Staying Sane in an Overly Digital World.

There has been a lot of stuff out there about unplugging. Everywhere you look, someone is heralding the benefits of taking a break from your phone. My friend Victoria wrote a really excellent piece, pondering a digital detox. There have been articles written about smartphones ruining an entire generation. And more recently there was this really interestingly researched piece (also sent to me by Victoria) urging us not to buy the new iPhone because of the behaviors it encourages. A bit dramatic but… yikes.

Sometimes all this “detoxing” talk can feel a bit high and mighty, a little Gwyneth Paltrow-esque. But I have to be honest, sometimes I want to smash my iPhone, go out and buy a flip phone – and maybe an old school MP3 player (or maybe take it really old school and get a Walkman.. can you even buy those anymore?!).

Let’s rewind. I have actually been a perpetually late adapter of social media. But once I get involved, I get really, really involved. I joined Facebook back in 2005 for the express purpose of spying on my two younger sisters (They were still in school and I had already graduated from college so at the time I had to get an alumni email address to get an account. Yes… I actually went that far.) Once I was on Facebook, I was hooked. Same goes for Friendster and MySpace. At first, I didn’t really quite “get” Twitter – when it first came out it felt like a version of Facebook with just status updates, which felt a bit self indulgent to me. I joined in 2010 when I started my blog and realized what a great tool it was for connecting with other people in the industry. So I got addicted to that, too. Somewhere along the lines despite my late adapter tendencies I went from working in traditional marketing (that was the first 9 years of my career) to starting a blog and transitioning to a social media job, to blogging full time.

And Instagram… oh, Instagram. Everyone’s most loved and hated/most talked about app. I joined right when Instagram launched, but for my first year on Instagram, I only used it as a filter app – to post my photos to Facebook and Twitter. For an entire year, I didn’t even realize it had it’s own little community, which is kind of hilarious, looking back now. Major blogger fail. #shame.

Instagram was, at first, the most fun thing ever. I loved sharing bits from my everyday life and didn’t really put much thought into it… it was just a fun tool that I used to support my blog. Most of my early photos were mirror selfies of what I wore to the office that day. Other “content” included lots of photos of food, wayyyyyy over-saturated sunsets, and blurry late night photos of cocktails. Oh how things have changed. Everything is so polished and planned out, these days!

Somewhere along the line it all just started feeling rather overwhelming. Instagram was the main issue for me, specifically, sharing on my personal account, and with responding to DMs on my professional account (I have two instagram accounts – one for the blog and one for close friends/family. Oh and another one for my cat. Yeah. That’s a lot of accounts). I love Instagram for so many reasons. I love how it has brought out the budding photographer/artist in myself and my friends. On my private account I love finding weird stuff to share. And for the blog, I love the community around it and how easy it has become to interact with my readers, brands, and other bloggers. But there is a point where it all just felt to be too much. I found myself compulsively scrolling, checking stories, and replying to reader DM’s + questions. I found myself feeling tired during the day but restless and unable to sleep at night. And agitated. And anxious and antsy and wanting to look at my phone. All the time.

So anyway, I was thinking about this a lot and came to a big realization. Social media is not the problem. My phone is not the problem. I AM THE PROBLEM. Somewhere along the lines I had developed this compulsion to share every detail of what I was doing – I couldn’t do something cool/interesting without going onto stories or my personal account and posting it, and I’d gotten addicted to scrolling. Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, keeping up with all of my friends – without actually talking to any of them. Instagram. Instagram stories. Group texts. Twitter. Facebook. Online dating apps. Holy crap. I felt like my phone was this abyss. I’d open it up and feel unable to tear myself away.

The challenge:

I decided to put myself on the blogger version of an iPhone detox. Not the Internet in its entirety, not all of social media… for me, it was my phone, specifically that was the problem.

I first looked at what apps are necessary for work. Obviously, a big part of my job is sharing on Instagram. So I set some guidelines. I could post once or twice a day (in line with my usual content) and at those times, check in – respond to comments, answer questions, etc. And I could post to Instagram stories but forbade myself to go down that rabbit hole of watching everyone else’s stories. Anyone else find that you start to watch and suddenly an entire half hour has gone by? Oy. That was happening to me every day, sometimes twice a day.

I then deleted all of the social media apps that could be easily accessed via my desktop from my phone. (Everything besides Instagram.) And I logged out of my personal account for a couple weeks. I posted to my personal account that I was taking a little bit of a break from my phone.

