At the beginning of the year I realized I needed to take a big break from social media. Digital platforms like Facebook and Instagram were places in which I learned new things, broadened my understanding of the world, and met people I may never have encountered without social media. I used those sites to learn about local events and connect with my favorite artists and authors. But all the pros were vastly outweighed by my struggles with comparison, time management and contentment.
This step back started with deleting social media apps from my phone. But after a while, I decided to take the full plunge and delete my accounts, too. After pressing “delete,” I wrestled with quite a few lies. I was scared of being lonely and disconnected. I also worried people would forget me when I wasn’t in their Instagram feed regularly. If I was going to combat those lies, I needed to be intentional in my relationships with others and the way I connected with them.
Want more Radiant? Sign up for our weekly newsletter!
Deciding boundaries around social media use is nuanced and personal, and I’m not advocating that everyone walk away from all forms of social media forever. However, I know I’m not alone in seeing the negative impact of social media in my life. Many people I talked to while debating my decision mentioned they, too, struggled to set healthy digital boundaries and, even more, to stick to those boundaries. After all, addictive algorithms aren’t just a feature of social media platforms; it’s an intentional aspect of their design.
Maybe you’re thinking of taking a permanent step away from social media, or perhaps you’re just wanting to take a digital break for a season. Here’s a look at how logging off apps like Facebook and Instagram impacted my relationships and community, as well as a few tips for setting up healthy boundaries with the way you interact with social media in your daily life.
I’m learning what authentic self-care means
After I deleted my social media accounts, the changes I saw to my relationship with myself was almost immediate. The first night, I slept better because I hadn’t spent time before bed staring at my phone and getting in one last scroll through Instagram. After a few weeks, I noticed my budget had a little more spending cash because I hadn’t bought something on impulse after viewing a cleverly targeted ad. During my newfound free time, I not only read more, but I also was able to read for longer stretches of time as my attention span grew.
I also began spending more time outside, both with my kids and by myself in our backyard during nap times. Because I don’t post on social media anymore, I’ve found that I take less pictures, and this shift has made it easier to be present in the moment instead of living through the camera on my phone.
More importantly, I’ve stopped comparing myself to other women as much as I did before. Because I’m not comparing my life with the women behind the online accounts, I’m growing in gratitude for the gifts Jesus has given me to steward, and for the people he is asking me to love.
You don’t have to swear off social media to focus on building authentic self-care, though. You could start small by setting timers on the apps you spend the most time on. Or, if you know the times of day you’re most likely to mindlessly consume social media, set up your phone to shut the app down during those times. Finally, if scrolling through Instagram leaves you feeling dumpy, put the app into grayscale mode. I have never lost interest in Instagram so fast as when everything was in black and white!
I love my spouse more intentionally
At first glance, I didn’t think deactivating my social media accounts would have a big impact on my relationship with my husband, Joseph. After all, we see each other face-to-face everyday, and the main digital interaction we have is texting back and forth for moral support during days filled with difficult work projects or feral toddlers.
But after only a few days without social media (and an embarrassing amount of times I tapped the empty place on my phone where the app once was), I started to become aware of the times in my day that I had filled with mindless scrolling. I’d turned to those apps in the hopes of finding connection and empathy, but I’d missed out on the chance to connect with my spouse, the person who knows me the most intimately.
Now, in the evenings, instead of scrolling through photo grids of other people’s days, I’m making an intentional effort to turn to Joseph and truly listen to how his day went. I’m striving to look him in the eye, put away anything that distracts me from what he’s saying and just be present with him.
If you’ve found your face-to-face relationships are taking a backseat to your digital habits, choose small habits that make it easier to focus on what’s at hand instead of being distracted by every phone notification. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, a smartphone can impact your cognition even when it’s next to you on the table or in the same room. So leave your phone in the car the next time you grab coffee with a friend and give yourself the chance to focus on the present moment.
I’m more present with my kids, even in the hard moments
Now that I’m not creating Instagram stories about my day or scrolling Facebook, I’ve found it easier to simply exist in the present moment with my daughters. Sometimes the present moment is not a pleasant moment, like when I’m helping a 3-year-old process big emotions or asking her to stop pushing her baby sister. When I used social media as an escape, it was in these moments when I would most reach for my phone to scroll or even just check for notifications.
But those messy moments are also invitations from Christ to be present to him in the littlest of his children and practice the corporal works of mercy in my own home. Sometimes, the hungry are the people in your family who need dinner, the thirsty are the babies who need bottles warmed up, and the naked are rambunctious toddlers who don’t think they need to wear clothes.
Maybe you’ve discovered that browsing social media leaves you discontented with your present moment and wishing you could be anywhere but where you are at the moment. In those times, instead of asking Christ to get you out of your current situation, ask him why he has you there. Perhaps there is something he’s wanting to show you or teach you that will have the most impact in your life if he shows it to you here, in your own present moment.
Conversation with friends has become more intentional
One of the biggest lies I had to work through after deactivating social media was that without those accounts I would be lonely and totally unconnected. I wouldn’t see big life updates from friends like engagements, baby announcements or out-of-town moves. To combat the lie that I had to have social media in order to stay connected with friends, I needed to become intentional.
It used to be that when I wondered what a friend was up to, I’d search her name on Instagram or Facebook and catch up through her posts and stories. Now, I send her a text or give her a call and ask how she’s doing. Because I want to continue growing in friendship with the people in my own community, I’m asking people to come to the park for playdates more and spending more time after Mass catching up with friends.
When I do sit down with friends, those conversations are so much more intentional and exciting. Instead of knowing exactly what they’re going to say when I ask them how they’re doing because I follow them on social media, everything they share is new to me. This has helped me be more present in conversations and better at receiving friends in the present moment.
If you want to be more intentional with friendship and people in your local community, start by extending an invitation to one person. Maybe it’s the friend from college who recently landed in the same city as you, but you haven’t yet caught up. Or it could be one of the women in your small group who you want to know better. Get together face-to-face and catch up over coffee or dinner and get to know their stories.
I’m taking my digital friendships to the next level
There were so many women I’d met during my time on Instagram, and I hated to lose connection with them. But I knew if I wasn’t intentional, those friendships would fade. This was especially true since I was walking away from Instagram, where I’d not only met those women, but I’d also communicated with them.
In the weeks leading up to deactivating Instagram, I made note of whose stories, posts and thoughts I enjoyed reading. Then, since scrolling through their stories wasn’t an option anymore, I started sending emails and reaching out.
Since logging off social media, I’ve had Zoom chats during nap times with women who I mainly saw on my Instagram grid. I’ve also sent an email to a woman who I admired from afar on social media and introduced myself. I shared how she inspired me and was able to have a great conversation with her.
When I had an active Instagram account, I loved following writers and reading their reflections on life, motherhood and faith. But those women don’t write exclusively on Instagram. Many of them have blogs, books and email newsletters (my favorites are the ones written by Tsh Oxendreider, Claire Swinarski, Emily Stimpson-Chapman and Laura Kelly Fanucci). Instead of running into their writing if it happened to be in my Instagram feed, I make it a point to support their creative work and read their writing intentionally.
Social media can be a fantastic tool to connect with others, educate yourself and just have fun. Not only have I met dear friends thanks to places like Instagram and Facebook, I’ve also stayed in touch with women who otherwise would have faded out of my life after job changes and moves.
But I’ve also discovered that I have to be more conscious and clear with myself as I navigate social media. Taking a hard look at my digital habits and making the decision to take an intentional step back for now not only helps me love the people in my home and in my local community more, but it’s also helped me grow in intentionality with the women I connect with digitally — and that’s something worth sharing about.