This is what I learned.
I took an unexpected 3-month break from social media and my perspective is forever changed.
In this blog, I share with you the reasons why I took a break as well as how it impacted my life, my business, and my future relationship with social media. All in all, I would do it again, and I would advise that anyone interested make the experiment for themselves!
Here’s a table of contents with links in case you want to jump right to a particular section.
- Why I took a break
- The logistics of the break
- How life changed without it
- What I learned from the break
- The impact on my business
- How I’ll operate moving forward
The Lead Up to Burnout
Now, I am not a luddite. I actually value technology rather unapologetically. That’s why I’m not the most likely candidate for taking a total break from social media.
I use these platforms to expand the reach of my small business. I use them for entertainment, for news, to find local events, you name it. You could even make the case that I’m an enthusiast.
And it’s true. I quite love the creative release of coming up with an idea, pulling it together, and editing it for public consumption.
So it was kind of out of the blue when I woke up one day just absolutely burned out on everything having to do with social media. And I mean fried. Charred. Done.
1. Why I took a break from social media in the first place.
I don’t know if it was the thousandth unwanted update on Instagram that week, or a particular influencer who made me want to gag, or what… I don’t even recall if there was an impetus at all.
I just woke up and felt a deep disgust for all things that fall under the umbrella of promotion of any kind:
- other-people’s promotion,
- social media platform-promotion itself,
- even non-profit promotion (You know it’s bad when even good causes strike cynicism and suspicion in your heart).
I didn’t want to open any of these feeds, so I did something radical:
The disgust ran deep.
The feeling was visceral. I kept imagining myself post-mortem on my day of judgment. It looked like this: A lineup of sages stand before me on a platform of clouds and ask: “So, Leigha. Have you lived in alignment with your soul?”
And all I can think is: “Shit! No. I have lived in alignment with Instagram’s bottom line” (or Facebook’s, or Meta’s — same thing).
(How creepy and telling is the name “Meta” btw?)
The decision to take a break from social media came down to the meaning of life.
I desperately want to live a life in service of something greater than myself. And yes, Instagram and the like have been vehicles for sharing a message of wellness and peace via my yoga offerings.
Still, I couldn’t (can’t) shake the idea of being a mere cog in a machine that exists for the soullessly simple purpose of gathering dollars.
To explore this further…
It’s no brainiac insight to see that we’re being duped. If Victor Frankl is right — and I think he is — that human beings’ search for meaning can be the very thing that keeps them alive, well then Meta and TikTok have capitalized by designing the very stage where billions of us seek, develop, perform, and live out our once exceedingly private, deeply personal life’s meaning.
It’s a ruse. It’s a play. And we’re all employing ourselves for free.
2. What my social media break entailed.
I would love to tell you that I pre-planned an experiment, that I set out rules and parameters and a timeline for how I would take a break and when I would return. But that’s just not how this whole thing went down.
It went more like this:
I felt fed up some time early in the year. Rather than stuff that feeling away and charge forward anyway, I went with it. I leaned into it, you could say. I didn’t even delete the apps from my phone. I just stopped opening them.
Now I should tell you what my social media use looks like under normal circumstances. And if you want to skip this whole section and jump to what I learned, it basically boils down to this:
If I’m going to waste time (or pick up toxic vibes) from anywhere, it’s Instagram. All else I can take or leave, except Pinterest. Let me keep my Pinterest.
Instagram is my go-to. I am not a scroller as much as a post-er. I attempt to post on a weekly or at least semi-regular basis because I host a yoga membership site that I believe in, and IG is one good way for me to get the word out.
Still, as much as I try not to get sucked into the scroll, like all humans who have been laser-targeted by algorithms that understand my preferences better than I understand them myself, I will often “bite” on the eye candy before me.
Here and there I’ll find myself scrolling to pass the time or for ideas on accounts that inspire me — usually having to do with veganism, racial justice, humor, the outdoors, and movement.
TikTok is not as much of a temptation to me (yet?), maybe because I am in my forties, though of course that puts me in like the biggest growing demographic for this app.
That said, I once spent three hours rehearsing and editing a TikTok dance that I never posted (I dug it up for you if you want to have a quick laugh).
I will say that part of my frustration with Instagram is that it wants so badly to be TikTok. I mean, if TikTok is so great, maybe I should just forget IG and go gung-ho on TikTok. Ugh.
