By Chris Croll
When I recently quit Facebook, reactions from friends were mixed. Several friends jokingly accused me of abandoning them, a few congratulated me, and others admitted they wished they could leave social media, too, but they just didn’t think they could do it. I’m here to tell you that it’s easier than you might think and there are many benefits to doing so.
Maybe a complete break isn’t possible for you but taking a week or month-long hiatus from social media might help you in ways you don’t expect. If we can have “No-Shave November,” maybe we can institute “Facebook-Free February” or “Analog April.” Let’s start a movement—though we’d likely have to use Facebook to start an anti-Facebook movement. Oh, that Zuckerberg has us right where he wants us!
Before I share some of the unexpected benefits I’ve experienced from taking a social media break, I must, in full disclosure, admit that I did keep my Facebook account live but with no friends (except my husband). I still access Facebook once or twice a week for 5-10 minutes to get updates on local news and events. I also predict I will be accessing the Jay’s Wintry Mix Facebook page once the season changes this fall. Considering I used to spend 3-4 hours on FB every day for work and personal business, this reduction represents a major shift for me. But in addition to gaining back time in the day, there are other reasons to take a break.
After the initial panicky feeling of, “Will I ever hear from my friends again?” subsided, I felt immediately less stressed after unfriending everyone. An invisible weight had been lifted off my shoulders that I didn’t even realize was there. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) disappears when you make the decision to put your own mental well-being ahead of your need to stay in the know.
If this anecdotal evidence isn’t enough to convince you to take a break, there was a study published in The Journal of Social Psychologylast year which confirmed that users who quit Facebook demonstrated an immediate reduction in stress.
When we are looking at a screen, we aren’t paying much attention to what’s happening in the real world around us. Putting the phone down allowed me to start practicing living in the moment. It also made me aware of my dirty kitchen tiles and overstuffed desk drawers (both of which are now clean). It’s likely much healthier to focus more on the real world—as messy as it may be—than on the fantasy world portrayed in most Facebook news feeds.
If your own stress reduction and peace of mind isn’t enough of a reason to take a break from Facebook, consider your children. If you have teens in the house, your social media use could be normalizing excessive screen time which is linked to increases in adolescent cyberbullying, anxiety and depression. You may be inadvertently communicating that number of likes, comments and followers are important measures of social worth. Even if your children wouldn’t consider using Facebook per se, there is tremendous peer pressure for children and teens to access other social media networks that use similar metrics. Taking a break lets them know they don’t have to become slaves to these apps.
The greatest benefit I’ve experienced since quitting Facebook has been that my friendships have taken on a feeling of greater authenticity. When I call people on the phone, we really listen to one another’s updates. Information isn’t packaged for mass consumption, it’s shared with personal emphasis and inflection that says more than a text-and-photo update ever could. I am able to present a more nuanced version of myself to the people I care about most and I get a more accurate picture of what is happening in my friends’ lives.
I’m not knocking Facebook—I spent more than a decade enjoying the experience of being online. But there are benefits to taking a break that may help reduce stress and pay social dividends far beyond those you might expect. So, go ahead … give it a try. Log off and smell the roses.
Chris Croll is a writer, community activist and member of the Loudoun County School Board (Catoctin District). She lives in Leesburg with her husband and two children.