How To Follow A Social Media Diet

Book leafs in a heart shape

I’ve always been fairly convinced that nobody would go to their grave wishing they’d spent more time on Twitter. But I don’t mind admitting that over the past year, my addiction to Instagram reached a level where I knew that action was required. When the first thing you do is roll over in bed in the morning, reach for your phone and scroll through photos of friends’ kids/pets/gardens, or swoon over inspirational houses or holiday destinations – well, by any measure, you’ve got a problem.

My Instagram ‘rock bottom’ happened one day just before Christmas, when my alarm went off at the usual time – and when I looked up, I realised I’d just spent an hour and a half on Instagram. I’d been suckered by their clever algorithm into frittering away 90 minutes of my life – and for what…? I wasn’t chatting to my husband, tucked up in bed beside me. I wasn’t reading a newspaper. (Not that I think there’s anything WRONG with not reading newspapers, BTW.) I wasn’t looking up from my screen to take in the beautiful view that I’m blessed with of our ACTUAL garden, out of the ACTUAL bedroom window. I was looking at pretty pictures.

Notwithstanding the fact that I’d implemented ScreenTime on my iPhone – which tells me when I’ve hit a self-imposed limit of a certain number of minutes – I was habitually over-riding the warning by hitting the button that says ‘Remind Me in 15 Minutes’ – or (more likely) the one that says ‘Ignore Limit For Today’. (Initially, I’d gone for a 15-minute limit overall until I realised that was over in the blink of an eye. But I’d been hitting the ‘Remind Me in 15 Minutes’ button four, five times in a day…)

The thing is, I don’t even have a particularly addictive personality. But this was bad – and I remembered a bumper sticker that my late father-in-law had on his car (he was American; bumper stickers are allowed). It read: ‘Turn off TV, turn on life.’ So I decided to adopt a similar philosophy, with Instagram. Living my life, not reading about other people’s – while also dealing with the challenge that I can’t go completely cold turkey on Instagram, because I actually have to use it professionally (@theperfumesociety and @beautybibleofficial). So: here’s how you can do the same, whether your problem is Instagram, Twitter, Facebook (or all of them).

Move your social media apps off your main screen

When you have to search for them, or even swipe for them, it gives you pause for thought. (It’s the social media diet equivalent of putting the biscuit tin in the cupboard.)

Set a timer

By all means use ScreenTime, if you use an iPhone. (It was in the most recent system update.) But pledge to obey it, OR – alternatively – set a timer on your phone that rings when your (personally allotted) time is up. I find that much, much more effective, actually; when you’ve got to leave an app to turn off an annoying alarm, you can’t ignore it – and you then have to make a conscious effort to reopen the app.

Don’t sleep with your phone by your bed

It’s probably emitting all sorts of hideous electro-magnetic radiation, anyway, which we shouldn’t have anywhere near our heads. In the early stage of my ‘diet’ I put my phone in a box on the other side of the bedroom. I’d have to get out of bed to get it (and frankly our bedroom’s so cold – I am married to someone half-Viking – I was reluctant to abandon my hot water bottle to do so). After a while I found this had helped get me out of the habit of rolling over and hitting the Instagram icon first thing, and I could safely return it to the bedside table. And beyond that, once I’d broken the habit of feeding my early morning Instagram addiction even before I’d fed my early morning caffeine addiction (which is of course an entirely different story!), it was much easier to put off my first foray into its photographic joys till later in the day because I wasn’t craving the next serotonin hit.

Make a list of your favourite accounts and restrict your ‘diet’ to these

That way you don’t have to miss out on a daughter’s smile, or your best friend’s latest baking triumph, or news from websites you really, really find valuable (like VH of course!) I’ve actually PRINTED the list of sites to check in with daily (or at least regularly) in order to ensure I’m not missing anything ‘important’, and I keep it handy. (In fact, actively visiting friends’ pages has kept me more in the loop with their lives than I was before – because the algorithm wasn’t showing them to me in my feed).

Give yourself a specific time when you’re allowed to binge

If someone keeps me waiting for an appointment or a meeting, I ‘allow’ myself to go to Instagram and gorge. Ditto: if I’m in the back of a taxi. Otherwise it’s like being told you can’t eat sugar: all you do is fantasise about cakes, sweets and ice cream. It’s easier to resist temptation if you know you’ll be allowed an occasional indulgence.

