Over the past few years, social media has ruined my life.
Okay, that’s probably an overstatement.
But social media has given me tons of anxiety, at times even triggering bouts of depression. And I can’t stand to think of how many hours I’ve spent scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, when I could have been writing, reading, or doing literally anything else.
Going into 2019 — the year before my debut novel is published — I wanted to prioritize my mental health. But no matter how many strides I made to reduce my anxiety, social media was always there, surfacing my insecurities, doubts, and dread, making them fester.
Something had to change.
I couldn’t leave social media permanently. I work in marketing, so deleting my online presence could potentially hurt my career. And with a novel coming out soon, I’ll want to promote it and give readers an easy way to reach out. I know this isn’t a requirement — lots of successful authors have managed to stay off social media — but… I don’t know, it doesn’t seem feasible. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know.
Either way, I could leave temporarily. In fact, leaving would help me understand what elements of social media I would miss (that spark joy) and what I could live without. And I had a three-month sabbatical planned from my day job to focus on writing. It was perfect timing.
So I took an extended hiatus from social media during this time, starting a month before my leave. For nearly four months,* I didn’t use Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. In fact, I deactivated my Facebook account for most of the time. And I’m not alone — other authors often take temporary breaks from social media; John Green recently quit social media for a full year.
*I made a few exceptions: To reveal my book’s title, when I went abroad and wanted to post pics on Instagram (which I cross-posted to Facebook and Twitter), and to boost a few friends’ book releases or cover reveals.
While there were pros and cons to leaving social media for that long, it helped me understand how I want to use social media with intention — participating in ways that spark joy, and cutting the elements that don’t. I thought of it as KonMarie-ing my social media. (Thanks for the inspiration Marie Kondo!)
In this post, I’ll walk through:
- What about social media sparks joy (for me)
- What about social media doesn’t spark joy (for me)
- Other lessons learned from my social media hiatus
- How I decluttered my social media
I hope that by sharing this with you, you’ll be able to replicate my experiment and determine how you can change your social media usage to spark more joy, and maybe even reduce your stress or anxiety. Keep in mind that my experience is pretty specific to (1) being an author (and part of the writing community), and (2) MYSELF (and my own preferences and anxieties).
What about social media sparks joy (for me)
First, I wanted to examine what exactly about social media brings me joy, so I could figure out how to cultivate my social media presence to ONLY include these things.
Connecting with friends. Not only does social media help me keep in touch with my IRL friends throughout my life, but I’ve also met many of my author friends on social media. And except for the ones who’ve migrated our conversation to Gchat, this is my primary way to keep in touch with them. It’s 100% what I missed most during my hiatus.
Connecting with readers. This hasn’t happened too much on the fiction side yet — though when people have reached out to say they can’t wait to read my debut novel, it sparked LITERALLY ALL OF THE JOY. But people reach out about my nonfiction articles all the time. I love seeing what people have to say and connecting with fans of my work.
Talking about books I love. Before my hiatus, I (finally) started getting into Instagram and #bookstagram, and posting about books I was excited about. I really enjoy doing this, and look forward to cheering on fellow authors as they release amazing books — and when I dive into their backlist!
Sharing book marketing tips. I’ve always loved sharing marketing tips with people, and started my first blog way back when I graduated college to provide free digital marketing advice. (That blog no longer exists, and we don’t need to talk about how long ago that was. 😂) I’ve now worked at BookBub for four years, and sharing book promo advice with the community is something I enjoy — even if it has nothing to do with my day job itself.
Promoting my own book. Err… whether this “sparks joy” is questionable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so excited to share my book with readers. After YEARS of trying to get published, it’s finally happening. But promoting my own book on social media makes me nervous. After all these years of sharing book marketing tips… it’s a lot of pressure, folks. A. Lot. Of. Pressure.
What about social media doesn’t spark joy (for me)
Next, I wanted to identify my main problems with social media, so I could figure out how to avoid them once I eventually ended my hiatus.
WHERE DO I EVEN FREAKING START.
Sorry. Okay. Diving in, then.
The neverending scroll. The sheer amount of content is the main struggle I faced day-to-day. I’d already slimmed back to following a meager ~500 on Twitter, but even that’s a lot since everyone RTs so much. Plus, there are trending hashtags and moments that are oh-so-tempting to click on. I also had hundreds of Facebook friends, was in more than 70 Facebook groups, and followed hundreds of Instagram users. There was a lot of content coming at me from everywhere, and I felt perpetually overwhelmed.
The algorithms. Social media sites make money off of you obsessively checking and engaging with them, and you obsessively check and engage with them more when they surface content that horrifies and outrages you — whether the content is credible or not. Yayyyyyyyyyyyy.
