Stick Or Twist: Should You Quit, Curate, Or Take A Break From Social Media?

7 November 2023 |
Episode 20 |
29:15

Episode summary

It’s time to make a tough decision! In this episode, I explore whether you should consciously curate your social media experience, reduce the amount of time that you spend on social platforms, take a digital detox break, or quit social media altogether. I examine the personal factors that might influence your decision, how your brain could already be signalling to you that it’s time to take a break, and what will happen if you ignore it. I also share practical questions for you to ask yourself as part of a downloadable decision chart, to help you decide what your future relationship with social media will look like.
 

Episode notes

In this episode, I talk about:

  • Why choosing to quit or  take a break from using social media is such a significant decision
  • How your personal social media habits and online experience influence your decision
  • The importance of time alone and away from social media
  • How to tell when you need to take a break from social media
  • The biological stress response to social media overexposure
  • How to decide if you should quit, cut down, curate or take a break from social media
  • The downloadable decision chart and important questions to ask yourself when deciding how you will use social media

Resources and tools mentioned:

 

Episode transcript

Expand to read a transcript of this episode

[00:00:34] Hey guys, welcome back to The Digital Diet Podcast. I hope you’re doing really, really well. I hope you’re having a great day. I’m feeling really good today. I’m two days into the #TechTimeout Challenge and I have done two activities. So, I’ve read a book for 20 minutes. I normally am quite a voracious reader and because things have been so busy lately, I haven’t really been making time for it the way that I used to. So, it’s been really good to start to try and get back into reading daily as a habit.

[00:01:07] I also, on the first day, took a 30 minute walk in nature. So, I just went to the park that’s quite close to my house, it’s got a big green space, and it’s also got these sort of small woodland trails. It’s not proper dense forest or anything like that, but it’s good enough to absorb yourself in the sounds and the sights and the smell of nature.

[00:01:28] There’s loads more fun stuff coming this week. I’ve planned in a theatre trip, and I’ve also got a device-free dinner coming up with some friends. So, I’m definitely feeling, after only two days, the benefits of just carving out a bit of time each day for myself. And the excitement, I guess I would call it, of knowing that I’ve got time carved out over the coming week to do things that are actually more important to me, and they’re offline, and take part in things that I really enjoy. I really love the theatre, and of course I love eating, so it will be really nice to just reconnect with friends and not have the distractions of all of our devices while we’re catching up.

[00:02:07] Now, if you’re new around here and you don’t know what I’m talking about, the #TechTimeout Challenge is a 30 day digital detox plan that I created specifically for busy women. Once a day, for 30 consecutive days, you step away from all your digital devices and you do a simple offline activity instead. And that activity will take you anywhere from five minutes to a few hours to complete.

[00:02:32] But, as you can see by some of the activities I’ve described that I’ve got in store this week, all of those activities are a lot of fun. They mostly don’t require any special equipment or for you to spend loads and loads of money. You just have to show up for yourself each day. And as activities, they’re proven to help boost your physical, mental, and emotional health. So it’s definitely something that I always strongly recommend and I always strongly encourage people to do.

[00:03:00] I started my challenge on the 6th November, which was yesterday, and it’s not too late to join in if you want some extra motivation and extra accountability. But really you can do the challenge at any time because I’ve put everything into a free step-by-step guide for you. To get your hands on the guide, you just need to head to thedigitaldietcoach.com/techtimeout-challenge, and I’ll put a link for you in the show notes. And when you get there, you sign up and then you get instant access, not just to the guide, but also to a whole bunch of free tools and resources that will help you make the most out of your daily digital detox.

[00:03:39] Now on the subject of detox, we are getting into the home stretch of our mini series on social media. Starting today, in these final four episodes, I’m going to be helping you decide if you should stick or twist. So, should you keep using social media? Should you take a little break, a little detox? Or should you just abandon it altogether? Should you quit? Go cold turkey? Whatever you want to call it.