As far as Facebook goes, we divorced years ago. As cold-hearted as it might make me seem, I was never one to post many personal or family pics on FB because I’d rather do that in group text threads.
I DO use FB for business-related posts, groups, ads, and marketplace. But my use feels controlled and, come to think of it, reluctant.
All of this is to say, it wasn’t hard to not open FB except for the fact that I knew my business growth could suffer as a result of it. More on that below. Spoiler alert. My business did suffer.
Finally, I use Pinterest for decor and home project ideas — yes I fit that stereotypical profile perfectly. I used to love how non-personal and not-promotional it was, but over the years I have grown tired of how it has basically become all clickbait and advertisements. During the time of my social media break, I didn’t open Pinterest either because I simply didn’t want to.
The timeline for my break
All told, I was off social media for a total of three months. I made no announcement. It was totally unceremonious as was my return.
3. So, what was life like without social media?
What did I do instead? (haha)
I am not going to paint some rosy picture of how my social media-free life of three months made me more present in my relationships, relieved me of adrenal fatigue, put me back in touch with nature and my surroundings, and gave me a renewed sense of my priorities — though I suspect it did these things to a degree.
Too many articles out there treat a tech break like some sort of spiritual rite of passage. And look, I get it. We are all unwittingly tasked now with forging a balance between how much we are using tech and how much tech is using us. It’s an important conversation!
But I don’t want to treat this experiment as though I have been treading some moral high ground. That’s not how I see it at all.
You could even argue that the morally superior act would have been to have dived more fully into the public current instead of avoiding it entirely (a focus for another day).
Mostly, my life didn’t change much at all. Maybe I was moving at a slightly slower and natural-feeling pace. Maybe I was getting back in touch with myself and my priorities. Or maybe this was just what I hoped was happening.
To be fair, some things did shift undoubtedly.
- I decided to take my first two weeks off from work for the first time in five years — that was huge.
- I decided to dig into some household projects that have been lingering on the to-do list forever, like touching up the baseboards and clearing out the garage (still in progress).
- I got to spend many moments engaged in good ol’ fashioned play with my four-year old son, though perhaps not more than usual (I love playing with my little dude).
- There’s no doubt the break gave me time to assess my daily actions a bit. It helped me redirect a few things, and — frankly — I started this blog during my break from social media.
So surely there were positives.
But what were the deeper lessons to be had? Read on!
4. What I learned from taking a total break from social media.
I learned just how often I have the impulse to reach for my phone.
I’m under the illusion that I am extraordinarily conscious about my phone use (as I’d guess many of us convince ourselves). This was a chance to get my ego in check and rid myself of the delusion.
The act of touching my phone’s home screen seems to punctuate my days (I’m betting there’s a good chance it punctuates yours too).
- Wake up. Check the time and weather.
- Make coffee. See if any urgent messages came through overnight.
- Take care of morning chores and see what my email inbox looks like today.
- Prepare my son for school and click the home screen… for what I’m not sure.
- Get ready for work, and check email again.
I know you get the picture.
Here is one big highlight that sprung from the hiatus:
I have loved reaching for the phone, noticing what I’m doing, and then just putting the damn thing back down again.
If nothing else, I get a half smile in these moments.
And then I turn to my real life and decide what is truly a priority.
Realizations + insights
I gained the realization that our use is a choice, but it’s a choice we have to fight for.
That’s because it’s a choice that comes soaked with compulsion and is unfairly alluring.
In the moments that we do succeed in separating ourselves from impulse, we can bear witness to ourselves once again as the primary orchestrators and agents of our lives.
Going forward, my goal is to embrace this reminder that I am conducting my own life here.
I don’t have to live in reactivity to the tide of self-promotion.
I don’t have to be subject to the guilt that comes along with too little (or too much) participation.
No, in fact I get to be really deliberate about how much effort and how much time I want to spend in the social media current.
It’s okay to dip in with purpose. It’s also okay to step back on land when I need to — even when that means my business isn’t growing at full tilt as is the collective dream and ethos.
A final insight before I get to the impact on my business is that I aim to bring as much consciousness as I am capable of bringing to my many and miniscule daily choices, all of which add up to nothing less than a life.
5. Was my business impacted?
Yes. Yes it was. And not in a good way.
As I mentioned, I rely on Instagram (and also YouTube) to grow awareness of my yoga membership site. Typically, I can expect newcomers on a weekly or even daily basis. I can track how members have found me, and often I will trace a membership right back to my most recent IG post.
