Birds sing their hearts out, rain pours from the sky, students buckle and groan under their textbook-laden backpacks, embarking on their last stretch of final exams. Spring has arrived. And with spring, has come Lent. For those who don’t partake of Lent, don’t know what it is, or don’t understand it: Lent is the six-week season in the Christian liturgical calendar year that precedes Easter. Usually during this time, Christians (not all, but many) may be fasting in one way or another. Some fast in terms of their food, but others, not unlike myself, resort to abstaining from something.
The reason for fasting is to realize that our strength does not come from ourselves or the things we give up, but from God. Although I’ve grown up as a strong Christian, I don’t remember actually fasting or abstaining from something during Lent before. I think that it should only be done when your heart is in it, because that is what the Lord cares about.
As for myself, I gave up social media. I deleted all the apps from my phone, signed out of any social media sites online. This included Facebook (both the Facebook and Messenger apps), Tumblr, Twitter, and Snapchat. I allowed myself to check in on Facebook on Sundays on my computer as Sundays during Lent are considered days when the fast can be broken. And, while I know that social media isn’t as tangible as food, fasting from social media was neither inane nor pointless. During this time, there were multiple things that I learned, some things were new realizations and others were re-learned. There were other things that I decided to do with my time, new habits that I’ve been trying to make. Come join me in my list of happenings and realizations during my social media fast.
- I realized that I had an addiction.
I’m serious. Part of me wishes I didn’t. The neurotransmitter dopamine is a chemical in your brain where one of its functions is as a reward signal – it acts as a ‘feel good’ chemical when we do certain things (Floresco 2015). For example, when we get a like on Facebook, we get a surge in dopamine. The problem is, is that with each new like or comment, the feeling of gratification from dopamine is made much easier because our brains will start altering themselves (yes – physically alter) to get this response more easily (Chakravarthy et al. 2010). Think of walking through an overgrown meadow. The more you walk the same path, the easier it is to get from one side to the other.
Before the fast, not unlike others, I had the social media apps on my phone. Each morning for nearly half an hour I would scroll mindlessly through my social media (namely Facebook and Tumblr), checking my notifications. I hadn’t thought of it as an addiction. But once I started the fast, the severity of my addiction – and my denial – revealed itself very quickly. The real temptation hit when I needed to work on assignments on my computer, as my fingers automatically typed in facebook.com at least 12 times within an hour. If that’s not a warning sign, I don’t know what is.
I think part of it was having such easy access. Being able to access every notification on my phone isn’t super healthy for me. It feels similar to the advice: If you want to eat healthier, don’t put the chips within arm’s reach. I don’t think I’m going to add back the social media apps to my phone for a long, long while.
2. I had more one-on-one conversations.
Humans are naturally social. I suppose this sounds a little weird coming from my mouth (or rather, hands, because I’m typing) because my preferred state is to be in my pajamas, reading a book away from other people (and possibly with a bag of cookies/cheetos). But believe it or not, I come out of hiding eventually – and willingly, ready to make conversation. However, I’ve realized over the past few weeks that although I crave some kind of social interaction, social media never filled that void. Not really. Not in the way that I needed. Sure, there’s a rush of dopamine and adrenaline, but those fade pretty quickly.
Within the first few days of giving up social media, I received a text from a friend I hadn’t talked to in almost two years, and had a great conversation. I also noticed my text messages increasing while my energy didn’t decrease. Before Lent, I would have felt drained after texting for over an hour, but during Lent, I craved that conversation. And because I had posted my phone number on Facebook before disappearing, people actually reached out to me. In addition, I also realized how many people’s emails or phone numbers I didn’t have and had been relying on Facebook as my main messaging system. I’m sure my seeing people face-to-face would have increased if I didn’t need to spend so much time on assignments.
3. Social media is actually white noise.
I had thought I was keeping up with the crowd, staying in the loop of what was happening in people’s lives. But I didn’t see the people behind that screen. Did I know who was engaged? Sure. Did I see beautiful landscapes of vacation destinations while I worked away on a paper? Absolutely. But I wasn’t actually physically part of the lives of people I thought I was, nor did we talk regularly. I had replaced real connections with a ‘like’ or a ‘share’.
In having more one-on-one conversations and getting the socialization I truly needed, I realized more clearly that social media was white noise all along. Without it, I could concentrate better on the tasks at hand, and I realized how much of my time was taken up by either being on social media or thinking about it.