Checking numbers. I hate my habit of checking to see how many likes/shares/RTs one of my posts has gotten. I HATE it. But it’s something I do. I’ve deleted posts that haven’t gotten any likes. (Shame. Shame. Shame.) I know checking stats is normal (and as a marketer, I’m expected to do it!), but it gives me anxiety when I feel like I’m not witty enough, or smart enough, or interesting enough.
FOMO and the need to feel present. I struggle to understand how some people are constantly present online — part of every conversation, in every major thread, on the pulse of all of the news/gossip. I don’t understand how they’re not physically looking at their phone or laptop 24/7. I don’t mean this as an insult or anything — maybe they’re brilliant at time management and compartmentalization. But I just… can’t. I don’t want to spend every waking moment monitoring the conversation. I don’t want to break my IRL plans to do a Twitter chat. I don’t want to feel constantly plugged in. Yet the fact that I’m not as active as others makes me feel flawed — like I’m doing something wrong. Like I’m missing out.
Politics. There’s really no need to elaborate here. 🤯 There are more productive IRL ways for me to donate my time and resources to the causes and political party I believe in.
Everyone is angry all the time. My anxiety just can’t. I’m sorry.
The comparison game. Yeah. I’m not proud of this one. When you’re querying, it seems like everyone else is announcing signing with rockstar agents. When you’re on sub, it seems like everyone else is announcing book deals. After you get a book deal, it seems like everyone else is announcing six-figure book deals or second book deals or foreign rights deals or movie deals and on and on and on. Social media makes it seem like no matter the success you achieve, there’s always another step to climb, and there’s always someone else climbing it first.
Trolls and sockpuppet accounts. It’s happening everywhere, and it creeps me out. *Shudder* Maybe it has something to do with how accounts like these are dismantling our democracy. 😨
Triggering people and/or topics. Sometimes blocking someone, or muting a keyword or hashtag, isn’t enough. For example, if you’ve blocked someone, and one of their tweets explode, and everyone’s quote RTing them — you can still see that there’s a tweet from them, even if it’s an empty grey box. They’re still… there. Also, muted keywords still appear on Lists on the Twitter website or mobile app. And if you google something that stresses you out, there it is to haunt you via Instagram ads, any time. It’s hard to intentionally avoid the things that give you anxiety on social media.
As you can see, there’s more that doesn’t spark joy than there is that sparks joy. But the things that spark joy are too important to leave social media permanently — at least, for me.
Other lessons learned from my social media hiatus
In addition to identifying what does and doesn’t spark joy for me, I took away some observations about what happens when I completely leave social media for months at a time.
I’m more productive. Absolutely zero surprises there.
I’m not as anxious about the fact that I’m anxious. Social media is great for bonding with other authors and commiserating about parts of the publishing process that stress us out. For me, social media is also horrible for this because it validates my anxiety. In other words, it lets me think it’s OK to feel this shitty about XYZ thing, because look at all these other people also feeling shitty about XYZ thing, so it must be normal to feel shitty about XYZ thing. So then I just keep feeling shitty, and watching other people feel shitty, and making no progress toward not feeling shitty anymore. Once I left social media, the things I had been anxious about — things I used to stew over for hours at a time — became fleeting thoughts. I was able to let go of the things that worried me because I wasn’t constantly seeking validation that yes, in fact, I should be worried about those things. This was one of my most valuable takeaways.
People don’t reply to email like they used to. My hiatus revealed how many of my 1:1 conversations took place via Twitter DMs and Facebook chats. Since I didn’t want to tempt myself by logging into those platforms, those communication channels were now off limits. I was able to move some of my conversations over to Gchat, but not everyone uses Gchat. That meant email was my go-to channel to get in touch with people. Unfortunately, people don’t reply like they used to. I’m generalizing here — some authors responded quickly and were my panpals. I was also guilty of letting some conversations fizzle out myself. But for the most part, it would take days or weeks to hear back from people — and sometimes, I never heard back. Social media seems to have snuffed our ability for long-form communication. This made me sad.
I felt like I’d exiled myself. Because email is no longer a reliable communication channel, I felt very removed from the writing community. I missed simply being able to reach out to someone with a question or to say “hi.” I missed seeing what my friends were up to. I missed expressing myself in GIF form.
I still have to work on breaking my habits. Despite my best efforts, there were a few days I let myself get sucked back into Twitter. Let’s just say… it was a tumultuous few months in publishing. On these days, I was definitely more anxious. At this point, I decided to invest in the Freedom app. For a long time I resisted paying for something when I could technically use my own self-control to avoid certain websites, but ultimately I couldn’t control myself. I couldn’t stop checking. I needed a reliable tool to help me break my habit. More on Freedom below.
How I decluttered my social media
From now on, I plan to use social media with more intention, firm boundaries, and lots of filtering and muting.
