5 Benefits to My Month-Long Screen Break

Last month I was on sabbatical, as you know. But what I didn’t really announce — or plan, officially, for that matter — was that I also completely walked away from social media after July 5 (so, exactly a month ago today). I didn’t permanently quit anything, I simply deleted all social media apps, as well as apps for email, Slack, and Voxer — all communication apps as well, basically.

It was sort-of a modern way to go off the grid, making myself unfindable except for the few I trusted to connect with me if it was an emergency. I did this for work, as part of my sabbatical, but I did it mostly as a human who just needed a break from the frenzy. 

And guess what? As you may suspect, it was glorious. Wonderful. Fantastic. Words really don’t do it justice. But here, I’ll try to explain the benefits I enjoyed by taking a full, complete screen break for a month — some I suspected, some surprising.

1. Presence

This is one I suspected would happen, but it was still a surprise what it was like to remember what it was like to be more fully present without the pull of what was happening on my phone. At first, I thought I could just ignore my apps and leave them on, but that proved …unsuccessful. So the evening of July 5, after a few minutes of innocently scrolling Instagram and telling myself, I’ll just keep the app on to keep in touch with others, but I won’t post, I stopped and asked myself— What in the world? Why? Why do I feel the need to do this?

It’s only for a month. I don’t need to keep up with what others are doing. I need to pay attention to my here and now, with whatever’s going on in front of me. So, I deleted Instagram and Twitter, and I instantly felt better. Within seconds I felt happier. It was weird, actually, how immediate. 

Forgetting social media existed made time slow down for the month, not marked by other events happening far away. I’d be fully somewhere without thinking whether something was post-able — because who cares? The world doesn’t need my take on this lake, this tree, this taco.

By the second half, there were even times I was immersed in gorgeous places and not even taking photos, choosing instead to just savor the beauty in front of me in real-time. It was like I’d remember it better with a mental snapshot over a real one.

A week in, and I better noticed wood grain in floors, veins on leaves, birdsong, creaks in chairs as someone sat in them, smells of books. Everything was more vivid.

2. Focus on People In Front of Me

Because of this presence, it felt easier to fully engage with the people right across the campfire from me instead of letting my mind wander to what so-and-so is doing in such-and-such a place. I talked with more strangers at cafes and shops than I have in a long while. I sat across tables with friends and didn’t take my phone out of my purse the entire time. I had sacred-ordinary moments with my family.

Kyle and I had great conversations without the pull of anywhere else but right where we were. The kids and I played together — it felt like forever since I just played. The family time wasn’t always deep and meaningful; in fact, some of my favorite highlights were little chats here and there with my kids one-on-one, a few minutes at a time.

(I’m not sure if those moments were more to do with taking a break from work than not being on social media, but not feeling the pull of my phone most definitely helped.)

(Also, related: I’m currently writing this in my neighborhood coffee shop, here in Georgetown, and between the time I wrote the paragraphs above, I had a lovely, long conversation with the coffee shop owner. She was curious where I’d been for six weeks, so we chatted about travel, summer, family, work. A few months ago, I’m pretty sure I would have tried to shorten the chat so I could get back to work. This morning, I felt pulled to stay present and linger in the chat. It was lovely.)

3. Less Stress

I’ve come to accept that I’m more sensitive to the pitfalls of social media than other people. Certain things that simply don’t bother my colleagues and friends affect me deeply, and I’m to the point now where I’m officially okay with saying, “Good for them, not for me” when it comes to certain parts of this weird online world.

Instagram does funny things with my head. Twitter less so, but it still affects my emotions. (Other than one or two Groups, I’m no longer on Facebook.) By not engaging even a little bit for a month, it felt like my stress melted away.

This is fascinating, interesting takeaway for me that I’ve been analyzing for the past few weeks, and if you follow my work at all, you know I’ve already been thinking about what it means to not be addicted to screens, thanks to work like Digital Minimalism and more (books I read during my sabbatical, in fact, which I’ll tell you about soon). As of this writing, I still haven’t put social media apps back on my phone, and I’m not sure when I will. 