I disabled ALL push notifications. Even the text message ones. I ended up putting notifications back for texts as I didn’t even have a home screen notification so I found myself frequently missing messages. I was going for a detox, not trying to lose all of my friends.

What happened: The bad.

I felt lonely at times. Social media, when used properly, can give us such a sense of community. Without my phone, I found myself feeling lonelier than usual. (Although – this forced me to be better at a) making plans, and b) using the phone for what it was originally intended for – phone calls!, and c) just getting out of the house if I felt lonely – going to see a movie or going for a walk.)

A few of my friends got worried and/or mad. I didn’t really tell anyone what my plans were. I got the idea rather spontaneously and just turned it off. What I should have done: Think things through before deciding to detox and properly alert those nearest and dearest to me of my plans. You can’t just go from being the person who posts every day to Instagram, who likes and comments on everything and responds to most texts within five minutes to the person who is completely detached from everything. This is when I got in trouble with the text messages and put notifications back on for those.

My Instagram engagement (on the blog account) went way down. (Likes were fine, this is more about comments.) An important part of Instagram is commenting and liking and engaging in the community. I used to spend at least an hour (usually more) a day commenting on other bloggers’ photos. When I stopped that, my photos started seeing a lot less action. That was a bummer, but at the end of the day, the sacrifice is worth it to me. I’d rather be happier, and online less than have a zillion comments on my posts.

I missed stuff. I didn’t see most of my friends’ posts on Instagram and Facebook so I had no idea what they were up to unless they contacted me directly. In the past, I always knew what everyone was doing. I was like a little hawk. Though, maybe this wasn’t actually a bad thing as it made the conversations I had with my friends more interesting when I saw them or talked on the phone.

What happened: The weird/unexpected.

For the first time in (literal!) years, I found myself feeling bored. I never feel bored, ever. I realized what a waste of time all that endless scrolling can be. I found myself ahead on work. Without spending all that time commenting on Instagram, I got ahead on writing, creating graphics and collages for my blog, that stuff.

What happened: The good.

I got outside, a lot. If I started to feel restless I would take a walk. I ended up buying a bike. (It’s my favorite thing ever.) And signed up for painting classes next month.

I read a lot. Even more than usual, which is already a lot.

The headaches went away, I slept better.

I felt more present and in the moment with friends. Honestly it took a week or two where I would be constantly thinking about the phone and wanting to look at it but eventually that compulsion went away.

I said this earlier but I got better about making plans… and using the telephone. Without social media, I found myself craving real actual human company more than usual. I also had more time to see friends.

The aftermath.

This was a fun experiment. I learned a lot about myself. Honestly, I still don’t really think my addiction is fully broken, but I am a lot more mindful of my bad habits now. I got two big takeaways out of this.

First, I needed to make my phone to be a less fun place to “hang out.” Deleting the majority of the apps helped with that, and I have been deleting Instagram from my phone on weekends when possible which feels wonderfully liberating. I take it off around 6 or 7pm on Fridays and put it back on Sunday late afternoon. I also have been making an effort to provide myself with an alternative activity for whenever I may feel bored and want to reach for my phone. (On the subway, at the nail salon, hair salon, etc.) This basically means carrying a larger bag big enough to fit a book or crossword puzzle (yes I am basically eighty years old, I LIVE FOR crossword puzzles).

The second, was the realization that I don’t necessarily NEED to be on social media as much as I thought I did. As bloggers/influencers/whatever the new buzzword is, we build it up in our heads that we have to be doing all of these things to stay relevant… and yes, you can’t just quit Instagram full on, but no one is going to care if you take a couple days off. And most things (Facebook, Twitter) can be scheduled. I check in on both of those platforms a few times a day (from my computer) and respond to things, and then leave them alone.

I can’t recommend taking breaks from social media enough. If you find yourself feeling anxious, burnt out, tired, or cranky, maybe try taking a few days off from Instagram/social media, and see what happens!

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Comments

  1. I like your idea of a social media detox – blogger version. It’s a good realistic way to look at how we spend our time on our phones!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

  2. Emily says 10.4.17

    This is such a crucial reminder and thank you for providing the pros and cons. Social media can be wonderful but also so stressful. I agree that it is vital to take a time out – glad you are feeling better for it!
    xo,
    Em
    http://www.organicallyemily.com

  3. Celbie says 10.4.17

    I appreciate the raw and honest editorial like this. I need a serious detox causes it worsen my eyesight. I think having a physical journal or book really provides a ‘real life’ experience. The phone is just so convenient and we become too dependent on it. Anyway, great article. A real thought out piece with a Carrie Bradshaw lingo!

