5 Signs You Need a Break From Social Media
Loneliness is a very real epidemic, certainly exacerbated by the global health crisis related to the novel coronavirus. According to AARP Research, there are two main reasons people in Western society feel the increasing chasm of emotional emptiness: “size and diversity of an individual’s social network and being physically isolated.”(1)
Those of us under the age of 45 may consider our social media platforms as our primary means of engaging in conversation, yet we wonder why we don’t feel more connected. When I was an undergraduate student in psychology, I recall a random fact that has stuck with me throughout these last twenty years: 85% of communication happens through body language, tonal inflection, and facial expressions.
We are essentially missing the mark when social media becomes our main source of interaction with others, because we are only getting 15% of the big picture of human connection.
A few weeks ago, I attended Mass with my husband and children, and I noticed a sadness sweep over my heart, even as we all prepared to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Sitting six feet apart, no singing, no hand holding, no sign of peace, no lingering in the gathering space for chitchat – it all got to me somehow.
We can be surrounded by people, even living in large metropolitan areas, and feel completely isolated and misunderstood. God wired us for human touch – a tap on the shoulder, a hug, holding a hand, stroking a child’s hair – and without it, we are certain to feel the creeping separateness take over our relationships.
Social media was designed to improve our relationships by connecting us globally with family and friends who can’t otherwise regularly stay in touch with our daily lives. As a replacement, rather than supplement, to the ways we engage with those we love, it fails miserably. And its sting is palpable these days.
How do you know if it’s time to take a social media hiatus? If frequency and duration on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram happen to be hours on end, it will likely be more difficult of a discipline to do. Here are some telltale signs it’s time to step away for a while (or permanently, if you choose).
You are experiencing elevated stress in your life.
Our fifth baby was born two days before the nation shut everything down. It was a “normal” transition for our family, but the uncertainty and rapid changes related to the pandemic made our home a place of constant stress. If you find that you are dealing with problems related (and unrelated) to the pandemic or world issues, it might be wise to take a break from posting your thoughts and feelings online for a while. Emotions are highly volatile when we are in duress, and we may unintentionally write something that contributes to the toxicity and negativity on the internet, rather than finding a way to be uplifting and encouraging to others.
You feel depressed, anxious, or compare yourself with others.
Sometimes we look to our online world for comfort and validation during difficult seasons in our lives. I have done this when Sarah is approaching a dreaded surgery. It’s a temporary boost when I see dozens of comments, like, “Thinking of you! You got this!” or “I’m keeping you and Sarah in our prayers. You are an inspiration.”
At the same time, human consolation rarely satisfies the deep need for spiritual nourishment. When we are in a vulnerable state, really the last healthy option is to turn to the invisible faces of online support. It’s all too easy to compare ourselves to those who don’t appear to have the number or degree of struggles we do.
If you are in an emotionally fragile state or are struggling with feeling lonely, anxious, or depressed, it’s best to stay off of social media for a while.
You become angry at what you see or read online.
Sensationalism seems to be the main goal of online news these days. The more shocking or bizarre the headline, the more clicks a website receives. It’s easy to pop onto Facebook for a few minutes while taking a brain break during a hectic day, only to see more dismal information that the world and our nation are on the road to perdition.
Most people are following the bait. But you don’t have to. We always have a choice as to how we will respond to the world around us, especially the aspects of life we cannot control. It’s not worth becoming incensed over the way other people are or aren’t handling the strife in our society. Step away, and you will find restoration of peace in your heart slowly take over.
You are making uncharitable or thoughtless comments.
Probably the most un-Christian thing I see happening on social media is word vomit. I see many Catholic influencers who do not appear to take into consideration the weight of their words. Name calling, cursing, political rhetoric – it’s all part of the noise meant to distract the rest of us from listening to God’s voice. And His is the only one we really need to pay attention to.
So, if you find yourself contributing to the conversation by resorting to politicization or polarization, step away and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. It’s true that you may be called to speak up or speak out in truth, but it must always – and especially during this day and age – be done with kindness and charity.
You are living in fear.
Fear is the greatest tragedy of our modern age, in my view. It is the tactic of the enemy to push us away from God by dwelling on the what ifs and if onlys, by worrying about the terrorization and rioting and isms that hover over us like a heavy cloud. But fear does not come from God.
It is God who calls us to step onto the water, and as my spiritual director recently reminded me, we only start to sink when we take our eyes off of Jesus. Now, more than ever before, it’s time to not only believe in Jesus but to believe Jesus. And He longs for us to trust in Him and place everything in His capable and loving hands.
(1) G. Oscar Anderson and Colette Thayer, “Loneliness and Social Connections: A National Survey of Adults 45 and Older,” AARP Research, September 2018, https://www.aarp.org/research/topics/life/info-2018/loneliness-social-connections.html.