Do you ever feel battered down from the relentless pressure of feeding the ever-hungry beast that is social media? If I’m being totally honest, that’s where I was at the start of summer.
I picked up my phone on 30th July and, with a huge sigh of relief, deleted Facebook and Instagram from my phone.
This week, I’m taking stock of my five-week separation from social media. Read on to find out how it went, what I’ve learned – and how you can apply my insights to your own life to achieve more balance, headspace and appreciation.
Why I took a social media break
My social media break was something I’d been looking forward to for a long time.
I’d been pushing myself to create ever more podcast episodes, posts, videos, reels – sharing myself constantly for an audience. It was exhausting.
August is when I traditionally take a break from it all. But, in previous summers, even though I wasn’t posting, I’d find myself instinctively reaching for my phone and scrolling mindlessly through Instagram whenever I was at a loose end.
The gamechanger was removing temptation by deleting all social media apps from my phone.
This July, I couldn’t have been any more ready to bid them goodbye and good riddance.
The previous week, I’d watched in horror as a video I’d shared of myself enjoying an idyllic river swim in the Peak District had gone viral, racking up views by men who somehow saw it as titillating and asked me if I swim naked.
It felt horrible and upsetting and depressing. I deleted the whole thing and seriously questioned if I actually wanted to carry on posting at all.
A blessed release
So that’s the space I was in when I began my social media vacation. A chance to go quiet, invisible, inwards. To return home to being me: Suzy. Not an influencer, not an advocate for wild swimming or healthy eating or anything else. Just me.
From day one, it was a blessed release. I wasn’t tempted to reach for my phone and have a quick scroll. Not once. In fact, it felt like I’d been granted a get-out-of-jail-free card.
I’ve journalled a lot and something eye-poppingly huge has hit me: I gained more insight and wisdom from a social media break than a magic mushroom retreat in Amsterdam.
I’d travelled there researching a podcast episode on the benefits of psychedelic drugs. I’d expected a profound spiritual experience – a download on the meaning of life. Instead, I returned home with severe heart palpitations and a deep regret of voluntarily ingesting a mind-altering drug. (You can read all about my experience here.)
Do you have to leave home to take a break?
Until this summer, I’d fallen for the received wisdom that you must step out of your life and go somewhere else to find transcendence: commune with a “guru” in the Himalayas; check into a meditation retreat in Bali; book a yoga intensive in Crete; take a hallucinogenic drug in Amsterdam.
My five-week circuit breaker allowed me to see through that notion. I spent those weeks rooted in the normality of daily life: coaching clients, creating online programmes, hanging the washing out, cleaning the kitchen.
Apart from a lovely day trip to the Lake District, I barely left Manchester. On paper, that looks like a big disappointment, a let-down, a fail. Especially compared to the sun-kissed beach holidays I would’ve watched other people enjoy via their Instagram feeds. Only I never saw those photos.
Because of that, I was able to melt into the peace and blessings of where – and who – I was, without comparison. That was a retreat in itself. And I didn’t need to leave my home.
What I learned in five weeks off social media
Here are five things I’ve learned from those five weeks offline:
1. You don’t need to travel to feel rested, restored and peaceful.
I can recall many times I’ve been on a beautiful holiday abroad and felt totally distracted by mentally composing a social media post or taking the perfect Instagram photo.
What I enjoyed this time was a holiday in my mind. And that is more beneficial than being in Thailand, still yoked to my phone.
2. I do so much better with more white space in my life.
It’s striking how much better I feel when my schedule isn’t overcrammed. Stepping back from my podcast and banishing social media freed up time, headspace and mental energy.
That, in turn, allowed insight and clarity to gently float into my consciousness without me chasing them.
For the first time in ages, I felt present and unhurried. I could listen properly to my daughter chatting to me without a part of my brain wondering when I could check my phone and what I might find there.
Without question, disconnecting from social media reconnected me with what (and who) is important in my life.
3. You have nothing to gain from your mind being invaded by other people’s curated holiday photos.
I enjoy looking at the holiday snaps of my siblings and my closest friends.
But being hit by holiday highlights from hundreds and hundreds of people is not helpful to my equanimity.
I was quietly content with my own version of August. Had I been constantly exposed to a relentless stream of updates from Mykonos and Ibiza, I may well have felt a creeping sense of dissatisfaction that I was missing out, left behind, less than.
4. I have everything I need, right where I am.
Being at home in my own space with no comparison to anyone else, I felt a deeper sense of appreciation for the simple, free, everyday things right in front of my nose.
- Stepping into my garden in the morning
- Picking a sprig of rosemary from my pot of herbs
- Walking through woods to a nearby river and staring at the light dancing on the water
- Veering off the path and leaning against an oak tree, listening in complete solitude to the orchestra of sounds around me
- Curling up in the evening with a novel from my local library
- Picking sweet-smelling flowers from my allotment and placing them in vases around my home
- Sitting with my family around a table of home-cooked food.
When was the last time you truly experienced everyday joyful moments without distraction?
5. Boundaries equal balance
The stronger I make my boundaries and the more I make space for things which feed my soul on a daily basis, the better chance I have of staying calm, clear-headed and compassionate.
Like most of us, I was hit with curveballs over the summer. Yet I was grounded enough to respond rather than react. (Well, at least most of the time.)
My break from social media also granted me the bandwidth to reflect on how I work. To figure out how to help more people back to their own well-being…without losing my own well-being in the process. How to spread light without extinguishing my own. As the weeks progressed, I slowly gained clarity on all these things.
I’m now starting September feeling excited and fired up about my work and mission in life.
A mindful return to social media
These are just a few of the nuggets I’ve gleaned from stepping out of social media. To hear me share a personal epiphany I had during this time, have a listen to this episode of my podcast, Midlife Illuminated (“I saw the light! Here’s how”).
What about you? Is your life enhanced or diminished by social media? Would you ever consider taking a break of your own? If you have, how did it feel? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences, and whether my own experience has inspired you to log off for a time.