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. 

No comments:

Post a Comment