  4. Shirsha says 10.4.17

    I’m only a part time blogger, and a lousy one at that (don’t post for months at a stretch… it’s really just something I like doing and go back to it from time to time, other things in life permitting), so I don’t HAVE to be on social media for work/blog reasons, but even then I found myself spending hours on Insta, scrolling through, and often feeling pretty sad about my very “average” life. In reality, I am totally happy about my life, but you know how that goes – FOMO is bloody real!

    Anyway, on a sudden whim, I deleted the Instagram and Facebook apps from my phone. Total game changer. I don’t think I have been mentally happier in a long time. I still find myself unlocking my phone, trying to find an app to while away time, but more often than not, I shut it down just as quickly and go back to whatever I was doing.

    All this to say, digital detoxes are crazy good, and everyone should do it once in a while! 🙂

    • grace at the stripe says 10.4.17

      The scrolling feeling is a bad one!! Love that you deleted the apps – how long have you had them off of your phone!?

  5. Vanessa says 10.4.17

    As soon as I get home from work, I turn my cell phone off.

    I’m 35 years old, so I didn’t grow up with cell phones. I think I got my first one when I was halfway done college. I’ve always hated them. I’d love to go back to the times when we didn’t even HAVE cell phones because life was a lot easier back then. When I see people – even family members – who are constantly on their phones, I think it’s so rude. Especially during big events or family meals. I just wish everyone would put their phones away and focus more on what’s happening around them.

    • grace at the stripe says 10.4.17

      I totally agree with everything you said. I’m 36 and didn’t grow up with one – I can’t imagine growing up with one – eek. I got mine freshman year in college because it was cheaper than the dorm’s phone plan. I laugh though as I remember leaving it in my dorm room when I went out – it didn’t really feel like there was a need to take it out with me!

  6. Janet says 10.4.17

    I’m still a flip-phone user. I used to get a lot of grief because I’m a computer scientist but now the tide has turned and people are just as likely to say “cool – retro!” I’m addicted enough to the internet without carrying it around in my pocket.

    Last summer I went on a cruise – with internet at $35 an hour it’s a great opportunity to give it up completely. I was surprised that I didn’t miss it at all and even when I was back on dry land for the last part of the trip I didn’t bother pulling up Facebook on my iPad (which I only had to read books).

  7. Dana says 10.4.17

    This was an amazing post, Grace! I loved reading your thoughts on this and I feel the same way – I need to start getting rid of my phone on the weekends…it’s definitely a start.

    Pink Champagne Problems

  8. Tracy says 10.4.17

    A digital detox is just as important as a routine checkup or dental cleaning in my opinion. With everything literally at our fingertips we forget and then get so disconnected. I love the idea of removing the app over the weekend. Something I try is shutting it down Sat AM and turning it on Sunday PM or throwing it on airplane mode when I am out with friends!

    • grace at the stripe says 10.4.17

      I TOTALLY AGREE!!! I often forget about airplane mode – that’s another good solution!

  9. Cy says 10.4.17

    Such a great post! Getting bored is how all the great ideas come about, we need to cultivate our imaginations. I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but I read an article ( there are many on the same topic) about how generation Z is really in trouble( my nephew is 16). Suicide rates for teens are way up, as is depression. The studies show, the more they are on social media, the more depressed the get. Many of them on alone, on their phones, not getting enough human contact. We know it’s been scientifically proven over and over that we need human ( in person) connection, devices can’t replace that. I feel like I understand the best of both worlds, but for the younger set, they have never known life without it. I’m a bit afraid for them. My nephew he very personable and social like his mom, but many. Kids are not. Anyway , a break is good for all of us. Thank you for a great post!

    • grace at the stripe says 10.4.17

      “getting bored is how the great ideas come about…”

      I love that!!! So true lady. I worry about the younger generation too. 🙁

  10. I think I need to try and take a break from my phone. I’ve noticed I get restless and antsy sometimes too. I’ve already stopped checking my personal Facebook account but I need to slow down on Instagram for sure!

