The last few months, I have found myself at war with social media. The time wasted mindlessly scrolling through my social media accounts was really getting to me. I know you can relate… And I started getting mad about it! I know that might seem strange, but I think the anger was due to the fact that I was ‘addicted to the scroll’ but felt almost powerless to refuse its allure night after night.
In desperation, I knew I needed something that I enjoy to sort of ween myself off of social media. So I reverted back to reading actual paper books (something that I have always loved but had gotten away from) and found that it helped tremendously! This might seem crazy, but I think I feel an actual difference in my brain from making this switch. My brain feels kind of hyper and stressed when perusing social media but just more relaxed and calm when reading the text of a story. Immersing myself into a plot seems more like a sedate walk with a friend rather than a frenetic 5am run with my ear buds blaring (which is what scrolling social media feels like to me)! (Side note: I do not actually know what a 5am run feels like! But I can imagine!)
One of the primary problems with the social media situation was that I actually came away from the “free time” feeling worse; I was most often frustrated by either the content on my feeds or the fact that I wasted too much time. Many times, it was a double-whammy and I was frustrated by both! And just the physiology of staring down at a screen with a perpetual crick in my neck was making me crazy! Anyway, the whole experience has made me much more aware of the time I allow myself to spend on social media and of the way I use my free time in general. I came up with some tips for all of us to consider so that we can all be more intentional about how to use our free time!
Here are 8 tips when thinking about your free time:
(Note: This list assumes that spending time with God and His word is not something done in “free time,” but is something that we do our best to prioritize as necessary each day! If this is not something you are already doing, please feel free to add it to the list!)
- Choose something life-giving.
I like the phrase “life-giving” because it really fits the paradigm or perspective that you should look at free time from. I want whatever activity that I choose to engage in to bring goodness, truth or beauty into my life, or to enrich me in some way. I definitely do not want the opposite: for the chosen activity to detract from my life or bring me down in some way. I may really want to just sit down and veg on my Facebook feed; but if I really think about how I normally feel after this, I realize it’s not worth it. If I’m not to the point with self-discipline where I can really only check out my feed for 5-10 minutes, then it might be best not to get on Facebook at all.
- Connect with someone.
This tip is not always one that I myself want to consider, but in light of tip #1, I know it’s an important one. I’m an introvert and tend to want to spend “free time” alone. While this is something I do need, if I always see “free time” as “MY time,” then I’m also being selfish and perpetual selfishness isn’t good for my soul, and it doesn’t make me feel uplifted. So, from time to time, I need to play a game with my son, Grayson, during free time, or play gin (a card game) with Jason. Maybe I need to call or text my mom. Maybe even I just play a short round of fetch with my dog! Whatever it is, if I can just use a little time to connect with someone I love, it’s a win-win.
- Use your hands and give your brain a much-needed break.
In our technologically-advanced world, the most “working with our hands” that many of us do is typing on a keyboard. Gone are the days of yesteryear when our ancestors worked with their hands doing chores from dawn to dusk just to survive. I’m not saying I necessarily want to go back to those days, but I do think that back then, people’s bodies and minds were generally in a healthier place than today.
Here are a few ideas to get to working with your hands: gardening, adult coloring books, calligraphy, flower-arranging, painting, wood-working, crafting, sewing, puzzles… After maybe a little investment on the how-to side of things, I would imagine that many of these tasks could become really enjoyable hobbies! My husband has actually recently found that he really enjoys putting puzzles together. It’s surprising what you will enjoy doing if you just use a little courage and effort to try something new.
- Change your location.
Get off of your couch! Go for a drive in a traffic-free area (if you can find one). Go sit on a bench at the park or the mall and just people-watch, or to a bookstore and peruse the new titles. Just take your lawn chair out to your front yard with an iced tea! Do something to just change up your location! It doesn’t even have to be for a long time, but I can promise you, there is often something very refreshing about just stepping away from “the norm” just because you have the time and you can. I know those of us with families really couldn’t do this every day, but what about once a week? Get wild this week! Give it a try and see if you don’t feel refreshed!
How many of us scroll social media lying down, or with our eyes just barely squinting at the screen? I know I do! Quit doing that! If you are tired – especially if it is nighttime and the kids are already in bed or necessary responsibilities are completed– GO TO BED! There have been so many times that I wake up tired and start the day frustrated with myself because I mindlessly scrolled social media the night before when I could have been sleeping!
There is an underlying belief that somehow we’ve earned some free time once the “day is done,”, and BY GEORGE! we are going to enjoy it! Even if it kills us! Or makes us incredibly exhausted the next day! Trust me, I understand, and I have fallen prey to this idea many times. And actually, sometimes, I think we do need to use some time to remind ourselves who we are outside of our parenting or our jobs or other obligations….sometimes. But a lot of the time, we really do just need to go to sleep. The next day will be so much better if we can start it off well-rested.
- Have “directed” media time.
I’m not here to blast all social media. What I am blasting, is the mindless, time-wasting, black hole we find ourselves in when we become addicted to it. If you do feel like you need some “veg” time, where you can’t really muster the energy to “do” anything else, at least consider directing your media time.
Here’s what I mean by directing our media time: most of the time, we scroll our feeds and just absorb whatever content is presented to us. (How many of us have found ourselves watching random cat videos??) My point is that we didn’t go searching for that content. That actually both scares and angers me a bit. Yes, algorithms, yadda, yadda, yadda. I know there are “forces” presenting us content based on what we’ve already looked at online.
What I’m suggesting, though, is that we just become a little more active on this score. Resist the urge to click on the intriguing pop culture, political, funny, weird, curious things that wind up on your feed. Instead, why don’t you go to a specific website where you trust the content, or head over to YouTube and just type in something that you are truly interested in? Even if it’s just “funny dog videos,” at least you are the one who is in charge of what you’re seeing, not robotic algorithms providing you with inane and seemingly innocuous “suggestions.”
- Focus on gentle enrichment.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, or so they say. Hear me, I’m not saying to work all of the time. But what I am saying is to re-think your free time. Instead of looking at free time as a time to “do nothing” or “zone out,” how about focusing in on a little gentle enrichment?
What I mean is that looking into or practicing or learning about something you’re interested in is a great way to spend some free time. I say “gentle” because it can be casual, slow-paced, life-giving. Take away the urgency, and just do something that enriches you for the sheer pleasure of it. It could be reading books centered on a certain topic, taking an online course just for fun, going to the library or to a specialized store to just look around, or any number of things. You get to be in charge of it. The point is that, at least for me, this way of spending time tends to give me a self-confidence boost as well as giving my brain a little something constructive to chew on. Beats scrolling any day.
- Don’t idolize free time.
I’m not going to get too preachy here, but allow me to gently remind you that the bible tells us that in the last days, people will love pleasure (2 Timothy 3:4). It actually says that they will love pleasure more than God. I would remind all of us not to make free time the only thing that we’re living for or looking forward to every day! In American culture, it’s commonly accepted to “work for the weekend.” I totally understand the sentiment, especially if you’re in the unfortunate predicament of having a job that you dislike. However, I encourage us all to take a more holistic view of our lives and not put free time on a pedestal above where it should be. We want our whole lives to bring glory to God!
I hope you’ve been encouraged to re-think your free time, as I have! It’s easy to fall into the trap of always turning to mindless entertainment when we have some down time. I believe that with God’s help, your free time can become a more God-glorifying, life-giving experience!