[00:04:04] And I’ll be offering you lots of food for thought, and loads of practical advice to do whatever you decide is right for you. As I’ve said many times throughout this mini series, social media is a very personal and very individual experience. What I see and how I use it is going to be totally different to what you see when you fire up your favorite social media app, and the experience that you have there and how that makes you feel.

[00:04:30] We’re connected to different people, we see different ads and different sponsored content, we have different interests and we consume different types of content, and we spend different amounts of time on social media and our triggers for using it are different, at least initially. So, I’m not here to tell you that you just need to quit social media, mostly because it would be completely hypocritical of me, but also because I think that’s just bad advice that lacks context.

[00:04:55] Am I wary of engaging with new social media platforms? Yes! Armed with what I know, and what I’ve shared with you over the past eight episodes, about the business model for social media and the fight for your attention. All the persuasive design features that the platforms include to hack your neurohormones and get you hooked so that they can monetise your data. And the effects that all of this can have on your mental and physical health, as well as the way that you actually behave towards other people. I, personally, am not trying to add yet another distraction to my life that can have this much influence over my wellbeing.

[00:05:28] But, like many people, I do get some joy from using social platforms. I get joy from using the social platforms that I’m already part of, whether that’s down to the connections that I have there, or the content that I’m consuming, or both. And I do think there’s always room for improvement. I don’t think that it needs to necessarily be as extreme as just quitting altogether.

[00:05:49] As I said in episode 18, even though the social media companies do have to take some accountability for manipulating the way that you behave online, as individuals we also need to be mindful of how our own actions and our own choices shape our experience on social media. And with that take conscious steps to influence things in a more positive direction.

[00:06:11] So today, we’re going to start at the top and we’re going to explore how to determine whether you should quit, curate, or simply take a break from social media. And then in the final three episodes, I’ll share some practical ideas to help you take whichever path you’ve chosen, because as you know, we’re all about action on this podcast.

[00:06:29] Now, we’ve covered a lot of ground in the last eight episodes, so if you want to understand all the many complexities and all the moving parts, then I suggest that you head back to episode 13 and listen from there to catch up. But if you have been listening, then I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re now feeling a little bit conflicted. It’s really tough to answer the question, is social media good or bad for me? The experience is so personal and, to be honest, I think there’s kind of a spectrum.

[00:06:59] At the one end you’ve got complete social media addiction, you’ve got severe mental health issues caused by social media, and you’ve got people who are consistently missing out on meaningful real life experiences and real life connections because of their focus on online experiences and on social media connections. And this is obviously an extreme, so I don’t expect many of you listening to find yourselves at this place on the spectrum.

[00:07:25] At the other end, maybe you’re a very casual, very occasional user, and social media doesn’t really play much of a role in your life at all. It doesn’t take up too much time and it’s not impacting your wellbeing or your relationships. But again, to be honest, I think in the digital age, this is also kind of an extreme and there’s not that many people at this end of the spectrum either. It’s really hard to be this disconnected.

[00:07:50] So most likely if you’re listening to this, you’re somewhere in the middle. You’ve probably had some really great experiences, and some not so great ones. You probably spend a little bit more time on social media than you’d like to. You probably have a love-hate relationship with social media, and you’re trying to understand what’s right for you to keep things in balance. And it always kind of reminds me of when you start any new relationship.

[00:08:14] At the beginning, it’s always wonderful. When you’re in that honeymoon period, nobody can put a foot wrong, everything just seems like sunshine, and rainbows, and flowers. But as with any relationship, sometimes you do need to have time away and you need to have time to yourself. No matter how much you might love someone, or love something, and want to be around them all the time, especially during that honeymoon period, eventually real life kicks in and you have to balance the relationship with all the other parts of your life. Even if it’s the most amazing, incredible, best relationship you’ve ever been in, sometimes we all just need a break to be by ourselves.