Overall, I want to continue using social media in those five ways that bring me joy:
- Connecting with friends
- Connecting with readers
- Talking about books I love
- Sharing book marketing tips
- Promoting my own book
My plan to use social media going forward is as follows:
Only use Instagram.
I’m only sort of just kidding. I enjoy Instagram most of all, and do plan to focus mostly on that channel. But I still plan to log into Facebook and Twitter to chat with friends, authors, and readers, so I still needed to declutter those so I can venture onto them while protecting my mental health.
Before I dive in, I want to acknowledge that yes, it would be much easier to simply uninstall Twitter and Facebook and be done with those platforms. That’s always an option for you.
Without further ado, here’s how I decluttered each social platform:
Step #1: Groom following list
I already cut down the number of people I follow years ago, so I didn’t do this step this time around. But if you don’t want to use my list strategy below, and trying to keep up with your feed is bananas, you might want to unfollow folks who don’t publish or share content you find joyful, informative, or otherwise useful.
Step #2: Organize people into lists
I will no longer be checking my home feed. Instead, I’ve organized all the people I want to monitor into Twitter Lists, and will diligently groom these lists. Yes, this will be time consuming, but ultimately will save me from the endless home feed scroll (thus saving time).
Step #3: Migrate to Tweetdeck
I will be using Tweetdeck instead of the Twitter website (so I can avoid that home feed!). Here are my columns in Tweetdeck:
- @Mentions – I broke these out separately from notifications to make sure I don’t miss any messages from friends or readers.
- Notifications – quoted tweets, RTs, likes, and list adds will go here. Here’s what the settings for these two columns look like in case you’d like to replicate:
- Scheduled tweets – Tweetdeck is amazing for scheduling tweets! If I schedule any, I want to easily see them to make any edits or deletions, so this is near the front.
- Lists – I have several private lists for specific groups of people, and a column for each list. I’ve also hidden RTs from each list. This is key to killing the clutter. It doesn’t hide quote RTs — I want to see my friends’ commentary!
- Followers – So I can occasionally see who’s recently followed me, and sort them into my private lists.
- User – In case I need to reference my own timeline (since I’m not allowed to look at Twitter.com anymore).
- BookBub stuff – Some work-related columns you don’t need to know about. 😂
- Trending – I might eventually remove this since these are too tempting to click on, but basically if Trump gets impeached I want to know IMMEDIATELY.
Step #4: Mute and block!
Finally, I will mute and block judiciously. If I get trolled, I’ll block the troll. If something gives me anxiety, I’ll mute the keyword phrase. Twitter chats aren’t really my thing, so I can mute those hashtags, too. So long, FOMO.
You can filter out specific keywords in specific lists, but that can be a lot to maintain, so I just use the main muting feature. I’ve muted hashtags, keyword phrases, and handles (so if someone quote RTs or replies to someone I’ve blocked, I don’t have to see that, either). It mutes these terms and users across all of my Twitter lists — a feature exclusive to Tweetdeck, and not the main Twitter site. You can find this by clicking on the Gear Icon > Settings > Mute.
Caveat about Tweetdeck
Tweetdeck is great on desktop, but unfortunately Tweetdeck no longer supports a mobile Android app, so right now I’m using Tweetdeck in my Chrome app, which isn’t ideal. If anyone can recommend a Twitter app for Android that lets you mute phrases across all Twitter Lists, please comment below!
Step #1: Groom friends list
I used to accept friend requests willy nilly, but thanks to a recent unsettling situation, I realized I have to be more careful about who I friend back. Going forward, I’ll be more diligent about these decisions, but I had to do something about my existing list.
Facebook has a lot of confusing features, so let’s break down the options here:
- Unfriend – Self-explanatory. I unfriended anyone I literally didn’t recognize (maybe I met them at a party once in college?) or whom I wouldn’t even consider an acquaintance.
- Add to “Restricted” list – By adding someone to your Restricted list, they remain your friend but can only see the content you share publicly. If you most recently made a public post, they won’t even notice; it’s a good way to soft “unfriend” someone who might take offense to being axed. I added some acquaintances to this list and unfollowed them (see step #2).
- “See first” – You can choose to show specific people’s content at the top of your newsfeed. I did this for a few BFFs. Debatable how effective this really is.
- Organize into friends lists – Theoretically you can create separate news feeds for separate groups of friends (like Twitter lists), and hide everyone from your main newsfeed to intentionally peruse the content you want to peruse. However, this feature is incredibly buggy, and takes a long time to do, so I attempted this and quickly gave up.