It was also white noise for my phone, too. I’ve saved more battery life on my phone during this season. Often I’d have to bring my charger with me to school to make sure my phone didn’t die – but during Lent I never had to charge it outside of my house. That was a nice perk.
4. My procrastination wasn’t due to social media – turns out it’s just me.
Let’s be honest, I’ve blamed my procrastination habits on the existence of social media before. I know lots of people have. It makes sense – it can keep you occupied for hours. But even without the apps to scroll through, I was still wasting my time, just with different things. Solitaire. Writing. Reading. Staring at the wall. Watching Youtube videos. Procrastination is as I stated – a habit.
This isn’t to say I didn’t gain back a good chunk of time than I hadn’t had before. I got more things done. I read more, I wrote more, I cooked more. I had more time in the morning to get ready and prepare healthy meals for the day. And because I ate better – I felt better. I was fairly productive with each day, and I ended up losing 8 pounds.
5. I compared myself less.
I felt better physically, but also mentally. No one can really deny how social media (Facebook in particular) is a breeding spot for low self-esteem. All these friends of mine are getting married, travelling the world, excelling in school, having children, the list goes on. And I see this while I’m in my pjs with my unbrushed hair up in a messy bun and bags under my eyes, struggling to find the motivation to keep working. Offline, I found it easier to just focus on my own path because I wasn’t distracted by everyone else’s. I still procrastinated a bit, but I slept earlier and was able to just breathe and evaluate my own direction – momentarily.
6. People forgot I wasn’t using social media rather quickly.
Within less than a month, I had people that I saw regularly ask me, “Did you get the message I sent you?”, usually to confirm if I could come to a party, or bring something somewhere. And, 95% percent of the time, when I was asked this question, they were referring to Facebook. Unless it was Sunday, I didn’t see their message, which could be unfortunate if I got a message on a Tuesday for a Thursday meeting. This was despite the fact that before I started, I posted that I’d be off social media.
This particular point just taught me that people are more forgetful than you think, and that’s okay. It was a small price to pay for the peace of mind I was able to get back. But if you’re reading this and considering to drop social media for a bit, just keep this fact in mind.
7. I wrote more, I read more, I prayed more, I lived in the moment… and I listened more.
I had stopped journalling before Lent, mainly due to feeling like I didn’t have enough time. During Lent, because I gained back some time, I was able to get back into a bit of journalling. It’s a process. But I love that I was able to have that introspective time and not feel guilty about it. I also read more. I didn’t read much outside of my subway train rides to and from school, but during Lent I read two and a half books. I started writing a story. I also started this blog.
I found that I lived in the moment more. I don’t mean I looked as happy as those women look in period commercials, but I was able to be more mindful throughout the day. Taking pictures to post on social media never even crossed my mind (okay, let’s be honest – I was tempted more than a handful of times). And because I was able to absorb my surroundings with open arms, I felt I was more receptive to God’s word as well.
A few things are in order to help me feel as close to God as possible. Take away distractions. Check. This was easier during Lent. Be comfortable with silence. Check. It can be difficult sometimes, but it’s good for me. Listen. Check. And I was able to do these things over my break.
8. It’s not a quick fix, and it’s harder than you think.
I think it’s also important to note, for anyone who’s struggling in their own relationship with God, that this wasn’t a “Get rid of social media and all your problems will be gone!” time. That’s not how this works. I thought that’s how it would work, but I was mistaken. This was one step in the journey of mastery of the will.
During Lent, I had to reason with myself that sometimes we must challenge ourselves to get where we need or want to be. And I was right. Where I want to be is where God wants me to be. But as long as that’s my goal, there are still miles to go. And each mile will require many more steps.
Thanks for being a part of the journey.
Chakravarthy VS, Joseph D, Bapi RS (2010). “What do the basal ganglia do? A modeling perspective”(PDF). Biological Cybernetics. 103 (3): 237–53. doi:10.1007/s00422-010-0401-y. PMID 20644953. Retrieved 5 April 2017.
Floresco SB (2015). “The nucleus accumbens: an interface between cognition, emotion, and action”(PDF). Annual Review of Psychology. 66: 25–52. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115159. PMID 25251489. Retrieved 5 April 2017.