Sunday 25 February 2024

Social Media Fast - my 40 days offline

 It's Lent!

This is a special time of year for some Christians as we prepare to celebrate Jesus' death and resurrection on Good Friday followed by Easter. 

This time of preparation was traditionally used as a time of fasting, remembering Jesus' 40 days and nights in the desert where he fasted from food and drink and was tested by the devil. 

Since the 300's AD people fasted during lent, and later people would fast from foods like eggs, milk and butter, which is why we make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, to use up these items. 

This Lent I am fasting from sugar and social media, and I want to tell you that so far, just under two weeks in, it has been wonderful.  Some might say I am a bit of a cheat thought because I do indulge in these two vices on Sundays.  Lent is, after all 40 days and nights EXCLUDING Sundays, because on Sundays we celebrate the risen Christ.  I have been using two really good devotionals to help me remain focused and committed to the fast, the first is called Celtic Lent, 40 days of devotions to Easter by David Cole, and the second is called The 40-day Social Media Fast by Wendy Speake. 

I don't want to lecture you about the benefits of giving up sugar, the benefits are pretty well documented (Wendy Speake has also written a 40-day devotional for quitting sugar), what I will tell you thought is that my once a week indulgence of sugar on Sundays is revealing to me how unpleasant an effect sugar actually has on my body.  I can't deny the biscuits, syrup soaked pancakes, Turkish delight and cake have tasted delicious, but I could really do without the sluggish, jittery, dizzy, headachy spell I get afterwards. So far my Sundays have been especially unproductive (aside from writing this blog post of course which is fuelled by an especially delicious pistachio flavoured Turkish delight!) Housework and planning have gone out the window as I have stumbled round the house, face buried in my phone, wondering where I put my cup of tea and trying to pull myself together enough to do something productive. 

Needless to say I hope to persist with abstaining from sugar after Lent is over and continue to benefit from the reduction in sugar spikes, the clearer head and the genuine energy to do things around the house that fasting from sugar has generated. 

What I really want to talk about is my break from social media, not so much what I have gained from not going on, which has been a great deal including more time for reading and looking my children in the face, but more especially what I am NOT missing out on. 

Before Lent I am ashamed to say that I was likely addicted to social media, it was an excellent distraction and diversion from the stresses of home educating four wild boys, staring at Facebook videos, one after the other in an endless reel was a hypnotising, dopamine stimulating, but cortisol inducing way of escaping from life.  I was like a chain smoker who couldn't resist picking up the next cigarette and lighting up, before I knew it I spent an hour lying in bed watching reel after reel, resulting in an even later night (and tired-er morning) as I lay awake for a further hour, overstimulated and unable to sleep. 

Thankfully, unlike withdrawing from drugs alcohol or cigarettes I have suffered from almost no withdrawal effects. For a few days I was compulsively checking my phone for updates and notifications, I still check my phone for messages but its much less often habitually, and I often go several hours without realising I haven't checked my phone. Now, only 12 days later I am not checking nearly as often. 

What I had come to realise before I made my break from social media is that it is almost wholly toxic and bad for us. 

There are of course some benefits, such as finding out about home education and church events, and being able to ask people for help of different subjects, connecting with other people.  This is of course what sold us all on social media to begin with, connection, but for me, that became a much less used resource than the video reels. So, I'm not saying that social media is all bad, but it had become very unhealthy for me. 

I wasn't just watching reels on Facebook, I was also watching reels on Instagram and twitter and spending significant amounts of time reading posts and comments on Twitter.  Thankfully I have never engaged with Tiktok so have not had to deal with that monster. 

I'd say that Instagram was the least toxic of these, the algorithms generally showed me aspirational posts, home education, homesteading and home making ideas.  With these sorts of posts there is always the risk of comparison, the "grass is always greener on the other side" feeling, but generally speaking there wasn't too much horrific content.  I do sometimes fall victim to felling not-as-good-as the women who seem to have perfect lives, but I have enough sense to know that oftentimes we aren't seeing the full picture.

Facebook also has generally inoffensive algorithms, they were much less relevant to me, funny kitten videos, people falling from things, hyper speed cleaning videos, that sort of thing.

