Social media has become an integral part of our lives.
Much like making the first cup of coffee when we wake up, checking our social media feeds to see what is happening in the lives of our family and friends is how we start each day – sometimes before we even get out of bed.
However, the constant overexposure of information often takes a toll on our emotional and spiritual health.
For me, this was an issue I struggled with during the 2016 presidential election.
Feeling exhausted by the heated political posts, comments and arguments, along with constantly comparing myself to others on social media while I was going through a transitional time in my life, I felt as if social media was leaving me fatigued each time I logged on.
That is when I decided to do an experiment. For six weeks, I started to limit the time when I accessed my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to two 15-minute sessions per day.
The first 15 minutes were in the morning after I engaged in the activities that would help me prepare for my day, such as exercising or having morning prayer before work.
The second 15 minutes were in the evening after I had dinner and spent quality time with those in my life.
Additionally, I changed how I had been accessing social media, only doing so through my laptop computer.
Prior to this, I found myself too easily consumed by social media through the convenience of my cellphone app, which became an addictive distraction whenever I found myself standing in a supermarket line, waiting for a friend or someone else to finish a conversation with a third party and, embarrassingly, while I sat in traffic only to be interrupted when the person behind me was honking their horn for me to move.
After six weeks of changing how and when I used social media, I found myself regaining time I had felt I had lost.
I also found myself not as fatigued by the friends I have who constantly share their political opinions, what they were eating for lunch or that one friend who’s always posting pictures of himself on vacation.
Our use of social media can be addictive. And even just limiting your use can take time to adjust.
However, if you are able to go a period of time without it, not only can you improve your emotional and spiritual health, but you can engage in a spiritual practice of discernment and discovery.
Karol Farris, pastor of Bluffton Presbyterian Church in Bluffton, Ohio, engaged in a social media sabbath practice for a week as part of a spiritual care assignment. It allowed her to reconnect with those around her as well as with God.
“Abstaining from social media gave me more time to focus on my own thoughts and on my immediate surroundings: the people or pets in my company, the cool breeze, the beautiful sunset,” she said. “These experiences are underappreciated, if noticed at all, when social media takes over my attention and my time.”
Many different resources help those who wish to alter their social media use as a form of spiritual care in order to enhance their emotional and spiritual life.
One such resource I use is called The Sabbath Manifesto – “a creative project designed to slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world.”
In addition to illustrating the importance of disconnecting periodically from technology, The Sabbath Manifesto promotes an annual event where people disconnect from technology altogether for one day.
This past March, I took part in the challenge and now try to take a technological sabbath one day a week.
Disconnecting from the constant flow of information and sources competing for my attention allows me to re-examine the importance of my family and friends while also finding a deeper connection to the divine simply by being unplugged from all technology.
Technology has given us the tools to connect with one another more easily; social media has given us a way to connect with those in our lives in a much more personal way.
However, creating boundaries and engaging in spiritual practices, such as social media sabbaths, allows us to appreciate technology, but also not let our lives to be consumed by it.
Scripture teaches us the importance of disconnecting as part of a spiritual practice.
Much like when Jesus would disconnect from his followers and friends to go and pray alone, we must disconnect from our followers and friends on occasion too.
“The ability to give attention to our own thoughts and feelings rather than being consumed by posts on social media makes us more spiritually centered people,” Farris said. “The likelihood that we will pray or act in faithful ways seems more possible when we are not distracted by what everybody else is doing with their lives.”
Christopher L. Schilling is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, hospital chaplain, and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserve.