Why (and how) to set healthy social media limits

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In my post about why I didn’t check email on vacation, I talked about the reasons why you should avoid email on vacation (spoiler alert: you will be more relaxed).

But for many of my colleagues and friends, the thought of taking a “digital detox”: is downright frightening. I totally get it: FOMO has been a part of my life since I was a teenager not wanting to miss a Friday night party. And since much of my social media usage is business-related, there’s the fear of missing out on a business opportunity.

Arianna Huffington—author of the book Thrive, which examines our addiction to productivity—describes our digital addictions perfectly:

“We fear that if we don’t cram as much as possible into our day, we might miss out on something fabulous, important, special, or career advancing.”

Set digital limits—and stick to them

So how do we get ourselves out of this downward spiral of feeling like we always have to be connected? We’re not going to leave behind our smartphones anytime soon. The answer is: creating a healthy relationship with technology.

Like myself, journalist and former editor-in-chief of Glamour and Self, Cindi Leive decided to keep the spirit of her “digital detox” going when she came back from vacation. She says:

“I’m vowing to stay off email for most of my evenings, to keep my phone in my bag, not my hand, more often this year. Anyone with me?”

Yes, sign me up!

Once I became more aware of how often I check my phone—and how most of the time it’s out of habit and not necessity—I knew I needed to set ground rules for my social media usage:

  1. No checking email on weekends.
  2. No phone usage while driving.
  3. No walking and texting.
  4. Minimal phone usage when kids are around.
  5. Minimal social media usage before bed.
  6. Bring magazines or books to appointments.

In general, I’ve gotten myself of the habit of using the phone as “something to do.” As a parent, I know sometimes you desperately need a break from “adulting”—and social media conveniently offers that break—but now I try to grab a magazine or book instead.

Also, if I do happen to be browsing my phone with the kids around, I will include them in the experience by showing them a picture or telling them about an interesting article I read.

Get a little help from your (app) friends

If the thought of going cold turkey on digital scares you, there are apps that track your digital device usage, such as Moment and QualityTime, which can bring you more awareness of how much time you’re spending on digital devices. (Also useful for iPad-addicted kids!)

If you’re ready to go hardcore, there are apps like Flipd that temporarily lock your phone for a period of time-and restarting doesn’t affect it so you can’t cheat.

And tech companies are jumping on board too: Google and Apple recently announced system-level tools designed to help users monitor their screen time and restrict their use of apps. And Facebook and Instagram debuted similar features that will be integrated within their applications. As this WIRED post says, “The implication of these companies’ actions is clear, if softly stated: People want help unplugging from our products, and they are in a position to help.” (Honestly, I’m a bit skeptical, but I will hope that is their intention.)

Remove distractions—but make healthy replacements

Instead of just stopping your digital habits cold turkey, it can help to replace it with something healthier. As Huffington suggests in Thrive:

“Our primary goal shouldn’t be merely breaking bad habits as much as replacing them with new, healthier habits that help us thrive.”

Along those lines, it’s worthwhile to examine how you feel when you use digital devices. For example, if you feel tired and drained after reading your Facebook feed, perhaps your time would be better served doing something that makes you feel uplifted and inspired.

Personally, my solution during my vacation digital detox was to replace the time I usually spent in the evenings on social media with another activity-in my case, reading books or a magazine. And I found that it actually helps me sleep better, since I don’t have myriad thoughts running through my head before bed (which inevitably happens after browsing social media).

Be more intentional

My word for 2019 is “essential” so I decided to apply that advice by doing a clean install on my new phone and only adding apps that are essential-which meant no social media apps.

Now, if I want to post on social media, I have to do it from another device which makes it more intentional (and, I will admit, sometimes frustrating—old habits die hard!) Also, since I can only check social media at certain times of the day, it helps avoid the mindless browsing throughout the day.

And since the habit of checking my phone upon awakening is hard to break, at least now I’m seeing an empty screen-instead of a long list of notifications that puts my brain into “MUST-RESPOND-NOW” mode. This makes for a more peaceful morning and less chaotic start to the workday.

Disconnect to reconnect

This leads me to a last piece of advice about unplugging from Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive:

“Disconnecting from the digital world will help you reconnect to your wisdom, intuition, and creativity. When you wake up in the morning, don’t start your day by looking at your smartphone. Take one minute—trust me, you do have one minute—to breathe deeply, or be grateful, or set your intention for the day.”

I love waking up to an empty phone screen every morning, instead of a list of notifications and the visceral rush to see what I missed out on. (While I was sleeping. Really?)

Everyone’s ideal situation is different, but if you bring more awareness to your digital usage, you will be amazed by how much better you feel.

My 7-year-old has a great habit of saying “Get off your phone and play with me!” or in other words—experience real life outside of your digital devices. Which is a great approach to take, whether you have kids or not.

Lidia Varesco Racoma of Lidia Varesco Design in Chicago empowers organizations to make a change through branding and marketing design. She is also founder of Biz Mama, an online community for moms in business.

Empowering organizations and entrepreneurs to make a change through branding and creative marketing | Work-life champion | Founder of @bizmamas #BizMama

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