Recently I took the plunge of deactivating my person facebook page. I didn’t think much about it…I just knew I was using it too much and decided a break could be of benefit to my health.
Wow, was I surprised my the reactions I got.
- “Are you ok?”
- “How are you feeling emotionally?”
- “What’s the matter with you?”
- “Why don’t you want to talk to people any more?”
These are just some of the comments I received to my very personal decision and it got me thinking: when did social media start to define how social we are?; and when did our use of social media become an indication of our mental health?
In fact, if anything, it could be said that social media not only makes us less social but also negatively affects our mental health as we get sucked into the ‘comparison mentality’. There are increasing studies that show it negatively affects our stress levels, sleep patterns and anxiety (to name a few aspects).
After a week of no facebook I realised that I – the person who previously had used it like a drug – actually didn’t miss it at all. So I deleted my account completely (as much as facebook will allow anyway…those terms and conditions are ‘interesting’). Then, a week later I went on holiday with my hubby and didn’t take my phone, instead leaving it in our house.
I made the decision to be completely offline. For three weeks!
While I appreciate the prospect of not having a phone for three weeks will have made many of you gasp in horror, I want to share with you some of the wonderful lessons I learned and some tips for you to take this learning Ito your own lives – don’t worry, at no point do I suggest you bin your phone.
What I Gained When I Went Offline For Three Week’s
- I Fell Back in Love With My Husband – Now of course I have always loved my husband – he is an angel! However, I had forgotten what it was like to truly connect with him like when we first started dating. Primarily I had forgotten how f*cking hilarious he is and how much I enjoy his company. It is so easy when you have been in a relationship for a number of years for your life together to become habit, for each day to be the same as the one before and to not really connect. Add in a life-threatening illness like mine and it is easy for what made you fall in love in the first place to move to the bottom of the pile. Talk of work, hospital tests and mindless chat about social media can very quickly and easily take over. When I stepped back from this I realised that perhaps we were not as connected as I might have thought. For instance, I spend most evenings with Ewan, however many are spent watching a film or both of us on our phones. Now, in many ways we have always recognised this and we consciously make time every week for adventures, walks and days out together yet still, in the day-to-day, screen time can take over from face-to-face communication. What I realised when we were away together was that we were interacting with one another; we were laughing; connecting and stimulating each other’s conversation constantly. It was like setting the reset button on our relationship. After all, can you imagine a first date with someone who just sat looking at their phone?…
- Mental Clarity and Improved Memory – My mind become much clearer and more focused. Each day I would journal ideas for my second book and rather than my thoughts being stunted or blocked, they flowed freely. A surprising addition to this was old memories started coming back to me. A traumatic relationship in my twenties has meant that I struggle with memories in my school and university years. This was worsened by six doses of chemotherapy in 2016. However, I found that as my mental clarity improved, so did my memory and, as a result, many happy memories that had stayed just out of my mental reach for years, started to return. It’s as if my mind began to completely let go and relax and my inner knowing/guide/intuition/soul (whatever you want to call it) was no longer being silenced by the constant stream of information on social media.
- Time and Productivity – It was so insightful to me how much time I would normally spend on my phone looking at various apps. As soon as my phone was no longer part of my life I suddenly gained a ridiculous amount of time to do things that really matter to me (ideas for you to try are listed later in this post).
- A Sense of Calm – I am an inherently anxious, a-type personality who always has to be ‘doing’. However, the longer I was without my phone the more calm I began to feel. I no longer felt like I had to ‘do’ all of the time and instead found myself day dreaming, wondering and reflecting in ways I don’t remember doing since I was a child. The result was a deep sense of peace and calm. I hadn’t realised how much the constraint stream of information had influenced my anxiety levels.
- Better Connections – it’s ironic really that not using your phone would make you feel more connected, but it’s true. When you don’t have a phone, you spend more quality time with the people you are actually with because you aren’t constantly being distracted by conversations with other people through your phones.
How My Relationship With Technology Changed
Of course, I did miss some aspects of having a phone. For instance, I greatly missed being able to speak to the people in my life that I love dearly. However, I have noticed that as a result of this personal experience, my relationship with technology has changed – in particular my tolerance and patience.
- Group Chats – I am in many group chats. Some are where my family connects and shares as a group. Some are with friends who are stimulating, funny and supportive. Other are, well, not. The constant buzz of conversation that is mindless and not adding anything to my life suddenly felt suffocating and toxic. Having gained insight into how draining social media can be, and having a life-threatening illness has made me realise how important it is that all of the social interactions we have, whether face-to-face or online, need add value. Fortunately some apps allow you to mute groups.
