My “dry” month of January: what I learned from a month without social media

Then I took a deep breath.

It was January 1, 2022, and my New Year’s “micro-resolution” was to ditch social media for a month. I called it my “dry” January. (Let’s be honest – with the Omicron variant that raged last month, giving up booze was out of the question.)

I knew I would still need to log into my social accounts to watch videos for work. But I wanted — and maybe needed — the relentless, distracting scrolling on social media to stop.

Thirty days later, here’s what I learned.

Scrolling is an addiction

It was mandatory. During the first week of January, I picked up my phone at least once an hour for no reason other than to scroll through my social media feeds. With apps no longer available to open, I hesitated with my thumb above the home screen, unsure of what to do next.

Just hanging up the phone felt like an admission of defeat. Surely there was something else I was using this device every three minutes. I could look in my camera roll to see what I had been up to the past few days. Or browse the CNN app. Usually, I skimmed through previously read work emails to make sure I hadn’t missed anything important.

Does this sound sad to you? It was sad for me.

Scientists have been telling us for years that social media can provide your brain with a steady stream of dopamine, a brain chemical that influences your mood. Dopamine rewards us for pleasurable behavior and encourages us to do more. Not surprisingly, dopamine is also the primary neurotransmitter involved in addiction.
Phone addiction is not yet a medical diagnosis. But I didn’t like the feeling of not being able to control the impulse. And although after a few weeks I picked up my phone less, the ghostly feeling of something I did all the time still lingered.

You can do a lot in minutes

I once read a book called “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think” by Laura Vanderkam. Turns out that’s true, especially if you ditch social media.
Throughout the month, I took advantage of the pockets of time I spent scrolling to check off my to-do list. Moments waiting for the train were spent finishing the last chapter of my book club book. If I had five minutes before going to meet friends, I filled the dishwasher. Waiting in line at the grocery store, I scheduled a repairman to fix the lock on our condo. It was amazing what I could do in such a short time when I had nothing else to distract myself with.

True friendships take time

My husband was away on a month long work trip over the holidays, and when he got back I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. Too bad these roofs have been dismantled. One by one, I sent text messages to his mother and my mother and my colleagues and our mutual friends. A few cramped fingers later, I was done.

It’s not me complaining. I am incredibly grateful to have a support network of family and friends. But cultivating those relationships outside of the fake world of social media takes time and energy. I called and asked how they were doing, instead of just browsing through their stories. I set dinner dates instead of sitting on my couch watching their dinner from afar. Over time, I learned which friendships I would devote that energy to, who would give it back to me, and which friends were mostly online acquaintances.

It's not just love that can break your heart

To be clear, I need both types of friends. I need the ones who send me memes at 1am (how I missed memes!) and I need the ones I can call at 1am when my hubby misses something fierce. A month without social media reminded me how important it is to hang out with my favorite people in real life.

Daydreaming is a decent pastime

Social media isn’t all bad. Yeah, I’m people doing stupid stunts and strangers fuming about their political views. But I also like to follow travel photographers, small house advocates, and do-it-yourselfers who are all more creative than I’ll ever be. I follow a 75-year-old weightlifter on Instagram who could kick my ass. (Apparently 35 is too early to give up and kiss the couch *insert shrug emoji*)

These people inspire me. They help me imagine a world in which I live in 250 square feet without murdering my husband at the foot of a mountain range in Italy, next to a turquoise lake where I paddleboard daily to maintain my abs, in waiting to paint it to dry on my latest craft project.

Without social media, I lost some of those daydreams. That too was sad.

Now that it’s February, I’m bringing back some of the apps. I could use the extra dopamine… and the occasional distraction from the real world.

I will disconnect from those who often lead me into the black holes of discourse. And try tackling my to-do list before I scroll down (hey, I found time to write this post).

I will also intend to make plans to see the people I love in person, often. As much as I love memes, this kind of IRL connection is unbeatable.

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