What I learnt from fasting from Facebook for the month of January.
Towards the end of last year we had a bit of a challenging season in our household. It is not the first or even the worst (or the last I’m sure) but towards the end of December I was feeling pretty low. One or both of my little boys had been sick almost constantly since October. Combining a child with serious breathing problems and living in a rural area with poor access to hospitals is a recipe for chronic anxiety. Sleep became a rare and precious commodity. Combined with this we were waiting for news of a job my husband had applied for which would take us to the town where we are building our new house. At the time we lived two hours away and were really hoping we wouldn't have to rent out our new dream house before we ever had the chance to live there. With all of this going on I found myself constantly wanting to distract from my restless and anxious feelings. Two things that I routinely turn to when unwilling to experience my feelings are food and facebook, and neither of these coping strategies are particularly effective! Although I don’t often post, I am a bit of a lurker. When I found myself obsessively tapping that little blue F throughout the day I realised I needed to find a better way to manage myself. I decided the only way to break the chronic habit was to quit cold turkey. (By the way I also quit sugar at the same time, but thats a whole other story) To be honest with you, I was a little shocked by how much it affected me. By the late afternoon of the first few days I felt restless, irritable and frustrated. A few days in I spent about an hour googling what Princess Kate was up to that week and realised I was cross-addicting to another mindless distraction. But then about ten days in I started to notice that when the urge to pick up my phone for some mindless scrolling took hold, I was able to find something constructive to do instead. By the end of the month I barely missed it. So here are a few things this experiment gave me:
I am at home all day with two toddlers age 3 and 2. My life is pretty full on and intense and I don’t have a lot of free time. But what I realised is that when you are a mom to two little people who demand a lot of attention, the free time that you have doesn’t come in large swathes. It comes in snippets, and its very easy to waste those snippets on things that are not ultimately constructive or helpful. Soon I began to quickly complete tasks or to just sit quietly with a cup of tea. in those spare minutes and as my avoidance (of both my feelings and tasks I didn't want to do) decreased so did my anxiety. The more I did the more motivated I felt and I wasn’t so exhausted by the end of the day so i was able to use those precious hours between their bedtime and mine to work on some projects I’ve been longing to get stuck into for ages. More attention and patience towards my kids Those two little kids I just told you about? Starting from about 5:30 I hear mom, mom, mom about thirty million times each day. Sometimes, especially when it had been a bad night and I was particularly exhausted, it all just became too much and I would checkout by diving into a rabbit hole of posts and articles. They would try and get my attention but then would wander off to be destructive (Its amazing the level of carnage that two little boys can achieve in just a few minutes!) When I would look up from the screen I would snap at them for pouring rice all over the floor/ painting my bedspread with my lipstick/ emptying the vacuum cleaner on the white rug. I was furious and they were frustrated and the day didn't progress well from there. Of course I often play with them and do make a point of putting my phone away, but often I am preoccupied with something I’ve just read, or wanting to quickly check if so and so read my comment. Without the distraction of social media I would sit with them on the floor (not on the couch) while they played and give them my undivided attention. It actually took a bit of getting used to to sit and be completely present in their games but they both thrived under the focused attention and I started to really enjoy our times playing together. An unexpected bonus of this is that as our deliberate times of play became more regular, they were much happier to play independently and constructively the rest of the time! More sleep Without that constant urge to read “just a couple more posts” I actually went to bed earlier and had better quality sleep, and thus was less exhausted and less irritable.
I am the dictionary definition of someone who suffers from FOMO and let me tell you Facebook definitely makes it worse. When I lived in the Northern Hemisphere I would get jealous of all the December photos of swimming and braais. Now I’m back in sunny South Africa? I’m coveting a mulled wine in the Edinburgh Christmas market. If I’m not constantly being reminded of other lives I could be living I find I’m much more content with the one I’m in right now. On a related note, it cured some of my comparisonitis! If you are reading this its because I’ve felt brave enough to share it with the world. I’ve wanted to write for many years but every time I start getting up the courage to put my work into the world I come across something someone else has created and feel somehow inadequate. This is silly I know, but I’ve definitely let good old imposter syndrome hold me back! Without everyone else thoughts and opinions flooding my mental space before I’ve even had breakfast I felt stifled in my own creativity. It made me better at connecting in a more genuine and less lurker way On the flip side of the FOMO, I really enjoy seeing what my friends and acquaintances are up to and I do vicariously enjoy their triumphs. I feel like I am a part of their lives and regularly hit that like button or leave a comment which makes me feel part of their lives. This gives me the false sense that I know whats going on with my friends. I am not great at staying in contact over WhatsApp or the phone, particularly if I’m not in a good place myself. When I didn't have constant access to other people’s lives (or maybe other peoples masks) I actually picked up the phone much more and had some proper catch ups and conversations, and actually replied to texts timeously!
It gave me a clear sense of what my avoidance triggers are
I’ve worked for much of my life in the field of addiction and have seen first hand the varied ways that being unwilling to feel your difficult feelings can destroy your life. As part of the recovery process we ask our patients to have a clear picture of what the triggers are that cause them to want to use, or pick up a drink or a drug. Some of the basic triggers we ask people to recognise can be spelled out in the acronym HALT! Its about asking yourself are you Hungry? Are you Angry? Are You Lonely? Are you Tired? As a stay at home mom I have to tell you despite how much I love getting to be with these two incredible humans as they grow and develop, I feel these things a lot. So when the itch came to open my computer (I had deleted the app off my phone) I asked myself what was going on in me and what I could do to address the problem (Eat a healthy snack, express myself, call a friend, go to bed earlier for example) Sometimes all I really needed was to simply be present with myself as I would a friend who was having a hard time. What I realised again (I know this about myself but sometimes forget) is that my stress response is flight. As in when I feel overwhelmed I avoid. This avoidance leads to more stress as I often avoid tasks that really need to get done (Sorry SARS). Sometimes my trigger was something as simple as being alone for two minutes in the bathroom and wanting some adult interaction. Perhaps facebook addiction is not quite as destructive as crack but it scares me to think what I could be doing with the time and attention I waste!
It made me realise which people and pages I missed
I follow quite a few pages and groups. There were some that I did really miss. For example I am on a support group called TOFs for parents with kids who have the rare birth condition my son was born with. Facebook is my only link to this worldwide community some of whom have become virtual friends. I missed the encouragement I find on that group and I also missed the pleasure I get from encouraging others who are behind me on the road of learning to navigate this life. There are also several Occupational Therapy related groups with I get a lot out of.
So what now?
Am I swearing off facebook for life? No, obviously not, chances are you are reading this because I posted it on facebook! The problem here is not facebook, its me. I believe there are definite benefits to the connection that social media brings, but like anything I need to mange it and not let it control me.
1. I have made a decision not to check it when my kids are around and to limit the time I spend on it.
2. I will not let it be the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning, or the last thing when I go to bed at night.
3. I will not use it as a way to distract from uncomfortable feelings or avoid loneliness (Studies have shown it has the opposite effect)
4. I will take regular breaks in the year and take a sabbath (one 24 hour period where I don’t check it)
5. I will curate my feed to things that benefit me I suspect I’m not the only one that struggles with this issue, I hope these thoughts can be helpful to you if you like me sometimes become obsessed with the the little blue f (or the bird, or the camera)
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