managing the mental load of social media. Looking at your phone at the end of the day disrupts sleep. (It can also disrupt other activities ... ahem.) During my time off social media, I enjoyed ending the day talking and cuddling with my husband. I went to bed earlier, slept better and woke up feeling more rested.
During the day, when I wasn't processing all the information coming at me from social media, my mental load lifted.
I turned to better forms of communication to connect. I made more phone calls and had longer, more focused face-to-face conversations. These communications were richer forms of connection than reading through my newsfeed, clicking "like" or leaving a comment.
Surprisingly, my desire to engage with these platforms all but disappeared after a few days! I still appreciate how I can connect with friends and family through social media. But I will limit my time and plan to leave these apps in their out-of-the-way folders.
Kevin captured what we gained when he said, "Even when we're not talking, moments are richer because we're paying attention."Suzanne Gosselin is the former editor of Focus on the Family Clubhouse Jr. magazine and the author of Expectant Parents: Preparing together for the journey of parenthood.
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