By all means post pictures – but don’t check on your ‘likes’

I still love taking photos for Instagram – it’s a real creative outlet (I’m a bit of an Annie Liebowitz manquée). And every day, pretty much, I still post something (@jofairley, if you’re interested!) But what I have weaned myself off is habitually checking who’s liked my posts or commented. I check in with that once a day (during that ‘timed’ session) – not every hour or so, as I had been. (To continue the diet analogy, this equates to a few squares of Green & Black’s at teatime, rather than a biscuit on the hour.)

It’s been quite a few weeks since I started this ‘social media diet’ – and it’s worked unbelievably well. I’m confident I’ve conquered that addiction and am not only up to speed on my magazine subscriptions – the media pile was a high avalanche risk, when I started this – but I’ve got through another pile that I’d hidden in a cupboard to stop me staring at them and feeling guilty about NOT reading them. I’ve finished several books (yes, BOOKS!) that I’d never have found time for. My Christmas ‘thank-yous’ were done and dusted in record time (I decided to write those first thing, in bed – and trust me, the feel-good factor exceeded that of Insta-scrolling, which never gave anyone a rosy glow of achievement). And I’ve had some remarkably sparkling conversations with my husband (although we can talk about his iPad Scrabble habit another time). You know what else (surprise, surprise!)? My overall concentration is vastly improved, because I am not constantly answering the tug on my attention from social media.

Let’s face it: social media isn’t going anywhere soon. But as I’ve found out, encouragingly, it is possible to control IT rather than have it control YOU – thereby avoiding a flood of regret on the day of reckoning that you’d frittered away so much time watching other people’s lives on a small screen, rather than enjoying real sunsets, real flowers and real conversations…

New Year’s Habits

a lit red candle surrounded by darkness

Have you ever, ever kept a New Year’s resolution beyond – oh, about 3rd January? Maybe 1st February, if you’re really pushing it? That’s because New Year’s resolutions are often completely unrealistic goals. Going to drop three dress sizes. Going to walk five miles a day. Going to give up chocolate completely. (Were we MAD???) 

 

But what actually works, we find, is to focus instead on getting into good habits. And when you sell it to yourself like that, there’s an implicit sense of forgiving. Fall off the wagon for a day, or eat a Twix, or forget to drink those two litres of water, and it doesn’t feel catastrophic at all. You can just gently nudge yourself to do better tomorrow, rather than feeling like you’ve blown it.

 

Good habits don’t happen overnight, of course. 21 days is often quoted as the minimum, but often it’s longer than that. The average is actually two months – 66 days, to be exact (according to the most famous study into the subject, by University College London health psychology researcher Philippa Lally). But don’t let that put you off. And don’t aim ridiculously high; honestly, it’s the small changes that can make the biggest difference, because they’re achievable. 

 

So, here are our top recommendations for little habit shifts that could pretty much change your life – and your wellbeing levels – by the time 2020 rolls around…

 

Eat every few hours. (Don’t wait till you’re ready to gnaw your arm off.) It’s such a common misconception that skipping meals helps you lose weight. In fact, that’s going to impact on your blood sugar levels, making you ravenously hungry – often turning to caffeine or a sugar hit, as an antidote, keeping you on that rollercoaster. Sometimes, we might feel we need to skip meals because we’re working to a deadline, or because we’ve got a big dinner coming up – but far better to snack healthily. Keep a power bar (not one of the sugary ones), a banana, some almonds or other nuts in your work bag, so that you’re never without something healthy to nibble on. 

 

Make enough dinner to take leftovers to work. It’s so easy to grab a sandwich (always unappetisingly chilled) for lunch, when we really could do better than that. We’re not sure about the concept of meal-prepping on the weekend for the week ahead that is sometimes suggested – we’d rather spend our weekends out there in the fresh air, yomping the hills or planting bulbs, thanks, but what is perfectly realistic is to cook a little more supper and bring the extra to work next day. (Team Beauty Bible does this and Jo’s fridge is home to many a healthy Tupperware-d leftover waiting to be re-heated for lunch!) 