[00:08:51] So in a similar way, I think time away from social media is really important for all the other parts of your life. And time alone is really important too. Even though we’ve talked about there being a survival benefit to forming these social alliances with other people, and we’ve talked about how loneliness isn’t good for your physical or mental health, the fact of the matter is we were never designed as humans to be “always on” and to be always connected 24/7.

[00:09:18] You need to spend time in the real world with real people, as much as you need to simply spend time alone once in a while. Spending time alone allows you to benefit from reflective introspection, you get freedom, creativity, intimacy, productivity, even spirituality. And when you’re constantly surrounded by noise that drowns everything around it out, it’s really hard to hear yourself. So you need that respite from social media and from the demands of other people. Social interaction actually requires quite a significant amount of mental effort, so sometimes we just need to get away from it all and recharge.

[00:09:58] According to Sherry Turkle, who’s an American Sociologist and Professor who I’ve spoken about before on the show, “reclaiming solitude is on the pathway to reclaiming conversation.” So although you may feel bored when you’re alone and find yourself reaching for social media out of boredom, your brain isn’t actually bored. It’s actively making neural connections that help you establish a stable sense of your autobiographical self through that self-reflection, through that introspection, and through that reconceptualisation of who you are.

[00:10:31] And what that means is that when you engage with other people in conversations, you can listen to who _they_ are, without having to impose who _you_ are on them. You really hear _them_ and what _they’re_ saying, without feeling this need to project who _you_ are to support what is a fragile sense of self. So time alone actually helps you to develop compassion and empathy, and that fosters better conversations and better relationships with other people.

[00:10:59] So you might be asking yourself, well, how do I know when I need to take a break from social media and from social activities or communication in general? And I think there are two main ways. One of them is experiential, so you will feel it, and I don’t mean that in a good way. You may be conscious of the fact that it isn’t making you feel good, no matter how much you keep using it, trying to get that same dopamine hit. And you’ll remember that because of the way the dopamine reward system works, increasingly you’ll need much, much, more time, and much, much, more interaction to get that same feeling of joy. But you also may be having more negative experiences than positive ones overall. And this overexposure to social media might be starting to make you feel a bit down or a bit overwhelmed.

[00:11:46] Biologically, your brain actually does signal to you that you need to take a break through your stress response system. Your amygdala, which is a part of your brain, sends a distress signal to your hypothalamus, which is another part of your brain. And that communicates with your body through the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. It’s a bit like pressing a car’s accelerator. So, initially, the sympathetic nervous system releases adrenaline, and that gives you a burst of energy to fight or to flee, in response to this stress of being overstimulated. But as this adrenaline burst starts to subside, something called the HPA axis is activated. So, that is your hypothalamus, your pituitary, and your adrenal glands.

[00:12:29] And the HPA axis relies on these hormonal signals in order to keep your sympathetic nervous system going. So if you don’t take the break that your body is signalling to you that you need to take, then the hypothalamus triggers the release of cortisol, which as you know is the stress hormone. And that puts you into this status of high alert. You experience what’s known as anticipatory stress, this constant state of anxiety and uncertainty that results from a perceived or anticipated threat.

[00:13:02] So when you stay in that state, that can lead to exhaustion, especially in today’s always on culture, when you’re constantly anticipating that something is going to happen on social media, and you’re getting FOMO by being away from it, and thinking that you need to keep checking, just in case you miss something. Now, I’m not suggesting that social media will lead to burnout in the same way that overworking and staying connected to work and emails does outside of working hours. But it definitely does lead to that exhaustion and that overwhelm. And being in that constant state of high stress alertness, with all that cortisol cruising around your body, isn’t a good thing.

[00:13:40] Now if you listen to your body and you take the hint, and you take the break, then your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, a bit like that car’s brakes. That promotes this “rest and digest” response from you, and if you start to rest and you take the break, your body starts to calm and the cortisol levels go back down. But if you don’t, which many of us don’t, well, then you’re probably not heading towards a good place. And even if you do take a break, and all your cortisol levels come down, and everything feels calm and it feels nice again, the minute you go back on social media, that whole response system kicks off again.