It came as no surprise that with a dry spell on IG, I had a dry-ish spell when it came to attracting newcomers, even though new members did manage to trickle in.
There was just less “buzz” around my membership, and I think members felt that.
To be totally transparent, in the year leading up to my social media break, I was experiencing a bit of a plateau in my site’s membership. And as anyone in business will tell you, a lack of growth is the same thing as slow death.
Maybe it’s this plateau that led to my feelings of burnout in the first place, who knows.
What I do know is that, without social media promotion, my period of stagnation became a period of decline.
It wasn’t precipitous, and I wasn’t even alarmed, but it was a decline to be sure.
Despite the (temporary) blow to my business, I was able to stomach falling numbers for a few reasons.
- First, I do believe that growth and breakthroughs come from periods of being fallow. I’d advise any business owner not to fear periods of rest and reflection and in fact I believe they are essential for long-term success.
- Further, I was able to stomach dropping numbers because the pull to take time away was such a strong one. NOT doing it would have been totally inauthentic. Denying myself the opportunity to shut everything down would have run counter to everything I stand for (being true to yourself, showing up as yourself).
- I actually believe that one reason students and practitioners are drawn to my classes is because I tend to be real, grounded and just myself when I teach. I’m not trying to put on some sort of character or show. I couldn’t deny my nature and still show up with integrity. For these reasons, I have faith that the choice to take a break will actually work out for my membership community in the long run.
- Finally, I had the feeling I wasn’t alone in feeling fed up, overwhelmed, and bitter about social media. It’s always a cherry on top if I can share my experience and have someone else relate or feel heard and seen.
All in all, I feel refreshed as I turn my eyes back to the goal of helping more people and growing my membership.
It may have put a dent in the numbers for now, but I believe the break will ultimately help me steer the ship with more clarity and confidence as I sail forward.
I hate to say it, but social media really does offer lifeblood to my business. For better or worse, people find me through its matrix of recommendations and search results.
I can’t deny that the people who stumble upon my social media feeds are stumbling upon the deep breathing, healthy movement, and hormonal joy that spring from the yoga and movement practices I am privileged enough to offer.
For this reason, it would be unfair for me to conclude that social media is all bad.
Yes, we have the responsibility to manage our use. We must balance how much time we are spending and assess how our use is impacting our lives and our loved ones.
And increasingly, the line between life online and life offline is getting blurred.
Case in point:
It just so happens that Pinterest was the first app I reopened as I slowly merged back into the world of social media use (as of this writing I’m still not back on IG). I turned to Pinterest to refinish an old outdoor porch rocker and to create a sitting area in my backyard.
And it dawns on me.
I appreciate how social media can inspire me to engage in real life.
And that’s the crux here, isn’t it?
It comes back to the big questions.
What meaning are we making with our daily lives?
In the aggregate of moments when we are using our hands and mouths and eyes without rehearsing, in the presence of people and objects with whom we enjoy complicated, sometimes wart-filled relationships, what is it that we are building? What purpose do we serve?
They are questions to keep asking — even when the answers aren’t clear.
Looking to the future
If I have to reckon with my own life and how well I have lived it, I want to know that I lived it with intention and not at the whim of some remote corporate honcho.
I want to know that I lived at least attempting to be of service — totally imperfectly as is the human way.
If I am going to use social media — and I am — you can bet I’ll be asking:
Is this serving my life or robbing me of it?
Is this time spent facilitating my purpose or diluting it?
Sometimes, I assume, I’m going to get the proportion all wrong. I’m okay with that.
And if I find myself walking down a path that is very far from the one I intended, I will not hesitate to unplug it all again for as long as it takes to get back in touch with my own compass.
- I am totally going to plan more breaks and take them intentionally throughout the year.
- It would have been smart to pre-schedule some posts so as not to disturb the flow of my business (but a true disappearing act felt kind of good tbh).
- Shutting it all down is an awesome tool to have in the mental-health toolbox.
Thanks for reading!
I hope your balance is a happy one. We’re in this together.
What is your relationship like with tech and social media? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Leigha Butler is a long-time YouTuber, yogi, momma, vegan, and lover of wellness. She brings her former life as an Environmental Lit teacher to bear on her writings — hopefully to uplift people and planet.
Find her yoga classes on YouTube or take a free trial on her membership site.
Please let’s keep comments uplifting!