How Taking a Break from Social Media and Posting Online Helped a Mormon Grandmother-to-be Reconnect
It was in early June that Jana Riess, a journalist, author and book editor, posted her column with the headline announcing that she’d be taking a slight break from writing.
“Summer hiatus,” it said. “I plan to be back in early September with renewed energy and some fresh perspective. Until then, God bless you.”
Jana, a Cincinnati-based Mormon writer and researcher and a popular presence among progressive members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had been running her column, Flunking Sainthood, for 11 years. It first appeared at BeliefNet, a religion news and commentary website, before moving over to the nonprofit, nonsectarian newswire Religion News Service. She was posting new columns eight times a month on top of her work in freelance book editing and research she was conducting for her own book on former Mormons.
But as Jana awaited the birth of her first grandchild and looked back on a column she had written nearly nonstop for its entire existence, she decided it was time to temporarily pare down her writing. She also wanted to tweet less and continue a habit she started last year of logging onto Facebook less — an idea she got after seeing one too many heated or angering posts during the presidential election. Newly vaccinated after having spent more than a year away from loved ones across the country, she was also ready to use her time focusing on reconnecting with people in-person.
"Social media was especially a great tool during the pandemic but I also am a firm believer in taking a step back from it."
“Being a columnist and writer, I have to be scanning social media along with news to keep my eyes peeled for the next story. I find Facebook and Twitter can be very helpful to tapping into what’s going on and I am not at all opposed to social media. Social media was especially a great tool during the pandemic,” says Jana 51. “But I also am a firm believer in taking a step back from it.”
Today, she’s posting to her column space a few times a month at most. Instead of daily or several times each week, she’s logging into Facebook about once a week. Her Twitter account goes silent for days on end.
“I’m much more measured about going online,” she says, “and happy about it.”
Jana's situation is in some ways unique because of her role as a journalist. But it’s also part of a larger trend of people in various communities and professions deciding to step back from social media and online spaces.
In Pew Research Center surveys, about seven in 10 Americans say they have Facebook, with most users saying they log on at least once daily. The site is the most popular social media platform in the nation, with others such as Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and TikTok having relatively smaller followings. According to eMarketer, a research website that’s an offshoot of Business Insider, Americans spent an average of 82 minutes per day on social media last year, an increase over prior years that could be attributed to more time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time, people have also begun to log off. A survey last summer from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that one in five Americans had taken breaks from social media because of stress and tension they experienced on social platforms surrounding the pandemic, the presidential election, and the racial justice movement.
"Stepping away and reconnecting with reality offline is an important step to take for your mental health."
It’s a move that doctors and health experts say can improve a person’s health.
“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by information, opinions, and arguments while scrolling through social media channels,” Ken Yeager, director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience Program at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, said in a statement at the time of the survey’s release.
“Stepping away and reconnecting with reality offline is an important step to take for your mental health. Being constantly immersed in this stressful environment and being overexposed to contentious or traumatic events can make you feel like the world is a less safe place to be.”
For Jana, the move — albeit temporary — from social media and her work online has indeed improved her well-being.
“I write primarily on Mormonism but I also look at religion in general, demographics, and social science. I’ve noticed there have been days where I would have normally been chasing down news to write about and instead have just felt so relieved to be able to log on as a reader and feel no need to respond in any public way,” she says. “Part of my job, too, is looking at what’s happening politically in the country. I have people I care about who have pretty different views politically, so social media and Facebook in particular can become divisive. Sometimes, you just need to step away from the barrage.”