[00:14:16] And you’ll keep experiencing this cycle every time you return to social media after a break, because nothing has changed about the environment that you’re exposing yourself to there. You’re following the same people, you’re consuming the same content, and the algorithms and all the design features are still doing their absolute best to keep you online for as long as possible. So in many ways, this constant rise and fall in stress levels, this constant need to take a break, becomes inevitable, unless and until you change something about your social media habits and/or about your social media space.

[00:14:53] A break is a bit like a circuit breaker. It’s a temporary fix, a temporary relief from this horrible, stressful, overwhelmed feeling. But it doesn’t solve the long term issue. And that’s why I think that curating your social media experience a little bit more consciously can be just as, if not more, effective than simply taking a little digital detox break.

[00:15:15] Biology aside, the other way that you’ll know that you need to take a break, or at least seriously reconsider your social media habits, is a little bit more objective. If you’ve got tracking apps installed, like Screen Time on the iOS devices, then you should be getting weekly reports that tell you how your device use is changing, and that includes the time that you’re spending on specific apps like social media. It’s always a good thing to check in and see the breakdown of your social media time in relation to your overall screen time.

[00:15:46] As I said during episode 16, the amount of time that you should be spending on social media is going to be heavily influenced by what’s going on in your life, by what you do for a living, and so many other personal factors. So, you’re not looking for a hard number here, you’re looking for a pattern. And you’re deciding whether you’re comfortable with that pattern. When you look at the numbers, is your usage of social media pretty consistent? Is it going up or down from week to week? Is it shifting from one platform to another? And then for yourself, what, if anything, is it detracting from in your real life?

[00:16:24] As I’ve said before, if it’s not distracting you from work, or from spending time with a partner, or with friends or family, or from doing hobbies and passions that you love, or even just spending that time alone with your own thoughts, which we’ve talked about as being so important, then you’re probably going to be reasonably comfortable with the numbers that you see.

[00:16:43] But if those numbers are not what you were expecting – and often times they’re not, often times they’re much higher than we think that they are – and you get the sense that the time that you’re spending on social media is holding you back from doing other things that are actually more important to you, then that can again signal to you that you need to take a break. You need to interrogate what about the experience is keeping you online, cut down on the time that you spend, and possibly even consider quitting altogether if it’s becoming really problematic.

[00:17:14] So to answer this question for yourself, to decide whether you should quit, curate, take a break, or combination of some or all of these actions, I’ve put together a little decision chart to help you determine what’s right for you. I’ll put a link to it in the show notes, and your challenge for this week is to ask yourself those really important questions to work out what you need to do. And you’ll see as you go through the little decision chart, that even within these sort of three buckets or four buckets, there are options, and there’s flexibility, and there’s decisions to be taken that go beyond whether you simply curate, or you take a break, or you quit altogether.

[00:17:53] So before we wrap up today, I wanna give you a little overview of the main questions that you’re gonna find in this decision chart, and the main questions that you need to be asking yourself to decide which of those options is right for you. And I’ll be going into the practical steps that you need to take to achieve each option over the final three episodes of this mini series. But for now, broadly speaking, here’s what I think you need to be asking yourself.

[00:18:18] If, when you look at your social media time, the time that you’re spending is not a problem, but the experience that you’re having is negative, or it leaves you feeling negative, then I think the answer is probably curation. To curate, you need to ask yourself what is it about social media that doesn’t sit well with you? What do you want to see more of? What things are actually giving you that joy? But equally, what would you like to see less of? What accounts or what type of content is making you feel negative, or leaving you feeling not in the best possible mental state or emotional state?

[00:18:55] I think, at a minimum, everyone could think about curating their social media experience a little bit better. Whether that is analysing the way that you show up, that we talked about in previous episodes, or if it’s just looking at who you’re following, who you’re connected to, the type of content that you’re reacting to, and how you’re reacting to it. All of that shapes the degree to which your experience will be positive or negative.

