What happened when I quit social media for Lent

I’ve never been one to celebrate Lent. I don’t like the idea of having to give up something. I’ve always thought I would fail anyway. Then I’d feel bad. This year, however, I decided to embrace Lent. I felt like a needed a refresh of my life after my divorce and all the changes that came with it. I wanted to change some habits and live a more spiritually balanced life. I guess I could have given up chocolate or coffee, but I wanted something deeper.

The fact is, Lent gave me an excuse for an experiment I’ve wanted to try for a while…what would happen if I stayed off of social media for an extended period of time? Would I use that “wasted” time to do more productive things? Would I read more? Write more? Pray more? Be more at peace? What would happen?

As I write this I’m wrapping up my experiment. It’s now Easter morning. Lent is officially over and the results have been interesting. It’s been about 40 days since I’ve spent any time on Facebook or Instagram. I’ve gone from spending several hours a day on those platforms to zero. The only exception I made was to check and respond to DMs. Otherwise I resisted the pull of FB and Insta.

This yearning to control my social media addiction has been growing for a while. It was easy to see things were out of hand. Social media was the last thing I did at night and the first thing I did in the morning. From talking to friends, I know my habits aren’t unusual. I also used it during the day when I felt bored, lazy or just wanted some hits of dopamine that scrolling can provide. Often I would pick up a book to read but put it back down to scroll instead. With my divorce, my habit grew as I suddenly was alone a lot. Social media became my companion, even at the dinner table. Fork in one hand, phone in the other.

I felt especially bad about my social media habit because of my role as a spiritual director, in which I accompany people in their spiritual journey. How could a so-called spiritual leader spend so much time on social media? It didn’t seem right.

So what happened during my 40 days? First off, I experienced a surprise. I thought it would be hard to break the habit. I thought I’d have some kind of withdrawal. But it wasn’t that difficult. I picked up my phone often and was tempted to press the big F icon on my phone screen, but I caught myself. What did I do instead? I usually couldn’t just put my phone down, so I clicked on the New York Times icon and read the headlines and an article or two. It was relatively easy. I found I still got a dopamine hit from scrolling headlines. And then I could move onto other things.

What were the “other things”? I began to take my dog out for walks more often. I tidied the house more. I dug into my pile of clothes to be ironed. I journaled a few lines before I went to sleep. I read books more often, though not as often I as I thought I would, even though I put my Kindle app on the home page of my phone. Books just don’t deliver the instant dopamine hit of other activities.

I won’t lie though. I really missed seeing posts from my friends. I missed scrolling through all the Insta miniature schnauzer accounts before bed (I have a miniature schnauzer). I missed learning about cultural events or news on FB. I had a big case of FOMO.

I was constantly tempted to press the FB or Insta icons. Then, someone suggested I move those icons off the home page of my phone and bury them on the fourth or fifth page. I did that and it helped. My FOMO decreased.

I wondered in the midst of all this whether anyone noticed I was gone. My guess is no. Everyone is so caught up in their own worlds. They probably didn’t give my absence a thought. That felt a bit sad. Sad, but true.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with social media for a long time. Social media isn’t all bad. It lets you reconnect with old friends, connect more with new friends and learn about all kinds of things. I post my blogs on Facebook and I’d say it’s the number one way people find out I’ve written a new blog post. Facebook has enabled me to get my writing out to more people.

Now that it’s Easter, I’m a little relieved my experiment is over. I can go back to FB and Insta, but maybe in a more moderate way. My son told me there’s an app that restricts your use of social media to a time you set. I will need that.

That said, part of me does wonder whether I should just quit the habit cold turkey. I feel like social media has decreased my attention span. I have more trouble reading books than I used to. I attribute that in large part to the way social media delivers dopamine hits one after another. A book doesn’t do that. It’s satisfying but it demands a kind of longer-term attention that pays off in a bigger, maybe more delayed reward.

Even if I quit social media, I’d still have my phone, which has plently of other tempting distractions: texts, emails, news sites, Nextdoor, etc. Writer Hugh McGuire writes about his attachment to his phone this way: “Spending time with friends, or family, I often feel a soul-deep throb coming from that perfectly engineered wafer of stainless steel and glass and rare earth metals in my pocket. Touch me. Look at me. You might find something marvellous.” I can relate.

The other day a friend came over for breakfast. She talked about her decision to stop wearing her smart watch. I’ve been wearing a smart watch for about a year now. The thought was intriguing to me. My watch is constantly beeping at me, telling me to stand up and move or buzzing me with a headline or text. I know there’s probably a way to turn those things off…but maybe I could do without it entirely.

This morning when I got ready for church (and after writing this) I decided to wear a regular watch instead of my smart watch. I felt much calmer, less distracted. Only time will tell if my experiments have lasting results. Check back with me in a month and I’ll let you know. For now, I’m excited that I can check out FB and IG again today. I look forward to seeing what people are doing on Easter. See you there!








Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *