As a millennial and small business owner, you can expect to find me on the internet all day, most days. It’s how I find clients, communicate with my community and stay up to date on the lives of friends around the world.
While the increasing interconnectedness of our society can be a beautiful and wonderful thing, this spring I began to feel the downside from being connected all the time. There wasn’t a defining moment — but once I realized I felt anxiety when my phone wasn’t nearby, constantly compared my life and business to others, had spent a lot of time inside despite the beautiful weather, I knew it was time to make a change.
In June, I began a 100-day digital detox to find out what it’s like to intentionally disconnect from the pressure of a social presence. Here’s what worked for me and what I learned along the way.
Does social media actually enrich my life?
I asked myself this question when I realized that my time online was draining, an energy vampire that sucked the joy out of my day and left me looking for another distraction. Often I was keeping up with colleagues and friends who I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years, if not a decade, and logging on led to an endless scroll to catch up on their lives, which took more hours than I care to admit.
The internet stole my time and energy from tasks I was “too busy” for — I wanted to read more books, work on house projects, have conversations with people in person over coffee, write my book and meditate for more than 30 seconds at a time. And I didn’t want to worry about how I would share what I was doing to seem cool or connected or smart. In short, I decided it was time to find out how I would spend my time if I didn’t turn right around and seek social approval for it.
My detox became the challenge to enjoy a meal, take in a sunset, read a book, watch a movie, go on vacation and not be concerned about comments, likes or retweets. Social media comparison is nothing new, but as we compare our mundane lives with the highlight reel shown online it’s easy to become discouraged.
I’m not alone, Time magazine reported last year on a study that Instagram is highly associated with “high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO, or the “fear of missing out.” Once I embraced opting out on the rat race of social media I felt that stress begin to lift.
How to Detox
While each person should choose their own detox plan, I decided to eliminate online forums like Reddit, all social media and sites where I tend to get sucked in for hours at a time. I chose to announce my detox on Medium where I outlined what specifically I would avoid and how I intended to use my time instead. Clients and team members were notified and reminded that the best way to reach me, at any time, was by direct email — not Facebook message or tweet.
I choose 100 days, but believe that even 10 days can make a huge difference in your mental health and clarity. Shorter detoxes, such as a weekend, may have the opposite effect as you try to save up all the pictures and stories to share later.
Once you make the commitment, make it public so others won’t worry about you or wonder how to reach you. Take the extra minute to remove any social media apps from your phone and change your homepage. Log out of accounts to make it that much harder to check in. And find a worthy project that excites you to fill your newfound free time. I organized my digital files, re-tiled my shower and made great progress on my novel.
Detox Pros and Cons
In the first week, I began to see major changes in my day to day life. I had more focus and could read for longer periods without checking my phone. Overall I was more content, spending my time focused on the good things happening throughout the summer and not endlessly, mindlessly scrolling through the internet. It’s a shift that I see in contrast now that my detox is over and I’m back online — it’s easy to fall back into bad habits and constantly “share and compare” to others.
The biggest drawback was feeling disconnected to others, something I tried to combat by reaching out to friends and colleagues with limited success. Like it or not, the easiest way to reach most people is by Facebook. No one I know has an address book or Rolodex anymore and a personal email is only effective when the receiver doesn’t have 5,000 more messages in their inbox.
The most difficult aspect of leaving social media was when a colleague and friend passed away from cancer. While we knew her prognosis wasn’t great, I asked a mutual friend to call me with the news. Despite knowing it could happen, when I heard about the loss I felt immense sadness and wish I had checked in more regularly.
While you may personally take a step back, your business does not necessarily need to detox with you. I chose not to post from our business accounts during this detox, but could have easily enabled a team member to do so using our social media guidelines. If your business relies on a consistent marketing presence, online customer service and a regular brand presence then separate your business-related work from personal time.
Because several of the programs I run include support via Facebook group I could not log off entirely, so I made sure that when I was logged in it was work-related and I ignored that little notifications number as it crept up over the summer.
While I had an incredibly productive summer, I learned there are still plenty of ways to waste time offline. At the end of my challenge I felt — perhaps for the first time in years — completely rested. I didn’t feel obligated to check-in on social media and have subsequently posted a lot less.
The final lesson of my detox came this month as I helped my grandma tidy her home. We found 98 years of birthday greetings, Christmas cards, get well soon messages and photos sent from all over the world. Here is a woman, I thought, who has never had an email and still owns a manual typewriter. Every year, hundreds of relatives, friends and the children of friends who have passed away call, visit and send cards to my grandma. Her life has been full and rich and it is because she spends time with people — not a social media platform — that she is so loved.
My own detox has shown me that likes and retweets and pins will never be as meaningful as spending time with each other, without screens between us.
Share suggestions if you decide to begin your own detox. TWEET US @COMSTOCKSMAG.