What I “learned” from doing a Social Media Digital Detox….
This time of year is busy for everyone, leaving us wishing we had a “pause” button or a slow down button or hell, even a rewind or do-over button. For me, this has been an extraordinarily busy year, even for someone who has always thrived off of juggling multiple and competing priorities. It has been full of traveling, grant writing, public speaking, filming and most importantly: parenting. A couple of months ago, I had been feeling increasingly more distracted, at a time in which work and family life needed more attention. My children were all starting new school years, new schools, new sports’ teams; I was wrapping up filming and working on several large scale projects at the University. Yet, I was feeling massively distracted. I was juggling multiple balls, yet tripping over the balls I had already dropped. I knew I needed to make a change, I “just didn’t have the time to do it.” Which is the case – anything that is good for us, like yoga, we “just don’t have the time for” – at a time when we may need it most. On a beautiful fall day, I sat outside with my children playing while I was checking and posting on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat. They were giggling and laughing – all huddled together. I looked up and though I should have been amused along with them, I was overwhelmed by sadness, as I didn’t know why they were so delighted. I missed the whole thing. I was missing the good stuff. Later that afternoon, my youngest pretended his sippy cup was a smartphone. On a long walk with my best friend (who has been battling advanced stage breast cancer) she stopped me in the road and said, “You need to get out of your head.” And, there it was. She does not have a Facebook account. Or Twitter. Or Pinterest. Or Tumbler, Instagram, you get the gist. She has been through a hell most of us will never fully understand and is one of the most “present “people I know – the live each day like it’s your last types of girl – because she has to be. She embraces all the good stuff because she does not know how long she’s actually going to have the good stuff. In that moment, I knew I had to shake things up. On that particular stretch of our street (looking at my beautiful friend telling me, the psychologist, that I had to get out of my head), I had a rare moment of clarity. Those moments are hard to come by when you are multitasking at 100 miles a minute, fully caffeinated and so in control, you’re out of control.
I wasn’t present. I wasn’t available. I wasn’t focused. In addition to my work as a psychologist, I am a preacher/ teacher/ entertainer who lectures routinely about stress management and mindfulness particularly for stressful and traumatic times, and yet I had forgotten that I’m not invincible or unaffected either. I was distracted and was distracting myself – spending too much time buried in my phone and online. How did this happen to the girl who did not know what Twitter was 2 years ago? Or the girl who once thought Instagram was only for the Kardashian women sharing their scantily clad photos? I decided to put the brakes on it, even though all of my publicist and public relations friends strongly advised me otherwise, particularly in the months building up to the second season of Seven Year Switch. I planned to do it for 2 weeks. Two weeks became a month. A month became two months. So, now I’m writing about it because I LEARNED SOMETHING. I don’t know if it is because I simply stopped logging in (I deleted the apps from my phone so I couldn’t just check on a whim) or by doing meditation (something that I started recently thru a great app of course!)
After a few short days, I noticed just HOW MUCH people in my life focus on social media – whether it’s the source of news, gossip, trends or the sole means of communication they have with people in their lives. I also noticed my knee jerk reaction – when I’m bored, to log onto Facebook. When I’m stressed out, to distract myself with Twitter. When I’m lonely, check my Instagram feed. When I’m sad, all of the above so I may feel euphoric over someone else’s fantastic online portrayal of life. When I am with friends and we are catching up (aka gossiping), we just pass the smartphone and social media feeds as they are some sort of tasty hor’dourves for our souls.
In cutting myself off, I became hypervigilant or perhaps hypersensitive – now I notice the power and prevalence of social media over-dependence, everywhere. It just so happens that I decided to do this social media detox during the election. An election which divided our country – but which divided families and friendships. I missed all of it, but heard an earful from so many people about who posted what rant about Donald Trump and who posted similar ridiculousness about Hillary Clinton. And people who “unfriended” each other because of their political views. Doesn’t anyone read Emily Post anymore? Haven’t we learned that we shouldn’t discuss politics at the dinner table? Or that it is okay to agree to disagree with friends, family, and colleagues? People just got mean and some got meaner. The barrier that social media creates – serves as a layer of pseudo-protection – where some people think they can say and do what they want with little consequence. The platform that empowers so many with a voice can be hurtful. Your words are powerful. Words matter.
My family members complained they hadn’t seen pictures of my children. My response, well come and visit them?! Or I can text photos, you know, the old fashioned way. I did miss a few birthdays, anniversaries, and babies being born. But not the birthdays or the babies of those closest to me.
Here’s what I found. It’s simple, really. But, it took me cutting myself off cold turkey to have this level of clarity about my distraction. Social media brings you CLOSER to those with whom you have lost contact or who are more peripheral in your lives, but the risk in doing so is that it undoubtedly creates DISTANCE between those closest to you.