 

Put your workouts in your diary. Think of them as an appointment with your healthier self. We are great believers in the power of self-care. It’s not selfish; whenever we have to take care of anyone else, we need to take care of ourselves, first. (The analogy is that in-flight message which tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself, before helping anyone else.) It can feel hard to squeeze in a workout, or a walk. But if that’s a fixed point in your diary, it’s easier to plan around it. (We generally find that our energy levels are boosted by a power-walk or a yoga class, and that work goes much more smoothly afterwards when we’re back at our desks. So it’s a win-win.)

 

Buy yourself a big water bottle, and keep it on your desk.It’s now possible to get very generously-proportioned water bottles to keep water cool and encourage day-long sipping. You probably wouldn’t want to carry this size around with you (we like the Chilly’s 750ml bottle, BTW), but get through one in the morning and one in the afternoon and you’re two-thirds of the way there with your daily water goals. And whenever you feel stressed, take a glug of water. It’s amazing how it cools the brain as well as the body.

 

Set a limit on social media. We find the new ScreenTime social media limiting app pretty scary, actually, in terms of how quickly we can ratchet up half an hour of scrolling through Instagram pics or watching daft Facebook videos. (We find it much easier to avoid Twitter. Fact: nobody is ever, ever going to go to their grave wishing they’d spent more time on Twitter.) But for 2019, we’re really, really going to try to stick to our self-imposed limit – and maybe even reduce it over time. It’s way, way too easy to get lost in social media – so what we really find helps is having a book or a Kindle or a glossy magazine with us at all times, so there’s no risk of mindless scrolling because there’s nothing else to do. If it’s hard, switch your phone off. You really have to think twice about how important seeing someone’s latest ‘selfie’ is, before switching it on again just to look at that.

 

Above all, be kind to yourself. See above – but you should never, ever feel guilty about carving out time in a busy life just for you. Maybe for a massage. Or a class of some kind. Or even for a nap. We live in incredibly stressful, uncertain times and it’s only by charging up our batteries that we can be expected to cope – so never feel bad about doing the things that help you do just that. And above all, try really hard not to beat yourself up if habits do sometimes slip. Don’t throw your hands up and go, ‘Well, that’s that, then. I’ve failed.’ Just get back on the horse (as Sarah would definitely say), and re-establish your goal. No biggie. 

 

And have a wonderful, healthy 2019, won’t you?

2018: An Accidental Year Off

Clock face surrounded by light flares on blue background

Somehow, we are already at the point in the year where, like clockwork, it feels like December 31st is rushing towards us, yet we have no idea how we got here so quickly (at least I don’t). Most of this year has felt painfully long for me and now all of a sudden it’s almost over and I can’t quite believe it, largely because upon looking back, I see that I accidentally took most of it “off” and I don’t know how to feel about that.

As many of you will know by now from my previous articles (this one in particular), I have been as open as I can be about my struggles this year. One of the feelings that has weighed heavy on me with each passing month is the massive disappointment in myself for all the things I did not and could not do, despite wanting to and even saying I would. Looking back over the past twelve months has been tough because everywhere I look I see all the ways and times I failed myself and other people.

Until recently, I had always relished this time between December into January because I loved looking back at everything that I had accomplished and enjoyed setting new goals and plans for what I would do next. In my article for this year’s January newsletter, I had lots of big plans and ideas that got tossed out the window from the very first day, so this time I want to do things differently. Even though my eternal optimist is somehow still hanging in there (just), I want to go into the last month of this year and the first month of next year just relaxed and open.

I want to try and not judge myself so harshly for the way 2018 turned out and accept whatever may come in 2019. Of course, I have loosely held plans, goals, ideas and dreams, but I am also ready to go with the flow. I am doing this because I realised that the source of my disappointment was the pressure of not being able to live up to the high expectations I had set for myself and I know I’m not the only one that does this.

The social media and comparison obsessed culture we currently live in has made doing our best look and feel completely inadequate. Now it’s like if you don’t blog/vlog every day, constantly churn out “content”, or have multiple ventures and collaborations on the go (a podcast, jewellery/clothes line, book deal, speaking engagement) then you’re not living your best, most fulfilled life. Busyness is still being glorified, yet has anyone else noticed the number of “influencers” and just people who have felt compelled to speak out about much they have struggled this year? It’s all become so exhaustive and I personally cannot continue in this way.

