To kick off the new year, my church participated in a 21 day fast. In lieu of certain food groups, I opted to delete social media from my phone, as I felt that it was one thing stealing more of my attention than necessary. And while I expected a bit of habitual reaching for my phone, and the mindless skimming through apps in search of Instagram, Twitter or the like, I did not expect the real, physical withdrawal I felt.
While at first I thought it was just frustration, FOMO, this sense that I must be missing out on something big, I soon began to realize I was actually feeling a little afraid. Unbeknownst to me, social media had become a bit of a crutch—a coping mechanism that I’d been using for whenever I was sad, angry, lonely, jealous, or confused. If I felt a feeling I didn’t like, I’d take a scroll through social media to find a new one. And now that I didn’t have that option, many of the feelings and thoughts I’d been avoiding were all demanding to be felt.
I lay awake almost every night of the first week, unable to fall asleep, unable to quiet my brain the way social media had been doing. It had become such a habit to scroll through whichever app until I got tired, never sure what I was looking for, but always hopeful it might be in the next post, or the next. But it never seemed to be there.
Having time away from social media, I’ve given myself space to think, space to wonder, and space to just listen.
Reaching for my phone is still a habit. I still catch myself tapping at the screen, hoping something pops up that might make a bad moment better or a long day easier, but I am also doing better at looking for things offline that can help. I’m reading more, I’m praying more, I’m being more creative. I’m feeling all of the feelings that come naturally each day, and I’m allowing them to pass through me rather than attempting to shut them out.
I will admit, I thought this fast would be harder for me than it was. And after those first few nights, I was convinced I would never make it. But having come to the end of the 21 days, and not feeling even an inkling of the relief or freedom that I thought I would, I realize how crucial this fast was for me—even when I was someone who would have considered herself not to be addicted to social media.
And so, I’d encourage anyone to take a step back. Just to see if there’s anything you might be missing. Take a step back and feel the feelings that you might be avoiding. Take a step back and listen for the things that have always been inside you but have been muted by the endless scrolling. Take a step back and breathe. Exist in the real world and simply in the real. You don’t have to leave social media behind forever, but it’s important to remind ourselves that social media is a place to visit, not a place to live. Take a step back, log off and look around. There’s a lot more for us out here than there is in there, and out here it will last a lot longer.