By a long shot Twitter was the most toxic.  There were two main types of post that I was being show, first, posts which would provoke me to anger, such as those with an anti-Christian, anti-woman, anti-child message, and second, posts which would shock, upset or disgust.  The algorithms were wild, showing me things I had never searched for, not would ever want to.  I have seen an awful lot of things on twitter that I wish I had never seen, to give you a flavour, I have seen people who were almost certainly being killed, dead babies, women with severe anorexia, images of self-harm, broken limbs and actual p8rn. What is most worrying is that essentially a child could see these things.  As I said, I never searched for any of this content, it was what Twitter decided to show me.

A friend told me recently that this difference between Instagram and Twitter is more common knowledge than I had thought, apparently a post search for "France" or "French" on Instagram would show pleasant photos of baguettes in bike baskets, the pretty Parisian women in front of the Eiffel tower, beautiful French landscapes, delicious food and of course manicures (at least Instagram knows I am a woman!) whereas an equivalent search on twitter would show posts and photos of angry protests, rioting and posts with a generally negative tone.  I did this search myself and found it to be generally true the only thing they had in common was football (obviously the algorithms don't know me THAT well!) The comments section on Twitter is by far the worst place and where I saw the most disgusting, debased content. 

I haven't been able to manage this very well as an adult, I have found myself feeling deeply disturbed, upset, angry, agitated and repulsed by some of the things I have seen, and I'd like to remind you that I have never searched for any of this content.  I am certain that if I had the wherewithal I might have been able to change settings so that I saw less disturbing content, but my point is, children might be seeing this. Children. 

It is hard enough as an adult with a fully developed brain, to extract myself from the endless scrolling.  The videos and images are so stimulating and provoke such an addictive response in the brain that it can be very hard to put down your phone and step away from it. They are designed to be like this, to keep us coming back. If social media becomes an addiction, UK Addiction Treatment Centres says that:

"An addict [social media] will rely on their device compulsively to satisfy a particular need, dependant on social media to feel balanced and functional.  This is because social media use activates those same reward pathways that are triggered when using an addictive substance, such as drugs or alcohol.

When we spend time on social media platforms, our brain releases small bursts of dopamine, as if to reward us for such a pleasurable activity. Experiencing this neurological response can push us to take part in that behaviour again, using social media to seek instant and constant gratification wherever we are."

If social media is so potentially addictive for an adult imagine how much more so it might be for a child. 

What is more the content itself is potentially harmful.  For example seeing pro-anorexia content has been shown to trigger anorexia in those at risk of or recovering from anorexia. There is also evidence that viewing self-harm increases self-harm, and that watching footage of violence can increase aggression even in children. 

Because of the unfiltered nature of social media, which, unlike television has very little in the way of editing and regulation, the risk of seeing harmful imagery is high unless restrictions are in place. 

You can see therefore that I am really not missing anything positive from being absent from social media, and I am benefitting from missing a great deal of nasty and unpleasant stuff.  One weird thing I have noticed since going media-free has been that I have been so so tired!  I have concluded that prior to lent my brain was essentially running purely on sugar and dopamine hits and hyper stimulation from social media.  The screen would keep me up late at night with its over-stimulating and troubling viewing, and in the morning, I'd be so tired, I'd need a boost of social media, with it's dopamine hits to switch my brain back on.  However because now I am feeling my tiredness, I am going to bed earlier and getting more sleep. 

It's worth mentioning that social media use has been shown to also increase the stress hormone cortisol, according to behavioural health experts:

"Too much time on social media increases stress levels, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline.  The more you engage in doomscrolling, the more cortisol and adrenaline are released in your brain and body.  This leads to more stress and both mental and physical exhaustion."

It has been a great relief for me to extract myself from all this harmful content, as well as the constant diet of dopamine and cortisol in unhealthy and inappropriately timed amounts.  It has freed me to dig into lots of books, has opened my spirit to more prayer and bible study, turned my face and heart towards my children, turn my body towards housework and even start tackling the growing to-do list.  

I'd like to conclude this post by saying that I'll never become addicted to social media again, that I'm going to use my self-control to only use it appropriately, but I am worried that I won't be able to resist the temptation to scroll once Lent is over.  I really don't want to get into those bad habits.  This post will have to be a "to be continued" type of post and we will have to wait and see, though probably I'll be too ashamed to mention it if I do get sucked back in. Please do message me if you have any tricks or tips of staying free from social media.

Have you given up anything for Lent? Have you given up social media or sugar? How are you finding it? Let me know. 

