What I Learned On A 3 Month Social Media Sabbatical

Three months ago I deleted social media.

For 12 weeks I didn’t look back and lived life without posting, scrolling or sharing life there. I wrote about why I did it HERE. To be honest I’ve never liked watching people take instagram breaks. It often looks like a yoyo diet for social media use: finding social too much, taking time off completely, then coming back just the same way as before. So I set myself real goals with my time off to make sure I learned and could make some concrete choices from it.

I told myself I’d take 8 weeks and then reassess. Then it was 10 because I didn’t want to go back, and as I write we’re at 3 months. So here’s a little unpacking of the time, my takeaways, and my plan from here.

You can listen to a kitchen chat here, or read below! 

What did a 3 month social media sabbatical do for me?

People have asked a lot if it was hard. Hard to put down my phone, hard to find my identity without something I’d done every day for so long, hard financially. The truth is, a few years back I had a bit of a breakdown and reality check moment about social media, and since then it’s never been hard for me to take time off. I know the need for healthy boundaries. So a break wasn’t a challenge for me in that respect.

iI didn’t want instagram back, I didn’t count down the days or miss posting (although we’ll come back to what I did miss). I’ve taken weekends off for a few years but but those small times off didn’t give me the time to decompress that this sabbatical did.  Work wise, it gave me more time to put into other things which I’ve appreciated, as well as time to reflect on what I want my online presence to be, or even if I want it to be.

But beyond work, I’ve discovered who I am without social media. Not in an identity kind of way but in a practical way. What’s the space it’s been filling?  What does it do to me?  What springs up if I leave that space empty for a while? And it’s been a really great lesson to learn.

The change of not creating content

Time away has shown me just how much living life on social media splits my mind. Research has shown that people who document an event as it’s happening (like posting to social) actually have a less good memory of the event afterwards. There is also increasing research on what else social media use is doing in our brains. Our use of social is wiring our brains “for attentional‐switching and “multi‐tasking” , rather than sustained focus” and reducing our general ability to remember things (this study PMID: 31059635). This has felt like my constant reality, and having a break has shown me how much more mentally present I am when content creation is not part of my life.  Over the last few months it’s led to a calmer mind, me being more present, and less anxiety.

The use of emotional capacity

As my kids get older I’m discovering the emotional capacity it takes to parent in a way where we listen, hear feelings, and parent gently; where we don’t get obedience through fear and rote but through mutual respect. It’s the parenting style we want, but it takes a heck of a LOT more emotional capacity.  And I’m learning my emotional capacity is finite. I’ve realised how much of that finite capacity social media takes and that’s a piece I’m still figuring out. I’ve needed my full capacity for my children, and I’ve had it the last few months. That’s something I can’t go back on. There’s one role in life that’s the most important to me in this season: my role as a mother.

What part of social media steals emotional capacity?

In part it’s the thinking about content creation. Some of the brain splitting reality of that is that for 7 years I’ve lived in the whiplash of jumping from motherhood to work-while-still-mumming, and from work while still “on” as mum back to solely mum in an instant. And while I love it, I think my brain is tired.  And that’s a reality for many working at home parents. I’m incredibly grateful to do what I do, but we also need to analyse the effects of things we love so we can stay healthy.

But more directly too, I’ve found the ranging content of social takes emotional capacity that should be given elsewhere which I’ve realised from two angles:

-The consuming of content

Like so many of us, I’m someone who feels deeply. Often to my own detriment, which really plays out on social. Even logging on to post content, in 10 seconds you can see 10 different realities from joy to individuals’ trauma, to the pain of multiple situations around the world. All real, all demanding needed attention, all evoking an emotional response. I’m honestly not sure our brains are meant to process so many realities and such a range of emotions, unintentionally without real warning.  We can jump from joy, to pain, to heartache to fear, to laughing and back to pain with no real engagement in any of the situations. We have all of the feeling with no real life lived and no real response given.

I know some of us can then feel a guilt when we realise we can’t handle all of the pain and the issues that we can see when we open social media. We know it’s all important so we don’t want to disengage. But I honestly don’t think our minds and hearts were made for processing it all in the form the world comes to us in social media. And if in the end what happens is we’re sapped of our ability to do something with the capacity we do have… are we using our human ability the best way? We’ll come back to this.

Despite my wish I could handle it all, process and respond to it all, I’ve realised that by seeing the world, the news, so many lives so many times a day, I’m using my emotional capacity where it can’t be put to good use. And then I’m coming to the real humans close to me (family, local communities, situations we’re actually connected to) without the emotional bandwidth and presence I need to give myself to them in a positive way. And that’s not beneficial.

-The creating of content

Then there’s also the creating side of this reality. That same range of people and worldwide realities we view are the ones viewing what we put out there. In creating content I’m always hyper aware of the beautiful range of people who will see what I post. As I talk I’m not talking to one person but many thousands. Many thousands all feeling a range of emotions, in a wide range of realities, with different needs, fears, situations.