My health — mental, emotional, even physical — was much better social media-free.

4. More Concentration

It took a few days of me replacing time on social media apps with dumb game apps to realize, What I was doing? — my brain was still pulled toward a screen. Once I stopped those (again, why did I feel the need to tap on my phone?), time slowed down and I could focus in ways I hadn’t in a long time.

I read 10-and-a-half books and loved it. I was always reading before, but in nooks and crannies of my time instead of as my primary way to spend free moments. And I surprised myself how many non-fiction books I read, after several years now of preferring fiction many times over. It was like I could concentrate on learning instead of feeling preached to during my slivers of reading time. I wasn’t just reading to escape, I was reading to engage.

By the end of the month, I was noticing how few of us can sit without pulling out our screens — it felt like everyone around me was on their phone. For the first time in awhile, I was able to just sit with my thoughts without feeling like I needed to distract myself.

5. Perspective

Ultimately, this month was about seeing my life from a different point of view. It was only a month, and being off social media affected me this much? Wow. It really does have a pull. It really is addictive in its very infrastructure (I have many thoughts on this, which I’ll save for later). And it really is possible to be the boss of it, to tell it, No thank you, I’m good right now and to walk away.

It was also perspective-shifting for my work, which I’ll share more about next week. In short, though, it helped me better see what actually matters in my work, what doesn’t, and how I want to actually spend the best of my time, creativity, and energy. 

All this surprisingly helped me remember the good side of social media. I missed connecting with friends, reading the things that make my life brighter, and engaging with things important to me. I didn’t miss being sold to, watching people brand themselves past the point of recognition, or Silicon Valley companies trying their best to suck me in to scrolling into time-waste oblivion. But I missed seeing faces I love, and that’s the best, most redeeming part of social media, by far. 

Social media isn’t all bad, but they are services purposely created to be addictive and manipulative, and after this month, I’ve decided that regular breaks from social media are officially necessary for me to keep social media in its proper place in my life. (More thoughts on this soon.)

Overall — my screen break was utterly delightful, and I can’t wait until the next one. For now, I’m toeing the water gradually, first prioritizing the world around me and staying fully engaged in the present as I wade back in to the screened waters. There’s no reason to cannonball back in. Possibly ever.

How’s your summer been?

Reading Time:

5 minutes

 

 

 

16 Comments

  1. María

    That´s it, I deleted Instagram from my phone. I was just reading this and thinking “that´s exactly how I feel!”
    I have been struggling with Instagram for quite some time and I think you are absolutely right, it´s really not great for my mental or emotional health.
    I deleted my Facebook account last year and I have to say I haven´t missed it one bit. I am also conflicted with the use of misinformation and news manipulation that it´s taking place on Facebook, because the owners of this company don´t seem to care or they just don´t want to take any action on it.
    I think we can all find ways to stay connected with friends and family without spending so many hours of our time scrolling and enjoy life beyond our screens.

  2. Aimee Otto

    I love that you included the anecdote about the coffee shop owner 🙂 It’s easy to say relationships are more important than productivity, but in the little moments when we get to make that choice, it’s hard to put people first. The drive to get stuff done is so ingrained in me I don’t even realize I’m making a choice. This is a beautiful example of what I want my life to look like – choosing to really connect instead of grabbing these two second, superficial exchanges and then getting back to the grind. Thank you for this!

    • Jennifer

      Oh my goodness can I identify with so much of this especially #3! I made the decision about 6 months ago to no longer use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and boy has it been wonderful! I am just way to easily drawn in and everything else suffers. I have cut my screen time down by a ton and am amazed at how many books I have read and the amount I can get done in a day not to mention the quality of my interactions with others and how vivid and alive the world has become. I am reading Digital Minimilasm right now and will follow it up with Deep Work per your recommendation so I can learn even more. Can’t wait to hear more about what you read and learned during your sabbatical.

      • Sharon Hines

        I can’t wait to hear of your thoughts on social media as it pertains to work. I’m in the process of trying to figure this out, too. On one hand I’m trying to improve my efforts on my FB page and Instagram and on the other, I fear getting sucked in.