[00:19:20] Because we start our social media profiles at an increasingly young age, over time we’re building so much of our lives up on there, and the person that you are in your 30s, your 40s, your 20s is not going to be the same as the person that you were when you were in your teens. There’s probably really not a reason for you to be following some of the same people or the same accounts that you were when you were younger, when you reach a different phase or a different space and time in your life.

[00:19:47] But we never really stop to clear out all of those things that are not serving us anymore. We never really stop and say, do I need to follow these accounts anymore? Do I need to unfollow these people? Or if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, do I need to mute them or block them, whatever it may be. So you find old friends, old acquaintances, old work colleagues, old partners, family members of old partners, all kinds of things. As well as brands and companies that you no longer have any interest in, because we change over time. So I would be hard pressed to say you couldn’t make your experience better by consciously curating how you experience social media.

[00:20:28] Now, if you looked at the time and the time that you spent feels like a small problem, maybe the screen time is higher than you’d like, then I’d say that’s a cue to cut down the amount of time that you’re spending. And the key question here is, well, how much time do you want to spend on social media? What is the ideal number of minutes or hours per day or per week that you’d be comfortable with? And you really need to get specific here because that’s the only way you’re going to have something to aim towards.

[00:20:56] I think you need to be realistic, so you need to understand how your target time compares to how much time you’re currently spending. You’re setting yourself up for failure if you think that you can go from four hours a day to 30 minutes a day, overnight. It’s just not going to happen. We’ve talked so much about how hardwired your use of social media is, how much external and internal triggers cause you to go online, and it takes time to unlearn all those habits. So whilst I think it’s really important to have a goal and a target amount of time that you’d like to spend on social media each day, and there are tools that can help you achieve this, I think be realistic about how quickly you can reach that target. So, think about how long you’re going to give yourself to get to the ideal amount of time that you’re comfortable with spending on social media.

[00:21:48] If you find that social media is all starting to get a bit too much, and you’re feeling overwhelmed, either emotionally or mentally, or you just find that it’s taking up way too much of your time, and it’s constantly distracting you, then that’s a call to take a break. We all have particular platforms that we feel actually are a positive thing in our lives, they serve us in a good way. So, when you start to think about taking a break, I think you need to consider, well, how long is this break going to be for?

[00:22:18] A 24-hour break is gonna look very different from a week’s break, it’s gonna look very different from a 30-day break, it’s gonna look very different to doing something like we do with the #TechTimeout Challenge, where you take daily breaks, you just consciously try to not spend a bit of time online. So really think about how long the break’s gonna be for, and then think about whether there’ll be any exceptions.

[00:22:41] It’s likely that there are specific tasks or specific features that you use on those social media platforms more than others. And some of those tasks and some of those features may be serving you, whilst the rest of it is just a distraction. So, you might be using direct messaging to communicate with your friends, but maybe posting on your feed actually isn’t really doing anything. Or you open up Instagram, for example, in order to use the direct messaging feature, but then the time that you waste is actually the time that you spend just mindlessly scrolling through the feed.

[00:23:14] So really think about whether there are tasks that you need social media to complete, or if there’s information that you can only get from social media. Maybe you’re only connected to people via Instagram, or maybe you are using LinkedIn to hunt for a job, or you are using YouTube to learn a new skill. Think about whether there’ll be any exceptions. Think about what you will allow yourself to do and what you won’t. And then you’re much more consciously going to be using social media, if you still need to use it. A break doesn’t have to be a complete switch off, at least in my opinion. It’s always just about finding what’s right for you, and being conscious and being mindful.

[00:23:52] That said, if things are really, really bad, and you’re feeling terrible, you find that social media is not serving you in any way, you are feeling that your mental health is being impacted, you feel like maybe you’re wasting time there, and you’re gaining nothing at all or very little from the experience, then that might be a sign that you need to quit. I think that it can be quite an emotional experience to decide that you are actually going to step away from social media permanently. We’ve talked about how people gear themselves up to do this and then find themselves back on social media a matter of weeks later. We talked about Chrissy Teigen quitting Twitter, when Twitter was Twitter, and coming straight back a few weeks later.