  11. Victoria says 10.4.17

    All I can say is keep at it! I know IG is an important part of your business, but with enough time, the urge to constantly share and document things for randoms on the Internet has pretty much subsided for me. When I want to post something, it feels really “right” and obvious — like, I found something I really love or is so cool that I feel like I just have to share it, vs. sharing for the sake of sharing when I don’t even care about what I’m posting (if that makes any sense).

    We’re going to Kauai late this month and I’m thinking about deleting all social apps from my phone while there, so I’m not even tempted to check in on IG, FB, etc. (I’d leave it at home, but need it for Google Maps and picture taking 😉 ).

    Needless to say, I’m so glad you enjoyed my post and that digital detoxing has brought so many good things into your life recently! So awesome.

    • grace at the stripe says 10.4.17

      Your post was amazing. Said so much of what I wanted to say, and so eloquently!!!
      I really hope you delete all the apps when in Kauai. (And I’d love to read about it if you do!!!!)

  12. Alison says 10.4.17

    I love this. I did this earlier this summer because I was feeling utterly overwhelmed and I had writer’s block. I deleted all apps except Instagram and the only push notifications were for texts. I’d only watch InstaStories on the weekend. And like you, at first it was hard and I felt so disconnected and my engagement on IG tanked but it ended up making real life better. I got my writing mojo back, I was more creative with my personal style, I had old school phone calls with friends, and my sleep was far sounder not looking at a blue screen right before hitting the sack. I’ve slowly brought back some but still take detoxes from time to time. Thank you for writing this, I think this is something we don’t even notice but it’s eating away at our time, our confidence, and even our creativity. <3 keep being awesome Grace!

    • grace at the stripe says 10.4.17

      I love that you did it too. The drop in engagement was frustrating but at the same time sometimes you have to prioritize. I’d WAY rather be happier IRL than super successful on the ‘gram!!! Thanks for sharing lady! xoxo

  13. Allison says 10.4.17

    Xoxoxo! Love your authentic voice!

  14. Kellie says 10.5.17

    I went through this when I quit my blog & wanted to get out of bad habits since I had kids. My husband would also point out to me when I’d just automatically pick up my phone to scroll, so apparently it had gotten worse than I realized!

    Since I’m a teacher I don’t need any of it for my job so I deleted it all from my phone, except for Instagram. With Instagram I try to limit my usage & while it’s an ongoing process it’s been great. If I’m hanging out with my kids & they’re doing their own thing I’ll pick up a book (because I’m modeling good habits!). And when they’re in bed I’ll try to focus more on either watching a TV show or back to reading.

    You’re right- I’ve done a lot more reading!

  15. Tammy Thiele says 10.6.17

    Bravo.

  16. Kelly Golightly says 10.6.17

    I need this desperately.

    My hubby has deleted a few apps from his phone in the past, so at least he knows it’s a conscious choice if he chooses to go to a website.

    My scrolling in endless and sucking the life out of me. I’m going to do this soon. Thanks for sharing, Grace!

  17. Theodora says 10.6.17

    This is so, so good and so timely for me to read it. My mom passed away this summer, and my therapist and I were talking today about things I could avoid that would trigger either jealousy or sadness — and staying off social media more is absolutely one of them to subject myself to less photos of people’s “perfect” lives. I really wish you could just actually schedule IG without having to still open the app, though!! Can’t stay off it for work…

    • grace at the stripe says 10.7.17

      Aw good. I’m so glad that you liked the post. I wish you could schedule it too!!!!! There is Schedugram but it doesn’t always work!

  18. Lisa Simpson says 10.7.17

    I just read this again on this lazy Saturday morning. Great reminder to unplug and put the phone down whenever possible.

  19. Becca says 10.8.17

    I am going to do this!

  20. Rose says 10.9.17

    Grace — I loved this post! Also, my cousin still doesn’t really realize IG has its own community and uses it to share to FB instead, haha.

    Thank you for sharing how you went about this and your takeaways! Not doing social media full time anymore, I’m on it a lot less. My personal IG growth has been stagnant, and sometimes I struggle with whether I want to change that, but honestly I’m happy with not spending so much time on it.

  21. Lauren says 10.11.17

    I loved this so much! As a newer blogger, I have felt strapped to my phone and social media because it’s what I’m “supposed to do” to grow. But this was such a great reminder that breaks are needed and to not fall into dependence! Loved it!