One Week Unplugged from Social Media: What I learned and what I'm doing differently going forward

Sarah here. Let me start by saying that I decided to do this challenge because I had a gut feeling that my relationship with social media had crossed into unhealthy territory a while ago.

A constant complaint from my partner was “get off your phone and spend some time with me.”

And not only that, I wasn’t feeling good about the role social media played in my life. If I was bored, I started scrolling. If I knew I needed to work on something that I wasn’t excited about doing, I started scrolling. If I was feeling insecure or unsure of how to solve a problem in my business, I started scrolling.

Looking back at my behavior now -- after a week away -- it’s so obvious to me: in all of those situations, social media was the last thing I needed to turn to.

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So when Creative Babes posted about Babes Unplugged, a social media challenge where we’d all spend a week instagram-less, facebook-less and twitter-less, I immediately felt inclined to participate.

Then my worries crept in:

  • What will I find out about myself when I’m away from Instagram for a week?

  • What will happen to my business if I go silent?

  • What if I realize I’m a lot more addicted to social media than I realized?

  • What if I get back on and no one really cares that I was gone?

  • Will I feel lonely if I don’t have my social media community to interact with?

And about a billion more thoughts like this popped into my head. But the brilliance of this challenge in particular is that I felt way more comfortable saying yes to it knowing that there’d be a community of people participating in it with me. So I said yes.

The challenge spanned from Monday, September 18 to Sunday, September 24. The Sunday night before we started, I found myself sitting on the couch, watching the Emmys, and binging on Instagram for more than two hours.

Part of that was finishing up some business posts that I needed to do to market events coming up that week; but a much bigger part of it was trying to drink in all I could before the drought set in.

Finally around 10:30pm I thought enough and deleted the apps off my phone. I watched the last 30 minutes of the Emmys and teared up during a couple of the speeches. Then I got into bed and started reading my book -- again, I teared up while reading a couple particularly poignant passages. I checked in with myself and noticed I already felt noticeable calmer and less anxious -- and more emotionally connected (hence all the tearing up).

The next day (aka first day off social media!) Ryan had the day off, so I decided to take the day off with him. It felt weird waking up and not doing my usual scroll in bed while I fought off the urge to fall back asleep. We spent the day doing pretty normal things: went to a coffee shop together, ran some errands, had lunch, went to the library, came home and each spent some time away from the other (me reading on the couch, him video gaming and tinkering with his bikes) and then had dinner and watched La La Land together.

Based on these activities, this day was so not special. But sans social media: it felt magical.

If I think back about that day now, I felt so connected to Ryan. I felt the way I felt when we first started dating. We had meaningful, thoughtful conversations. We held hands a lot. Lots of smiling and laughing and easy chemistry. Even butterflies, which I was sure got retired after year one of relationships.

Based on the total success of this day, I thought to myself more than once: “Am I allowing social media to ruin my relationship?” Ruin might be a tad dramatic -- but really, is it negatively impacting the quality of our interactions?

As the week went by, I felt so many positive effects:

More energy and more productivity

When I actually allowed myself to “get bored,” I decided to just go ahead and do the task that I had been putting off doing.

More capacity for empathy and feeling connected

The world felt so much bigger and more important than what’s happening on my phone screen. I thought so much more about what people must be feeling and how that affects them -- rather than what they were producing or capturing.

More willing to do the hard things

Let’s be honest -- social media is easy. You open an app, you move your thumb to make more pictures appear, you like and comment. Yes, there are parts of instagram (especially relating to business strategy) that are hard, but showing up and being there and taking part in it, that’s not hard. And opening your instagram and “engaging” there can feel a lot easier than having hard conversations with your loved ones, reconnecting with an old friend after years of silence, or dealing with a bad habit that you’re not quite ready to acknowledge and tackle. The things that I haven’t felt ready to deal with (for a long time) felt so much more manageable when I was away from social media. It’s like I had the mental space to actually think about them, instead of labeling them as “difficult” and putting them in a drawer to deal with on another day.

