Disconnecting to Reconnect: How to Take a Break from Social Media

At the very beginning of February 2019, I impulsively decided to take a social media sabbatical. I simply woke up on the third of the month and concluded that I needed to take a break from it all—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…All of it!

You see, I’d been actively engaged in social media since the original launch of Black Planet way back in 2001. That’s almost 20 years ago! And, since I started my first healthy living blog in 2008, between writing and consulting, the web itself had occupied close to 50% of my waking hours.

That’s just too much screen time, even for professional endeavors.

Indeed, there are many possible negative health effects of spending too much time in front of a screen—These include sleep problems, anxiety, and even depression.

Though I made my life’s work about helping other people, I simply couldn’t blow off my own health in doing so. With all the time I’d been spending with online endeavors, I had taken a lot of time away from the little time I had for ME.

So, that was where I decided to channel my energies and efforts.

On a whim, I grabbed my laptop and logged out of all social media sites. I then deleted all associated apps from my cell phone and tablet. Felt so good that I decided to completely ‘disconnect’ by powering off my beloved Apple Watch.

Related Article: Breaking Free: What I’ve Learned After 10 Years of Fitness Tracking

I also made the decision not to write, publish or post any blogs, vlogs, selfies or other digital content during this sabbatical, no matter how long. Instead, I focused more on journaling my day-to-day insights, thoughts and experiences, by hand.

I was digitally disconnected and, quite honestly, it felt fabulous. During that time, I did a lot of meditating and self-reflecting on my life, work and purpose, beliefs, values and behaviors.

My sabbatical ultimately lasted about three months after which I made a promise to myself that I’d take breaks from social media more regularly—For my own personal health and well-being.

Doing so is great for the soul!

If any of these thoughts resonate with you, perhaps you too could benefit from taking a little time off of social media. Here are some simple strategies to consider before making the decision.

1. Figure Out Your Why

Your “why” is essentially your purpose. Are you considering a social media break for a specific purpose or does it just sound like a good idea? The latter reason isn’t necessarily a problem, but your efforts in this sense might not bear much fruit.

On the flip side, figuring out your why and having a purpose for your sabbatical can help you get (and stay) motivated, improving the likelihood that you’ll see it through.

Consider setting a measurable goal or several goals that improve various aspects of your life or even your work. While my initial three-month sabbatical was rather impulsive, my subsequent breaks have been planned and more purposeful with respect to specific goals that I took the time to set for myself.

Having a purpose for your sabbatical can help you get (and stay) motivated, improving the likelihood that you’ll see it through.

The average person spends about 2-3 hours a day on social media. Imagine how many personal and professional goals could be achieved with all that extra time.

You can set a goal to accumulate 45 minutes to an hour a day of exercise, meditation and extra sleep, or commit to carving out more time for your personal and/or romantic relationships. Maybe even aim to devote an additional hour (or more) of your day to business development, professional networking, or entrepreneurial endeavors.

When figuring out your why, really take some time to think honestly and openly about where you currently are in your life and what you actually need or want to do. One you’ve done this, go ahead and set the goals for your sabbatical, and then use the additional time to act on them.

2. Plan Accordingly

Before you take a break from social media, it’s important to decide whether or not it’s the right time to do so. Let me let you in on a little secret: There will never be a ‘right’ time! This holds especially true if you’re leveraging social media to maintain regular contact with family, close friends, and loved ones.

Taking a sabbatical can be even more of a challenge when you’re using social media for professional networking or other businesses purposes.

Nevertheless, we make time for what we want to make time for!

Unlike a lot of health bloggers and influencers, I manage my own professional brand through business accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I also use personal accounts to check in with far-away family members and friends.

Interestingly enough, I haven’t lost one meaningful relationship or a single business opportunity during any of my sabbaticals.

But, if this is a concern for you, just announce your sabbatical in a social media post at least a day in advance. This way you’ll have adequate time to respond should anyone comment on that post. Simply let your friends and family members, customers, clients or followers know that you’re taking a much-needed break, and that you’ll be back on a certain date.

Remember, there’s always email and phone too!

3. Curb the Habit

If you’re thinking about taking a break, you’ve probably developed a social media habit that needs to be curbed. Let me expand on this a bit by first explaining how habits are actually formed.

Habit formation is the process by which regularly repeated behaviors become automatic. Frequent behaviors like “checking in” somewhere on Facebook or Instagram and regularly posting selfies constitute habitual social media usage.

Any habit starts with some sort of ‘cue’, followed by a ‘behavior’ that is then rewarded. A cue is essentially a trigger that tells your brain to initiate a specific behavior. A favorable outcome or ‘reward’ after that behavior will strengthen the cue such that, over time, your brain will start to ‘crave’ that reward.