- Multiple Conversations – social media allows you to be engaged in multiple conversations simultaneously, across various platforms. How can you truly connect with what a person is saying if you are having a conversation with 10 other people at the same time? The answer is, you can’t. As a result, it is very hard to have a deep and meaningful conversation with people through text on a screen. I should know, after all, I am the person who sent the message “it’s f*cking cancer” to several people simultaneous the day after I was diagnosed. What ever happened to picking up the phone? (I ask myself as much as I ask you).
- Society pressure – It is really hard to step away from social media because nearly everyone is on it. This creates a ‘sheep mentality’ meaning that if you decide to be the one who doesn’t follow the flock you can feel like you are missing out. Fortunately I have some amazing friends who send me the photos of their children that they would ordinarily just post on social media – this makes me feel extra special as I know they want me to specifically see them, and not just their whole friends list (I don’t doubt they think I’m a pain in the arse).
Things to Do Instead of Mindlessly Checking Social Media
Now you may be wondering, if I’m not on social media how am I meant to relax/connect/veg-out/and so on? Well, don’t worry, I’ve got your back…
1. Dance – dancing to a song that makes you happy not only stretches out your body but it also helps to lower your stress hormones and allows you to move from a state of ‘fight or flight’ to a healthier state of ‘rest and digest’. The same can be said for yoga.
2. Go For a Walk – even if it is just for a short walk around your neighbourhood, going outside and breathing in fresh air reduces feelings of depression; burns calories and improves your cardiovascular health.
3. Create – when was the last time you did something creative? Creativity is a form of meditation and mindful living and allows your mind to wonder and your brain to rest. Take some time to draw, doodle, colour or write.
4. Take Some Me Time – busy has become a badge people are proud to wear. Instead of constantly stimulating your mind, allow it to rest and relax with a bath (with you phone left in the hall!), massage, reiki, sauna, meditation or anything else that takes your fancy…
5. Phone Someone – how many of us send mindless messages to people without picking up the phone and having an actual conversation? I just had a two hour phone call with a friend in London and it was so stimulating for my soul (and hopefully hers). Take some time to have an actual conversation with someone you care about, rather than sending the ‘how you doing?’ message.
6. Speak to the Person/People You Live With – you’ve had a busy day at work and the last thing you want to do is speak to another person. It is so much ‘easier’ to mindlessly look at your phone and start scrolling. How about instead, you pause, take yourself to a quiet place (I have a friend with three children who’s ‘quiet place’ is meditating on her bathroom floor – so no excuses!) and when you feel ready, start actually speaking to the people in your home, rather than reading the text on your phone.
7. Journal – I had heard of journaling and I didn’t really ‘get it’, thinking it was for ‘other people’. However, I spent a lot of my trip journaling and it was mind opening. Simply sitting down with a notebook and a pen and taking a few moments to yourself (or longer if you have the time – which you do if you aren’t on social media) to write down your thoughts is very illuminating. You can even search online for some ‘journal questions’ to give you some things to contemplate if you are struggling. I’ve learned more about myself, my values and my thoughts since I started journaling than I ever have in the past. Now I know why the people I know who have journaled for a while are so interesting, self-aware and enlightening to be around.
8. Read a Book – In those first two weeks I didn’t have facebook (before I went completely without my phone) I read two books without making any extra time for reading. I simply always carried a book with me and whenever I had a moment where I would have previously reached for my phone, I instead reached for my book. I even bought a new handbag that fits a book in it (any excuse for a shopping trip). Stop making the excuse ‘I never have time to read’.
9. Have a Nap – who doesn’t like a 10 minute nap…enough said.
But We Live In A ‘Digital Age’…I hear you cry
Of course, since I came home there has been a need for me to use social media and technology. For instance, I run a business that relies, in part, on social media and me being contactable by phone. The difference now, however, is that I engage with social media in a mindful manner:
- My business facebook is run by a facebook account which I don’t have any friends on and I still don’t have a personal facebook (it’s been over 2 months now).
- I check twitter once a week – my blogs are set to automatically post there.
- I check instagram once a month.
- I only check my business facebook during working hours.
- I only check emails during working hours.
- I don’t have any social media apps on my phone…no business facebook, no twitter, no instagram, no emails. This means that I have to go on a computer to check these. This takes away the mindless habit…it is a lot more effort to go into my office just to scroll through social media.
By taking some simple steps to mindfully reduce your use of technology you will begin to notice dramatic changes in your life. Maybe you will even take a compete break as I did – if you do, I’d love to hear your reflections (once you are back online of course).
I believe it’s time for us to unplug from mindless online activity and instead plug into our souls, our hearts and our intuition.
Love and light, Fi xxx