Besides negatively contributing to how I feel about myself, this lifestyle has led me to be the least productive I think I have ever been and it’s mostly because many a time I have been so mentally paralyzed and emotionally overwhelmed with all the things I should and need to be doing that I simply can’t do any of it. My mental health issues this year has meant that instead of throwing myself in to every task until it’s completed like I normally would, I have basically walked away from most obligations and responsibilities in favour of hiding in the comfort of my bed, feeling awful and getting nothing done.

If you find yourself feeling anything like this (exhausted/dejected/overwhelmed etc) as the year comes to an end I can only say, don’t be too hard on yourself. I know so many people who feel like this in some way and we must be kinder to ourselves and each other. Things like taking a social media break, rediscovering my love of reading, taking long walks to clear my head and of course, binge-watching a show on Netflix or Amazon has been helpful this year. It’s all about self-care again (original article here) for me — being mindful, present and listening to my body.

And this is what I mean by accidentally taking the year off. In almost every single area of my life I just “checked out” and I didn’t mean to. Each new week and month I told myself today I would get back to it, but that never happened and now I have to accept that and stop dwelling on all that was not done. It feels massive when I think about it too much. A whole year. Twelve whole months where I didn’t participate in society like I “should” have, but at the same time, if I had, I don’t know what kind of state I would be in right now. Even though this time off was unexpected, it was definitely needed.

Sometimes it can be hard to give ourselves the time we need to be whole and doing things to support our mental and emotional health can seem indulgent and even silly, but I promise you it isn’t. In my time off this year I have done a great deal of thinking (and feeling) and while I have struggled a lot, I know I have gained so much important insight in to my past and who I am. This year has certainly been difficult in more ways than I can talk about at the moment, but I have also learned a great deal and while I’m not at all satisfied with how the year turned out, I managed to make it through and that has to be enough for now.

Why Do I Feel So Ashamed To Be Struggling?

why-do-i-feel-so-ashamed-to-be-struggling

Shame. It’s probably one of my least favourite words, yet it has been on my mind for the last few months. The reason, I think, is because I am currently feeling it more than I ever have in my entire life. It is a scary thing for me to see these words typed out on my screen, but it’s a truth I need to talk about because I know I’m not the only one who has dealt with mental health issues and felt ashamed over it.

This constant feeling of passive shame is something that has been building for the past couple of years. As a woman, I have definitely experienced short-lived bursts of large and small shame throughout my life, but this has been completely different. This feeling is now something that has become so much a part of who I am and I think part of the reason I wanted to share this is so I can finally face it.

For context, this all began in 2016 where things in my life started to very slowly, but surely spiral in a way I had absolutely no control of. I had multiple family members die in quick succession, I was moving around a lot for work and also dealing with a long term relationship break-up. At that time I would have said that I was managing things ok, but I wasn’t. I was depressed without even fully realising it and even though I was able to carry on as “normal” for the most part, I remember feeling increasingly sadder and disillusioned as the months progressed. Then of course the election happened and I cannot pretend that this did not affect me because it did and still does today.

With everything going on personally and globally, I suddenly found that I no longer felt like myself. I looked around at my life and my world and I just could not believe what I was seeing. Every day I tried to tell myself, “tomorrow I will feel better” or “next week will be different”, but I never seemed to be able to get to that sunnier place. I wrote about my struggles a few times last year in The Serious Side of Self-Care, Time – The Best Gift You Can Give Yourself and 28,000 Retweets Later: Letting Go and Looking Forward and it has been interesting to look back at those articles now.

Re-reading the last one in particular, I have to laugh a little bit. Besides not giving up my Twitter addiction (I’m currently at just over 41k retweets), this year has somehow managed to be worse than last! I don’t know why I find that funny, but in this moment I do. I think it’s because I remember having all these grand ideas about how to make this year a good one (I’m an eternal optimist), but it all went wrong from the first second as we rung in the New Year at the hospital because my mum badly broke her wrist three hours before midnight.

If I thought last year was a challenging one, 2018 has superseded that in spectacular fashion. Besides all the global/political events, I now feel worse than I ever have, but not just mentally, I’m also physically ill (it relates to the reproductive health issues I dealt with a few years ago) and have been since March. This year has been a blur of weekly hospital visits and doctor’s appointments, first for my mum and then for me.