If you have a social media habit, simply arriving at a new destination, or having attractively plated food set in front of you can serve as an initial cue. Think about how often you’ve entered a lobby and immediately taken out your phone to check-in, or launched your camera app to take a food selfie before you ate.

You probably didn’t even think about these behaviors because they’ve become so automatic. The reason for this is directly related to the ways in which you’ve been “rewarded” for your actions in the past, whether through likes, comments or shares.

For a successful sabbatical, implementing strategies that’ll help you resist the habit that is social media usage is critical.

Social media habits are in large part related to increased cravings for more and more likes, comments and shares, or other rewards like boredom relief or even laughter.

So, needless to say, for a successful sabbatical, implementing strategies that’ll help you resist the habit that is social media usage is critical. Start by removing all social media apps from your phone. Perhaps even take it a step further by installing an app like Freedom, which allows you to block social media websites and apps on your computer, phone and/or tablet.

In the beginning, you’ll still have the cues that trigger your social media habit, as they’re already very deeply engrained. But, since you’ll no longer be able to carry out the behaviors that have been rewarded (at least with little effort), over time, those cues and, ultimately, related cravings for more rewards will subside.

4. Use Your Time Wisely

Believe me when I say that practicing good time management during your sabbatical will help you accomplish more along the way. So, once you’ve established your why, laid out your plan, and implemented strategies for curbing the social media habit you may have built, consider how you’re going to prioritize the additional time you’ll have available.

What will you do to form new and more rewarding habits that your brain will ultimately “crave”?

How about strengthening your existing personal relationships and professional connections? Meet with family members and friends, associates and colleagues face-to-face instead of online.

Human interaction is always more rewarding.

Maybe even take it a step further and start talking to people you don’t know. It’s good to hear differences in opinions and other perspectives. With every interaction can come a new set of valuable, real-life takeaways. Doing so is also a great way to practice your communication skills.

Practicing good time management during your sabbatical will help you accomplish more along the way.

During my initial sabbatical, I can’t tell you how many conversations I struck up with total strangers while venturing out to different coffee shops and cafes, retail stores, and other places of business. A large handful of those conversations even resulted in new business leads and professional ventures.

You never know who you’re talking too!

And, don’t forget to allocate more time for you. A sabbatical is the perfect time to be alone with yourself. Go out and go for nature walks to clear your mind and make yourself present to each moment. Read some good books or treat yourself to a play. Or, better yet, just rest and destress.

When all is said and done, effectively managing your time will ultimately lead to more free time, allowing you to take full advantage of new opportunities, lower your stress levels, and improve your ability to focus on the things that really matter in life.

Related Article: How Stress Almost Wrecked My Life

5. Establish a Maintenance Plan

These days, doing away with all forms of social media is next to impossible, especially if you’re regularly engaging for professional or business purposes. As such, it’s important to establish strategies for controlling your usage over the long-term.

There’s no point in taking a sabbatical if you’re just going to fall back into your old patterns of social media usage.

A maintenance strategy might involve things like: 1) Restricting your engagement to certain times of the day, or certain days of the week; 2) Turning off push notifications, which themselves can become ‘cues’ that serve as triggers throughout the day; and 3) Powering off your phone, tablet or computer a few hours before bedtime to give your brain a break.

I personally started putting each of these strategies to practice during my initial sabbatical—And, to this day, I follow them to a tee. Doing so has greatly boosted my productivity, enhanced my overall mood, and improved my ability to fall and stay asleep each night.

I’ve actually created a habit of being ‘disengaged’ from social media, such that logging on is a real challenge. If you either know me or follow me on social media, I’m sure you’ve noticed my patterns of reduced used since February 2019.

Indeed, taking care of myself has become quite contagious.

So, there you have it—Five strategies to consider before taking a break from social media.

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that using social media does come with some great benefits. On a business level, social media is an excellent way for you to gain new leads and take advantage of new opportunities. On a personal level, it can help you stay connected with family, friends and loved ones, and also stay in touch with people with whom you’d otherwise have less frequent contact.

Social media also represents a useful outlet to let people know what’s going on in your world and to find out what’s happening in theirs.

But, ironically, for a technology that’s supposedly intended to bring people together, a growing body of science continues to show that spending too much time engaging with social media can actually lead to increased feelings of loneliness and isolation—Feelings that can exacerbate existing or underlying mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

So, let me leave you with one final thought: When figuring out your ‘why’ for taking a social media sabbatical, be honest with yourself.

The real reason may be something much deeper beneath the surface.

Is using social media actually causing you to feel anxious, depressed, isolated or lonely? Perhaps, doing so has had a negative impact on your relationships with family members, friends, or colleagues. If any of these reasons apply, I encourage you to do some real soul searching during your break. Maybe even seek help from a qualified mental health professional.

At the end of the day, taking time off social media essentially means setting aside more time for yourself and your own health and well-being.

As I said early on, doing so is great for the soul!