[00:24:36] So, before you make a decision like that, I think, again, it’s really important to ask yourself some questions. What are you hoping to achieve by quitting social media? Is it because you want to get time back? And if you get that time back, what is it that you want to do with it? Is it to protect your mental health and avoid harassment or avoid social pressures that come from being on social media? And what are you going to do that’s going to be in service of your mental health and your mental wellbeing? Maybe it’s even just you’re going a bit more minimalist, maybe you’re trying to strip things out of your life that you don’t really need, and it is one less thing to worry about to have to maintain your social profile or maintain the connections that you have on social media, in addition to the connections that you have in your real life.

[00:25:23] And, much like taking a break, I think it’s important to consider whether you’re going to quit a specific social media platform or you’re quitting social media altogether, you’re getting rid of every last platform, new and old. And this is really going to come down to whether you find that it’s one platform that’s causing you more problems than any of the others. Because your experience could be completely different in a broad sense, if you just get rid of the platform that’s causing you the most problems.

[00:25:52] So you really need to think about the pros and cons of each platform, of social media in general, for you in your life. And then I’d also encourage you to think about how you plan to stay connected with people once you leave a platform or you leave social media altogether. That is the biggest reason that most people join social media. It’s the biggest pro for social media that people will list when we talk about it, even though I’ve talked about how social media is actually making us less connected in real life. That is going to be the biggest challenge, I think, for most people. What happens to all of those connections that you’ve built up? How do you maintain them without the use of a social media platform? And that does require a bit of thought and a bit of preparation.

[00:26:36] That’s it for today’s episode and I hope that I’ve given you some things to think about. Don’t forget that this week’s challenge is to really sit with your feelings and your experience of social media, and decide using the decision chart that’s available in the show notes, if you want to curate, if you want to cut down, if you want to take a break, or you just want to quit social media altogether.

[00:26:58] Most people, as I said, will curate at the very least, and could benefit from curating their social media experience. I know that I need to curate my social media for sure, and I’m trying to cut down a bit by doing the #TechTimeout Challenge. But curation is an ongoing process, it’s not something that you do once and you set and forget.

[00:27:18] It’s a bit like having a wardrobe clear out. You do it, and you feel amazing and you feel like, oh everything in your wardrobe is exactly stuff that you really love and you want to wear, and you’re really excited about it. And then over time you buy new stuff, and you get new favourites in your wardrobe and new things that you want to wear. And you need to take the time again to have another wardrobe clear out to get rid of the things that are no longer serving you, or that you’re no longer wearing, and make space for the things that do.

[00:27:43] So curation, I think, is going to be really, really important and that’s what we’re going to be talking about next week. But we will go on to talk about taking a break, and digital detoxes, and quitting altogether in the final few episodes. You don’t want to miss those episodes, so make sure that you subscribe to the podcast on whatever platform you’re listening on, so that you don’t miss a thing.

[00:28:03] Now, I’m curious to hear about what you decide to do, as always. So the place to let me know, and to discuss this episode, is in The Digital Diet Lounge, my dedicated community space for all things digital wellness. I will put a link to it in the show notes, as always, and you can find the show notes over on my website at thedigitaldietcoach.com/020.

[00:28:29] I know you’re busy, and your time is incredibly valuable. So, as always, I thank you for choosing to spend a little of your day with me, and I’ll see you next time.

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Marisha Pink

Meet Marisha

Marisha Pink is a Certified Digital Wellness Coach who is on a mission to empower women everywhere to live life more intentionally in an age of digital distractions. She helps women create healthier digital habits that better balance the technology in their lives, so that they can take back control of their time, reclaim their happiness, and live their best lives offline.

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