Saturday 27 January 2024

Word of the year 2024

 Hi friends,

A belated Happy New Year to you all.  

I love the new start that the new year brings.  I know some people feel that winter is the worst time to begin a new habit, or break an old one, but for me it is the perfect time.  We are passed the shortest day, the evenings are beginning to get lighter, I have seen blossom in a hedgerow and a lamb in a field, it feels like spring is just around the corner, even on the bitterest of frosty days. Hope is in the air.

For many years now I have chosen a "word of the year" to inspire and motivate me, to give me a focus and to help me be more intentional in my goals, choices and with my time.  You may recall last years word was "Joyful"; and if you have been following my blog you might have read my monthly posts where I shared a monthly focus.  These monthly focuses really helped me make progress throughout the year and keep my "word of the year" in the forefront of my mind.  This year I have a new word and a new approach and I hope that me sharing about it here with you might encourage you to choose a "word of the year" for yourself, it's not too late!  It also might encourage you to head over to my Patreon where I recently shared a guide to choosing a "word of the year" for yourself as well as some artwork that you can print and display your "word of the year" on.  

So I am sure you're wondering what my word of the year is this year.  I had been thinking for a while before new years about this word and how it was something I really needed in my life.  It comes off the back of a joyful, but extremely busy and at times stressful year, as well as a year of being sucked more and more into social media based distractions.  I was especially inspired by a post I saw on Instagram by Ancestrally Rooted Mother encouraging us to rest.  

My instant reaction was to think "well how can I possibly do that when I am so busy all the time?"  and Emily very generously responded with this answer: 

Oh, this is a great question! And for me, the answer has been pretty multifaceted and somewhat hard to swallow. First, "the answer" will depend on what is going on in your life. I've had to get honest with myself about what I'm doing to be so busy and why I'm doing it. Sometimes we have things we are doing because we need to and sometimes those things make us busier than we want. But, I've gotten pretty ruthless about the extras. I have a garden and chickens -that's it. Also, I've been leaning more into the community I have available to me - the paid and unpaid. I'm making sacrifices in the things I want to do to make room for building community. We try to do too much alone. And I try to make the activities more restful. Rest doesn't have to equal idle. For me, that has meant getting off my smartphone. I only listen to podcasts occasionally vs all the time. As hard as it is, doing dishes and just doing dishes feels more restful than doing dishes while trying to shove more information in my brain. Lastly, sometimes all I can do is rest in knowledge of what should be. Some years I've had to work more and I've had to just be ok with that. I find the knowledge that I should be resting more restful. And helps me be gentler with myself when I can't keep up or just power through. 

Because of this response I chose REST as my "word of the year".  The mindset communicated by Emily in her reply helped me to form an attitude towards how REST can inform my year and has helped me think about how I can make it work in practical terms. 

I also have to give a shout out to my sister, who, when I told her I was going to be doing a "word of the year" workshop with my good friend Vicki to help me choose my word told me in no uncertain terms that it should be REST! 

For a home educating mother of four children who continues to pile more and more upon her plate you might be thinking that REST was a foolish word to choose for 2024, I am quite obviously a busy person, so what REST looks like for me might not be what REST looks like for other people.  

It might not, for example mean lots of sitting down.  It might not mean spending a lot of time alone or on self-care, and it certainly won't mean lots of long hot bubble baths!

Here is what REST has meant for me so far in 2024:

  • Allowing my mind to rest when I breastfeed the baby by reading the Bible or a book  rather than scrolling social media,
  • Being present and allowing my mind to rest and wander when cooking or going to the toilet rather than filling my mind with noise from podcasts and YouTube videos,
  • Beginning my day in a restful way by preparing for the day and enjoying a book during breakfast rather than scrolling on social media the minute I wake up,
  • Ending my day in a restful way at a decent hour and with a book rather than social media,
  • Recognising that it is ok to just sit down and rest, I do not have to justify resting my body by trying to do something else whilst I sit down, or feeling like I only deserve a rest once I have completed a million and one tasks,
  • Allowing my body to rest by stopping eating at 8pm so my body can have time to heal and repair by resting from digestion at night,
  • Creating a restful, less stressful life by planning and organising my time and creating a meal plan so I am not having to live reactively all the time, which is stressful,
  • Recognising that I don't have to do all-the-things and a rich and joyful life doesn't necessarily come from filling our time with activities,
  • And most importantly, resting in the Lord by passing my burdens onto Him through prayer and remembering that I don't need to worry or stress about my life because he has it in hand. 
Resting in the Lord it the most important aspect of REST this year and I am remembering these Bible verses to encourage me on my journey of restfulness this year: 