It’s an incredible way to get information and to spread information. How accurate that information is, however, is up for speculation. Just ask Russia. Most of us know on a base or logical level, it’s not real. Like reality television. It’s entertainment. It’s a souped of version of what we WISH life would be or what someone wants us to believe. Like if I took my mini-van and threw on on some 22 inch rims. It’s still a mini-van but people act as if it’s not, because now 50 people “like it” so that must mean it’s legitimate and officially cool. Dr. Carl Rogers, a pioneer in my field, would have a field day with this. Is anybody’s “real” or “actualized” self who they have up on Facebook? My girlfriend gave me a sign around Halloween “This year I’m going to dress up for Halloween as the person I pretend to be on Facebook.” We all know people for whom that would be a very amusing costume.
On the plus side, social media can bring you closer to those you have fallen out of contact with – so many of us have reconnected with people in our lives we have lost touch with and let’s be honest, probably would not have connected with them had we not found them on Facebook. Who needs booze-soaked class reunions anymore? At the same time, we see increasing rates of “digital infidelity,” men and women communicating via social media outlets and engaging in emotional, sexual, and other forms of cheating. One partner may discover that their spouse has been communicating with others or simply searching for other people – which could have painful consequences to their partner and their relationship. The accused spouse may attempt to excuse this behavior: “I was just curious,” “I was distracted,” “It meant nothing.” They may be right. It does not mean that this is now acceptable behavior for healthy, adult relationships. Nor, do you have to accept it.
Your SMARTphone makes you stupider. In fact, social networking can hurt you neurologically. Psychological research indicates that for those who are distracted by social media, they score 20% or more lower on cognitive tests. It makes sense – it takes time for our brains to process and encode information – if you are interrupted by political fighting or your aunt’s latest buffalo chicken dip recipe, you are not going to store information as efficiently. Too much time on social media sites can also INCREASE depression. Logging onto social media, while working, makes you far less productive at work – even for those of you who claim to also use social media for work purposes. This does not count for some of my very dear friends and colleagues who make more than most of us will make in 6 months in a week due to their mere existence as social media phenomenon (which is a hell of a lot of work, I have learned), so please do not Facebook message me that you are annoyed with me for saying this. Call me on the phone instead, loves. Plus, you and I know, that that is the “Fakebook” you, not the real you. The real you are a hot mess., just admit it. And I’d take the hot mess you over the picture perfect photo-shopped emoji-laden portrayal of you any day of the week.
Excess social media usage can lead to detrimental effects on your time, your productivity, your wallet… and your mood and maybe your most important relationships. The more time you spend on social media outlets, the greater decrease in your own personal happiness. So, you are slower, dumber, more depressed, less focused, and feeling less attractive due to the undeniable social comparisons (to everyone we are trying to “Keep Up With….”) we make that are just simply part of our genetic makeup as human beings. And, we waste our own “good stuff” in this process. For example, how much time and emotional energy do you spend waiting for someone to respond to a Tweet, a post, or your latest rant? Are you affected if no one “likes” your post? Again, you can’t get those moments back. Try meditating instead. Or take a walk. Or kiss your husband. Or call your mom and dad.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s a fantastic distraction. And effective. Just be careful that by distracting yourself from your problems, you are not distracting yourself from LIVING your LIFE and from those you LOVE. You can’t get those moments back. Sometimes, if your distraction is too extreme, you can’t get those relationships back. I have worked with many couples who have had their social media dependency or digital infidelity wreak havoc on their marriage. In those instances, Digital Distraction led to Divorce.
So here is what I didn’t miss: lost time. I cannot believe how much free time I was able to garner simply by cutting this distraction out of my life. I was able to spend more time exercising, more productive time in the office, and most importantly, more time connecting with those closest to me. I was able to ACTIVELY LISTEN. I routinely teach active and reflective listening as a communication tool when coaching professionals, individuals, and couples – but what I have failed to emphasize is how we need to carve out the time for this active listening to ensue. I felt closer to my children, my friends, my family, and more connected at work. I felt closer to myself – more present, aware, and mindful. And, just like with any other healthy life choice, doing this led to being drawn to other things that are GOOD for me and my family, like meditation, yoga, spending more time outdoors, family dinners and the list goes on. Most importantly, this time, when my children were laughing I was laughing along with them – because I was there, actively focused, and present.
Undergoing my self-induced social media detox has changed my life personally, and professionally. I have routinely recommended to individuals and to couples to contain their internet activities and to dedicate certain times of the day (mealtime for example) to PUT THE PHONE DOWN. It was time I tried it myself – even helpers need a little help now and then.
If you don’t believe me, try it. Give it a week. Hell, give it 24 hours. I’d love to hear if it changes you too.
Going forward, I’m going to be mindful of my social media use to the degree that I can. I love communicating with friends, family, and fans but I’m going to dedicate certain times of the day to do so and continue to practice mini-detoxes to keep me aware of its effects and help to balance me out. And, if you love someone who has a heavy social media habit, tell them how it makes you feel. Tell them that you miss them. If they aren’t willing to put the phone on pause, I’d suggest, perhaps, putting them on pause. You are worth their time and their full attention and they are worth yours.
Disconnect to reconnect to those who truly matter to you.
(And yes my dears, I do realize the irony in posting this on numerous social media outlets. Rest assured, all posting and checking feeds and tagging and blogging and tweeting and snapping is now only during personally designated times.)