More aware of what I want and my voice

The last effect was the most important one for me and my biggest take-away from this experience. I have felt frazzled and unfocused and anxious about what direction my business and my life is heading for months. When I tried to apply some purpose and focus to these areas, everything just felt so unclear and cloudy. What do I want for my business? How do I feel about my life right now? I didn’t know how to answer those questions, but I did know how to keep the train moving, so that’s what I did instead.

What I didn’t realize is that accessing that voice in my head was so incredibly easy (and natural) when I didn’t have all these other voices floating around in my head. And that was my biggest realization: when I open this app on my phone, I am allowing all of these other voices into my head.

On the one hand, that’s not a bad thing. Seeing the different ways people view the world is a good thing when it makes you thoughtfully consider how those views stack up to your own view.

I think the problem is that grass-is-always-greener mentality. Actually, if we’re being real, it’s more than thinking other people “have it better” than you do. It’s believing they are better because of the way they live their lives. And it’s an assumption that’s so automatic, we don’t even know we’re making it.

That combined with the sheer volume of noise you’re allowing into your head is enough to make anyone question whether they’re doing things “right.” And it makes you feel so disconnected from even knowing what would be right for you.

So how do we combat this? It seems so overwhelming, especially when getting off social media for good is virtually not an option in today’s world.

For me, I think there’s a couple things:

The word better shouldn’t even be a part of the conversation.

Comparing ourselves is so natural that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Part of that is wanting to improve ourselves; as humans, we feel the best when we’re growing, so if we can learn a way to “grow” from someone else, we feel like we’re improving. But, instead of thinking, “Oh cool, look at this trait I can learn from this person,” we think, “Wow, this person is so much better at doing this than me.” (And therefore, is better than me.)

I think the best way to combat this is figuring out what you value. When you voice or write down what’s important to you (and make goals/lifestyle choices) around this, you think less in terms of “better and worse” and more in terms of “different and separate.” In other words: it looks like this person is approaching life differently from me and I can appreciate that their approach is completely separate from mine.

Second, put boundaries around your social media time

For the record, I think unplugging first (even just for a day or an afternoon) and intentionally noticing how you feel is the first step in this process. And that’s because it allows you to notice what might be triggering you and how you feel when you remove yourself from these triggers.

For me, it’s the other voices. I automatically place such a high value on what other people are doing over my own priorities and actions. And often, getting on Instagram when I first wake up or early in the morning can completely derail my day.

To respond to that, I’ve decided to not log into social media before noon everyday. This allows me to wake up and connect with myself before connecting with anyone else. And it also makes me push myself to get the must-do things done before the clock strikes noon. Which for me (a deadline-driven person) is super motivating.

Also (for those of you worrying about the state of my relationship with the return of social media!) I’ve decided to not have my phone on me during quality time with Ryan. If I screw up and notice I’m on my phone while I’m with him, I’m going to be kind to myself (not berate myself for screwing up!) and simply get up and put my phone in another room and return to our quality time.

And more importantly, when he says something to me about my social media usage, I’m going to listen instead of brushing it aside as “he doesn’t understand that I need to be on Instagram for business” -- a common excuse I’ve told myself.

I put all this out there because two weeks ago, when I was glued to my phone and anxious and feeling sick about not knowing what I was doing with my business, I thought that was just the way things are. I thought, “Owning your own business is overwhelming. No one knows what they’re doing. Of course I’m going to feel anxious now and then.” And maybe that’s true to an extent. But I did not realize how spending time on social media can be fuel to that fire.

After a week without it, I’ve realized that I can be focused and I can be in tune with what I want. And it’s not that hard to know what I want; I already know it, I just have to block out all the other noise and listen.

And if we’re talking on a non-business basis, I realized that I am so much more than Sarah Harste Weavings. I think when I allow the world of Instagram and my inbox to become so enormously important -- to be the only lens that I’m looking through to view the world -- that I start to think that my identity starts and stops at my business.

And I realized at some point last week that, even if my business ended tomorrow, I would still be me. I would still be worth communicating with and having a relationship with and being part of a community. I would still have something to give. With that tearful realization, I understood just how small of a part who I am on social media is who I actually am.

We are so much more than the people we appear to be on our screens; I’m very grateful to have been reminded of that.