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.  (Psalm 62:1-2)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.(Matthew 11:28-30)

I'm also informing my year by remembering that God thought rest was important by giving us a whole day on which to rest: "By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.  Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done." (Genesis 2:2-3) And in Exodus 20:8-10 the Bible tells us: "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it Holy, Six days you shall labour and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work." Also that His son Jesus sought rest.  If Jesus needed rest them how much more surely must we?

I really hope that by the end of this year I can look back and feel less stressed and worn out, that by practicing leaning into the Lord and searching out Him for spiritual rest, I will find myself refreshed, renewed and energised and that I have an attitude of restfulness rather than busyness. 

Friends, please tell me what your word of the year is for 2024, I'd love to hear. 

Wednesday 20 December 2023

Joyful Friendships and Joyful self care - being intentional about experiencing joy

 Aware that the year is coming to an end and that I am two months behind on my posts about my joyful year I have implored myself to open up my laptop and get to work telling you about my joyful focuses for October and November.

As you may remember every year I choose a "word of the year" which acts as a focus and motivation to shape the year ahead.  I use the word to inform my attitude and my actions and I try to think about it's meaning and context in my life. 

Each month of this year I have focused on a different aspect of my life and how "joyful" can influence that part of my life.  In October I chose "friendship" as my monthly focus.  

For a while I had been in a bit of a dark place with regards to friendships, still mourning the loss of some of my closest friends when we moved across the country, and still others moving away, I was starting to feel like no one liked me or my children and I ended up closing ourselves in a bit.  I made it seem like we were busy with other things, but we weren't busy, I was just sad and lonely, and feeling like I wasn't a likable person.  

Luckily (by the grace of God) I decided to claw my way out of this hole I have got myself into, rather than languishing and becoming depressed, and change my mindset and attitude.  I decided to put myself out there again and work harder on my friendships.  I wanted to experience joyfulness in my friendships.

So I committed to going to our groups and meetups whenever we could instead of making excuses and I arranged some meet ups with old friends.  Just the action of doing these things really helped and gave me joy.  Seeing people, making connections and talking to other women all helped me feel better about myself and my capacity for being a good friend to others as well as drawing good friends to me. 

The climax of the month was the Baptism of my two youngest children.  We invited the Godparents who are good friends of ours, some other friends and family and had an absolutely wonderful afternoon together, it warmed my heart so much to be with such special people who had all come to encourage and support us. It was so special. 

November brought a self-care focus.  Self-care is something I am notoriously bad at. I find that there is a little part of my brain which likes to be a martyr and as such feels a strange sense of righteousness in wearing myself to the bone.  Clearly this is not good, it's not what God wants, it's not righteousness at all.  So I made small changes to that in November.  

Self-care is a difficult thing for mothers as so much of our lives require sacrifice for others, it is easy to believe that we don't deserve self-care, or that it is selfish.  But we all know it is important because it helps us be the best versions of ourselves which is what our family deserves. It's a win-win situation.  

The climax of my "Joyful self-care" focus was a visit to "Float in the Forest" which is a flotation tank centre near me.  My sister-in-law bought me a voucher for my birthday and I finally cashed it in.  I spent a blissful hour floating in the dark in a pod of very salty water and took myself out to lunch afterwards where I sat in a cafĂ© reading a book, eating a delicious lunch and feeling very much like Carrie Bradshaw! It felt so good to spoil myself and really relax.  


One of the things I realised over the past two months of joyful focuses is that to have a more joyful life takes intention.  It hasn't just happened because I said the word, it's taken action from me, it's taken work, commitment and planning.  I had to plan my date with myself at the floatation centre, I had to organise the Baptism, I had to make the decision to join meet ups and actually go there.  This year "Joyful" has been my rudder but I have still had to paddle the boat forwards. 

Now we are in December and I am focusing on my family enjoying a "Joyful Christmas".  I'll be sad that this word-of-the-year has ended because it's been so wonderful, but I will reflect on that another day.