As a result of my health and everything going on, this year I have worked less (shame), missed birthdays and weddings (shame), avoided social gatherings (shame), struggled with my skin (shame), haven’t made time to dye my newly sprouted grey hairs (shame), watched too much Netflix (shame) and not really done much of anything “normal” (shame) as well as more things I’m not comfortable mentioning (shame, shame, shame), which has lead to a lot of awkward conversations with friends and colleagues about what I’m “up to” (more shame).

This has also been my most unproductive year ever and of course I can’t help but feel ashamed about that. I have let a lot of people down and said yes to things in the hopes that having an activity or getting back out there would help me feel better, only to find myself unable to go through with them. Home has been a source of safety and comfort for me, but that has meant that I have increasingly withdrawn from socialising both online and in real life.

On the beauty related side of things, I have the longest list of unfinished blog posts and unreviewed products. I know that I am not a professional blogger, but I do feel a sense of responsibility once I accept a product. I hate the idea that I am letting the brands/PR agencies down as well as my readers by abandoning my blog and Instagram account. I also haven’t been able to produce an article for every newsletter this year and when I have done, they’ve usually been late, which I always feel ashamed about when it happens.

I am disappointed in myself (more shame) on top of all the other things I already feel and overall I think I feel ashamed that I can’t just snap out of it. In this fast paced world, having a problem for more than a week feels like a lifetime. I hate how much time I have “wasted” feeling like this and a recent conversation with a colleague just reinforced how impatient we can be when others are struggling. When asked how I was I mentioned that I was still not feeling great and the response was, “oh, you’re still sick?”. This was accompanied by a confused look that instantly made me feel ashamed, which then made me angry for reacting in that way over something that is happening to me.

Society does not give women enough credit for the things we have to deal with on a daily basis and one of them is managing our reproductive cycle and how it relates to our mental health. Depression affects more women than men, but not only that, our monthly cycle affects our hormones and thus our moods, thoughts and emotions. Linked to that, we have the pain associated with our reproductive system like cramps, endometriosis (please read the brilliant article Endometriosis And Me by the lovely Bianca Presto), cysts (what I’m dealing with) or heavy bleeding. Often times we are not facing the world as whole, healthy, happy people, yet we are too ashamed to admit it. I know I was.

I have never been comfortable speaking about private subjects publicly, but that reluctance to open up has also led to more shame and stress as I evasively try to explain my social absence or lack of communication with people without getting too personal. Saying that, those I have spoken to have been immeasurably helpful with their words, support and understanding. If you find yourself in this position in any way for whatever reason, please talk to someone. I truly believe I got as sick as I am now because I tried to hold in everything I was thinking and feeling.

In the end, what these past couple of years have taught me is that I need to communicate more and also be kinder to myself. These things happen and putting so much pressure on myself to carry on like normal just made things worse. I’ll likely (and hopefully) never have a period of time like this again where everything goes wrong all at once, one after the other for so long (coincidentally at the same time as a two year series of eclipses in my sign and opposite sign for all you astrology buffs out there), but if it does, I will not feel ashamed about whatever I am dealing with or for needing help.

Shame is a word I hate because it is almost always unfairly assigned to women and for unjustified reasons. We will all struggle at some point in our lives and that has to be ok because it’s happening to so many people out there right now. Collectively we all need to do better, for ourselves and each other. More kindness, compassion and understanding and less commitment to the wildly outdated and impossible to live up to societal measurements for happiness and success.

I don’t know if I have fully made it out of my “shame spiral” yet or if I can say I feel like myself again, but I am doing some really interesting metaphysical work that has been extremely enlightening and I will talk more about in my next article. I am slowly getting better and I will say that talking does help so if you can, please confide in someone. From the people I have chatted to it is clear that I am far from alone in feeling this way and if you’re feeling the same right now, then you’re not alone either.

Is Social Media Bringing Out The Worst In You?

heart keychain on barbed wire

I have thought about this question a lot this year and have come to the conclusion that for many of us the answer is yes. Now, before anyone gets offended by that, there is zero judgement coming from me and when I say ‘worst’, I’m talking about everything from feeling depressed and anxious because of what you’re seeing online to interactions that are nothing more than bullying. I am also including myself in this observation because aside from a couple of missteps along the way, I also could not be less interested in social media right now because of what’s going on. Read More…