        I’m going on vacation to spend time with my daughter and I am definitely to follow suit on deleting all the apps. I deleted a couple the other day. I’ll delete the rest before we leave on Sunday.

        I got a reminder of how wonderful life is without social media on a day trip to Galveston the other day. I’m sure my CA vacation will give me a fuller picture.

        Solidarity sister!

  3. Kathleen

    After reading Digital Minimalism earlier in the year, I took almost everything off my phone. It’s been so liberating and wonderful. With Instagram, the compromise I’ve reached is that I do check it occasionally on my laptop if I want to see what others are posting. But there’s something about looking at it on a computer screen where it’s just a quick check-in and then I’m done – it takes up way less time than when it’s on my phone. Every once in a while, I will download it again onto my phone and post a few pictures, then delete it again. While this may seem like a hassle, it certainly takes a lot less time than when it’s on my my phone all the time and I end up scrolling through it aimlessly. I also deleted my email app and disabled my Chrome browser. We had a wildfire near my town recently so I re-enabled Chrome for about a week because I really did want to be able to access the news more easily. But now it’s off again. Anyway, it’s an iterative process for me but overall I have loved it. I find it so less stressful and the “pull” to check my phone so much weaker when all these apps and programs just aren’t on there.

  4. amk

    Facebook was the only social media I ever used/looked at regularly. I quit more than 3 years ago. TWO people noticed. And the people who are close enough to matter, call or text. It is lovely.

  5. Stacy

    Thanks for sharing your experience off-screen! I, too, have had a similar experience, but am curious to hear how you handle easing back into the social media world and create boundaries.

  6. Meredith Cox

    When I’ve taken breaks, it’s always amazing (and actually embarrassing) how quickly I notice such a big difference in my attention span, level of patience, and sense of calm and even self-confidence. I find myself going back less and less often. One of those dilemmas of the age, I suppose, figuring out the balance…or if there even needs to be a balance. Maybe just a falling away and keeping on with the longer attention spans, patience, and calm! I’m curious to know how you guys have been walking your Internet Age kids through this.

  7. Regina

    This was wonderful to read. I was really curious what the break was like for you and what you too away from it. I love your long form writing in emails and on your website!

  8. Clarissa

    I love reading about other people’s digital minimalism journeys. I have done several digital detoxes in the past, and always struggled coming back to social media. I would be mindful with the tools for a few weeks before I would slowly get sucked into the ‘addiction’ again. A few months ago, I deleted all social media permanently and haven’t looked back since. I have written about my ‘social media’-free life in a blogpost recently: https://www.clarissadean.com/blog/quitting-social-media.

  9. Rachel Nordgren

    YES. I often think about the “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” quote from Anne Lamott in respect to social media!

  10. Tatiana

    Tsh I am on day 12 of my month long social media detox and with every word you wrote I just kept thinking yes, yes, yes.
    Especially the part where things on social media effect you deeply- me too. It was good to hear you put this into words. I think I want to convince myself it’s not true but my heart felt those words in a way I just can’t ignore anymore. Thanks for the post. Great thoughts and solidarity sister.

  11. April Best

    It’s been so wonderful to hear your experience and insight about your sabbatical. In 2018 I started taking the month of January and the month of July off of all social media and it transformed how I interact on social media as well as how I interact with life right in front of me. Thanks so much for sharing and your courage to take a sabbatical!

  12. kulin chokshi

    Same boat here – no social media accounts on my phone and doing monthly detox session. – I published article here to prevent digital addiction before it even sets-in.

  13. Janine Helligar

    Hi, Tsh.

    Today, we have all these platforms of “connectedness.” But nothing can take the place of physically sharing time with someone in person, or if separated by distance having a verbal conversation over the phone. These acts have the potential to be soul satisfying in ways texting and scrolling can never be!

    I don’t a cellphone. But if I did, I love the concept of the Light Phone — 9 or 10 contacts max, no internet, designed to be used as little as possible. It’s BRILLIANT!

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