When I tell my own close people a real moment from my life I’ll tell it differently to them all. It’ll be in a rambling voice note to my sister with every inch of how I feel while I load the dishwasher, I’ll not share it at all with the friend processing trauma around certain things where I know it wouldn’t be helpful, I’ll give the one sentence version to the mum at the school gate with a laugh and a shoulder shrug, I’ll go to tell another friends and realise, no she needs me to ask all about her today – not hear anything from me and I’ll remember actually I should drop over a bottle of wine.

Yet on social, everyone gets the same thing.

And while I should probably say “ah everyone is in control of what they watch on social, don’t worry about it” – I know as a society we’re NOT in control of what we consume on social, even if we could be, we’re not. As a society we feel victim to the time we spend scrolling (it is truly addictive) and it’s massively affecting our mental health. So as a creator I feel a weight of responsibility there. I don’t want to add to the negative realities of social.

This might be a more personal reality, but I always want to think deeply about how content is hitting. So many people say “just don’t worry about it” ‘ignore the DMs” “ah you can’t be responsible for that” – if I’m on social and creating content to appear in other people’s hands, I always want to think about how it’s affecting people.

The honest reality for me is it takes a lot more emotional bandwidth and sometimes more in this season than I have. Maybe I’m too sensitive, maybe one day I’ll be better at it but we have to assess ourselves now and be real even if we’re not the best at things!

I’ve found social media fills a tank it shouldn’t

This has been a humbling discovery of coming off social. You get to really look at your actual life. We know the realities of online and offline can get blurred but I think we don’t imagine it will happen to us. (Only other people, right?!) Or maybe we don’t realise the many different subtle ways it can get blurry. The truth is, the research on how the internet affects us is only 30 years deep and we just can’t know everything yet. That’s what the experts say, not just me. So this next point is not from research but one I’ve just discovered about myself. And then wonder about more widely.

Social media at some level quenches my need to do real things.  I’ve painfully realised that in engaging with things online, I’ve filled my heart need to make a difference in real life. My engagement online with causes, things that matter, places I want to see change… Those have all filled my tank without actually doing anything in real life. In one scroll of social media we can like a quote, comment on a photo, share a post about something that needs action and I realise that I’ve filled a tank of “doing” without actually doing anything. And I never want that.

So this year with the social engagement taken away, I was left realising my desire for real life action, and I was thankful for it.

It can subconsciously devalue the small things

Following right on from the point above, I think in the scroll we can see too much in one day online. Our abilities in the real world can feel so small next to so many other lives side by side in one swipe of a social feed. Whether it’s motherhood, or social mission, a scroll though a day’s worth of the highlights and accomplishments of others can render the small, possible, needed things we can do in our own lives useless feeling.  

Except we need the small things. We need the confidence in our own ability. Desperately.

But did I miss anything?

Did I miss scrolling? No. Posting? No. Keeping up with friends? Actually no.  People said ‘oh yeah you’re not on social and told me the actual stories in real life – I loved that. And parts I just missed and that’s ok, I don’t need a constant run down of everyone’s every day to be friends.

But the one thing that started to surface was that I did feel such a desire to share the changes we make in our own home towards more responsible, slow, lower impact sourcing. I’d do something and think – ‘ah that could help someone know how to do this and simplify it for them’. Or I’d find a company and know it would help people take a step forward in careful consuming and want to spread it around. Or I’d be doing something and want to film it knowing that showing the process would enable other people do try it without stress. The world needs so much change and for some reason, this part of our own journey is one that inspires change in other people. And that I realise I do really want to share and do together. 

Moving forward from here

So how do I tie all of that up?! I’ve pondered a LOT in the last few months. After weighing it all up, I’m going to slowly come back to social media… a bit. In short my reasons are to see if I can find a way that I can do it well – well for my brain and life, while sharing with people the part of life I want to share. For the near future I’ll show up more sporadically, share little bits, and point to other places like the blog, chats on YouTube, and email, where I can share more personally and slowly.

I know people love watching other people’s daily lives but I need to show less of the every day because I need to not be repurposing life in every moment. I’m going to hone in more on what I know make the most impact for me – I want to show up to make a lower footprint life feel more simple.

Lowering our footprint is a heavy topic when you engage with it – it’s not reusable silicon bags and pretty ethical clothing. It’s a deep painful reality of a thousand kinds of brutal injustice.

If we’re really looking at the human and ecological impact of our consumer choices – it’s a much needed and heavy topic. It’s also a highly “judgy” area online and I know that heavy and “judgy” don’t usually make people take small steps on an important journey. And that’s my goal; small steps. Not to create a heavy preaching-to-the-choir echo chamber, but to celebrate every small choice forward, and make a lower footprint life, just a little less complicated.

And honestly, I might delete the app again. In this season my top task is raising my kids. Raising them in all the things I bring online – except they’re the ones I feel most responsible for shaping. So they need my best. So it’s an experiment I’m giving you the truth on. I’m seeing if I can share things that matter to me in a way I believe in, but also be the mother I want to be. We’ll see. And in the meantime, I highly recommend taking a longer period of time off social media to see who you are without it – even if you think you know.


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