A week ago Friday, after having it in the back of my mind for some time, I decided to take a much-needed break from social media. I figured I couldn’t manage a week, so I challenged myself with 72 hours. Ultimately, I managed to go a little longer (nearly 80 hours in total) before I slowly dove back into the abyss, taking nearly a week to fully catch up by reintroducing myself slowly. I took on this challenge for several reasons, some of which are personal, but mainly because the demands on my time and attention, through Facebook in particular, have become almost unmanageable at times and leave me feeling anxious far too much of the time. I fully acknowledge that I have put myself in the position of being contacted and needed on Facebook, since I manage three groups, admin for two pages, plus my own personal (very active) page, all of which involve many important causes and active projects, but that doesn’t change how it makes me feel. And while I am a full-time Mother, working from home, I have started to feel like it is taking away from my main responsibilities. I recognized that I needed to make a change for the betterment of my mental health.
So here is what I experienced and what I learned, while on hiatus …
I have a morning routine: I wake up with my girls (Sydney, my toddler, and Bella, my dog), let Bella out to pee, change Sydney’s diaper and clothes, get her breakfast and water, let Bella in and give her a treat, make my smoothie, set Sydney up with some toys or crafts to last a few minutes while I sit down and drink my breakfast and check my social media, before going on our morning walk. Typically, while we’re out walking, my mind races through everything I have just seen and read on-line, preparing responses, planning tasks, thus a mental to-do list begins for the day. But throughout my break from social media, I found myself feeling much more present in the moment, which is something I constantly fault myself for not feeling often enough. Over my weekend “off”, I painted with Sydney while we both ate breakfast together, we did puzzles together while Bella sat very much in the way, and I felt much more relaxed as I eased into the day more gradually than normal. And I certainly enjoyed our morning walks much more, as I talked to Sydney and Bella instead of our conversations competing for my concentration. It was no surprise that it was far more enjoyable to be in the moment with my family instead of internally planning my day ahead.
During the day, I check social media several times. It makes me feel anxious to check in; sometimes, I dread checking in, fearing all the demands of my time, the questions, the required research I may encounter … but then I feel anxious if I go too long without checking it too, fearing the volume of inquiries with which I will have to catch up, or fearing I won’t have answered people in enough time before a crisis ensues (dog rescue cases, for example). Again, this only exacerbates my inability to live in the moment. I find that so many things require following up at a later time, all resulting in a longer and longer to-do list, and ultimately more time taken away from focusing on myself. And far too often, I hear myself saying “one second, Sydney” or “almost done sweetheart”, several times at a time. It’s not fair to her and makes me feel guilty, more anxious, stressed out, again, not living in the moment (and precious moments with my young daughter at that). This is all so very unhealthy.
For these 80 hours off-line, all of these feelings of anxiety, of which I have just spoken, left me entirely. I did not even feel anxious to check-in. In other words, I did not miss it! When I found down time, while Sydney self-entertained during the day for example, I read a magazine, read some papers I had printed for my Wellness research, I checked off a few small to-do’s off my list (i.e. sort the spice rack, clean out the pantry) and I felt a sense of accomplishment instead of feeling anxious, dread, guilt, panic, etc. I felt … liberated! And there was no better weekend to take a family hike through the forest. My mind was so clear and wide open to the experience. I felt truly grounded, present and free!
Perhaps the most notable difference was in the evenings, when Sydney finally went to bed, and I had a couple of hours to myself. This is when I typically spend the most time on-line, checking on the pages I manage, answering messages and e-mails, reading the updates in groups I follow, etc. And sometimes, what I intend to be a “quick check” somehow turns into two hours, feeling like 10 minutes. Despite the best of intentions, these late- night social media checks consume significant periods of time and cut into my sleep. I am always angry with myself afterwards, feeling frustrated, wishing I had cut back or not gone on-line at all, and yet I continue to do it nearly every night because it’s the only uninterrupted time I have.
While on hiatus, I really relaxed the first night. I watched mindless television (Blackish is hilarious!); I cleaned up various spaces around the house; I sorted paperwork that had been sitting for days; I used the research I had accomplished during the day and wrote two articles for my Blog (the one that pays!); I updated the Gerladina spreadsheets (that had been pending for weeks!); I journaled (something I really miss from my pre-Mum days!); I spent quality time with my husband on the couch instead of having my mind race about all the things I sometimes think I need to be doing – I lived in the moment! I felt a sense of accomplishment, I felt relieved, proud of myself and was left inspired to do better.
Funny note: While I was out walking Bella the second night of my hiatus, I ran into someone I hadn’t met before who was out walking his two dogs. One of his dogs was a puppy who could be viewed by some as a targeted breed in my province of Ontario. We stopped to chat (initially over Bella’s Justice for Bullies sweater) and he was highly aware of the “racist legislation against our wonderful dogs” (his words). We had a lengthy chat, about many important points that I am usually trying to teach people, and I walked away thinking “wow, that was awesome! I need to post about that on my page!”, only to realize, it had to wait, and that was ok. I actually breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that the world can wait and that this need for instant-everything is completely self-implied. And that line of thinking freed up my mind to enjoy the here-and-now, more deeply appreciating that there were actually educated individuals about this legislation and also better appreciating the ease of conversation between two dog enthusiasts. And then I went on to enjoy my nighttime walk with Bella, taking in the fresh air, feeling much more mindful of the present. And that was exactly what I was looking to find through this experiment.
So what will I take away from this experience?
The world can wait. My mental state is my priority. I preach, both professionally and personally, about the importance of self-care and yet I have not been taking my own advice on this over the last … well, it’s been ages. I need to remember that my well-being comes first. I cannot take proper care of anyone else if I am not taking proper care of myself first, and I must remember that at all times. It is a constant struggle for me to put myself before others – I am a work in progress! Social media is not the only impediment to self-care of course, however, I have learned that keeping off social media first thing in the morning and in the late evenings is best for my sanity and to make the most of my personal time. It is much easier to focus when you have your priorities in order. Anything that requires my attention on-line will now have to wait until I am ready to address it, and not according to anyone else’s timeline. Those who are true friends will understand and respect this. Social media has countless benefits, but it can also be a bit of a curse if you don’t keep it in check. I have now promised myself to do better, for me.