- Content privacy settings – This is helpful for security reasons, but doesn’t impact your own content consumption. I now share content to friends only, and used the “limit past posts” feature to retroactively make my past posts unpublic (except for book-related announcements). I also made all of my old-school photo albums private. Nobody needs to see my college partying pictures. 😂
Step #2: Unfollow people and pages
This is similar to muting on Twitter! To hide someone from your news feed, click the three dots in the upper-right hand side of any post and unfollow the person or page. (Screenshot below shows how to do this, but I didn’t actually unfollow the Animal Rescue League of Boston, where I adopted my cat. 😻)
Step #3: Leave groups
I left 90% of the groups I was in. Before my hiatus, I spent so much time on my groups feed, and it stressed me out most of the time. So any group that I didn’t participate in, I cut. Any group that gave me any sort of anxiety, I cut. I could have just turned off notifications and hidden them from my newsfeed, but I didn’t trust myself not to check my groups feed, so almost everything got the axe. I even moved my street team over to email instead of being a Facebook group. I only remained in my writing group (Clubhouse shoutout!), a local authors group, my old workplace alumni groups, and three publishing-related groups I’ve been in for years and couldn’t bring myself to part from.
Step #4: Set ads preferences
Did you know you actually have some control over the ads Facebook shows you? I didn’t either, until recently. I won’t go into the details of the settings, but basically, go here. Then scour each section and disallow Facebook from letting advertisers target you based on specific interests, advertisers, personal information, or off-Facebook activity (e.g. when you visit a website and then later in the day, oh hey, their ad is in your newsfeed). I disallowed Facebook from showing me beauty, hairstyle, and fashion ads, so I’m excited to save money (and self-esteem points) going forward.
I put the least effort into organizing my Instagram account because:
- There aren’t any organizational features, and you can’t mute by hashtag or keyword.
- The Stories feature isn’t in your face — if you don’t want to look, don’t look.
- I spend the least time scrolling there.
If I don’t like what someone’s posting, I simply unfollow or mute them. I already only follow two hashtags (#bookstagram and #catsofinstagram, if you must know), so nothing to clean up there. As soon as Instagram makes me feel bad, I can more easily set it down than I could Facebook or Twitter. But that’s just me. Lots of people do uninstall Instagram.
Note: Step #4 in the Facebook section theoretically should remove ads you don’t want to see from Instagram — the ads for each run on the same platform. However, the offensive ads disappeared from Facebook, but still show up on Instagram. I’m still investigating why this didn’t work, but if anyone has any suggestions or insights, please let me know in the comments below!
As I mentioned earlier, I started using the Freedom app to block social media sites when I wanted to be productive, as I didn’t always have the self-control to avoid checking them. I love how customizable Freedom is! You can also block sites and apps from your desktop and mobile devices at the same time, so it’s super easy to launch a block session once, and all your vices are blocked everywhere.
Here’s the basic view you’ll have when setting up your block lists; you can choose from the usual culprits, plus add any other addictive website:
Here are a couple of my pro tips:
- Run multiple “block sessions” at once. For example, if you want to block Twitter all day and still have regular writing sprints (with the other websites blocked), set up one block list just for Twitter, and one block list for everything else (it can still include Twitter). Start a 24-hour session using the Twitter block list, and then run regular sessions using your regular block list for your writing sprints. They’ll run simultaneously.
- Schedule recurring block times. If you’re flat out done with Twitter, you can set a recurring session from 12:00am – 11:59am every day of the week and block Twitter for freaking ever. This is an extreme case, obviously — you can also use recurring sessions to block social media from 9 – 5, or during the evenings when you’d rather be spending time with family, and so on.
If you’re interested in Freedom, you can give it a try for free here. I splurged for the Forever plan, which I got at half price using the discount code PRODUCTIVITY. I’m not sure if that code will still work by the time you read this, but they seem to regularly have discounts available!
(Full disclosure: the Freedom links are affiliate links, but that didn’t influence the inclusion of this section.)
This post didn’t include Pinterest, Reddit, YouTube, Tumblr, or LinkedIn, all of which I use to some degree but feel like I have a handle on consumption there, so there were no action steps to take. And I’m sure there are a multitude of other sites I don’t use (Snapchat, Whatsapp, IDontEvenKnow), so this is by no means a comprehensive set of instructions. Again, I just wanted to share my own experience in case it would help anyone else out there.
So how are things working out? So far, GREAT! I’m spending less time on Twitter now than I was before my hiatus; there are some days where I forget to tweet anything altogether. I’m spending basically no time on Facebook; I can log in, post what I need to post for work (or cross-post to my author page), and get out. And I’m enjoying learning more about how to use Instagram. But TBH… ask me again after my debut launches. Debut year is notoriously rife with anxiety, but I’m hoping that by decluttering my social media and making it a safe space for me, I’ll be able to better protect my mental health and reduce some of that angst.
I hope you found this helpful. Here’s to stopping social media from controlling our stress levels! 🥂
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📸 credit: photosforyou at Pixabay