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The Surprising Spiritual Benefit of a Social Media Vacation

Taking a step back from social media—and being more mindful with it—helped me feel hopeful. 

Taking a social media break
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Uninstall. Uninstall. Uninstall. With each click I removed a social media application from my phone. I had decided to take a short break from Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and a few other apps I used.

Taking a step back from anything you spend a lot of time doing can be a good idea—whether it’s work, doing a crossword or watching TV. This includes social media. According to Healthline, prolonged social media use can be linked to anxiety, depression and difficulty sleeping. 

I decided to take a social media break because I was feeling less hopeful about the world. “Hope is an active anticipation in the ability to reach desired goals,” says psychologist and theologian Dr. Steven Sandage. “It requires a willingness to put energy toward those goals.” But after doomscrolling for hours and often hearing nothing but bad news, my energy to do anything—read a book, go for a walk, call my mom—was gone. I decided to take a break from social media, because I wanted to find hope again. 

Here are some of my tips on how to take an effective social media break and feel more hopeful in your life:

1)   Uninstall
Removing the social media apps on my phone was the most effective way to take a break. After all, I couldn’t scroll through Facebook or Instagram without a way to access them. Luckily, uninstalling them doesn’t remove my account or any of my photos, so I can always reinstall them and hop back on when I’m done with my break. If you use social media via your desktop, you can temporarily block those sites on your browser, so you aren’t tempted to hop on them. 

2)   Find new activities off the phone
Finding other things to do with my free time was the next step. When I finished work at the end of the day and wanted to unwind, I needed to train my brain not to absently reach for my phone. I created a list of things I enjoy doing on a sticky note on my desk. Then, whenever I had some down time, I chose something on the list. 

You can include anything on your own list— go for a walk, take up a new hands-on craft like knitting or embroidery, start daily journaling, tackle a fun puzzle or tend to your houseplants—as long as it’s away from the screen. Keep the list handy so you always have something to fall back on if you feel the urge to scroll. 

3)   Find new activities on the phone
Even after I got used to my social media break, I still found myself reaching for the phone. After a while, I realized that it was okay! Our phones have become an important part of our lives and while setting them aside is important, they can be a great resource for information and fun. To avoid running to social media for entertainment, I downloaded a few activity apps that would keep me occupied in a more hopeful way. 

Crossword puzzle apps let me exercise my brain and doing them with my boyfriend has been immensely fun. Online games like Words with Friends let me play Scrabble with my mom, even though we are states away from each other. Abide, the world’s largest Christian meditation and prayer app, is the perfect nightly ritual to help me relax my mind and fall asleep more easily.

4)   Take pictures just for you
One of the most surprising things I did during my social media break was taking more pictures! Because I was taking photos for myself—and not as a means to get likes—I enjoyed the act of pulling out my phone and snapping a picture to remember the moment. 

After hanging out with friends and family, I loved sending them the photos directly instead of posting them online and tagging them. This let us share the memories in a more personal way. And because all my photos are stored in my phone, I can easily look through them and reminisce about the good times. I was shocked at how much more hopeful I felt after scrolling through memories without being bombarded with negative news.

5)   Reach out to people one-on-one
Psychologist and writer Ralph Smart once said, “There is no Wi-Fi in the forest, but I promise you’ll find a better connection.” Without social media to stay in touch with friends and family, I had to return to the good-old text message and phone call. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, I realized I preferred this as a way to reach out to folks. Instead of liking a photo my sister posted, I gave her a call to tell her I loved it and caught up on how we were both doing. When it was my friend’s birthday, I didn’t post a generic “Happy Birthday” on his Facebook wall. I sent him a personalized text message wishing him the best day and telling him how much he meant to me. Having authentic connections with people is a vital part of feeling and staying hopeful. You’d be surprised how much going offline can bring you more online with the people in your life. 

6)   Be mindful
Of course, a return to social media is the last step. After my break, I was ready to hop back into social media with a few lessons learned.

The first thing I did was to set timers on my social media apps. This meant I could only use those apps for a certain number of minutes every day. So even as I hopped back on social media, I couldn’t go back to the hours of doomscrolling like before. According to Healthline, reducing our social media use even a little is helpful.

Next, I took a harder look at the pages I was following. I wanted to stay informed about what was going on with my friends, family and the world; but I also wanted to get some negativity off my timeline. I stuck with the pages that gave me good information and added on a few others that took a more actionable and positive look at the world. I sought out pages about things that brought me joy, like cooking, tending plants, art and travel. I also found pages that primarily focused on telling stories of hope—like Guideposts!—so my social media feed is sunnier than ever. 

Taking a break from social media helped me return to a sense of hope, and now I’m using social media to stay hopeful in the future. 

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