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Experts weigh in on why you should accept President Nelson's social media challenge and offer tips for success

SALT LAKE CITY — Sunday the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints extended a challenge to the Church's youth to take “a seven-day break from the fake,” calling for a weeklong social media fast.

“I acknowledge that there are positives about social media,” President Russell M. Nelson said. “But if you are paying more attention to feeds from social media than you are to the whisperings of the Spirit, then you are putting yourself at spiritual risk, as well as the risk of experiencing intense loneliness and depression.”

“Much of what appears in your various social media feeds is distorted, if not fake,” he said. “So, give yourself a seven-day break from fake.”

Posts flooded social media following President Nelson’s talk as many expressed that they would be logging off of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms for a week.

We spoke with several professionals who have studied the effects of social media and have compiled four benefits of a social media fast and six tips for successfully completing President Nelson’s challenge.

Here's what we learned about the benefits of a social media fast.

1. A move back to living in the present

Studies, such as a study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology last year, have shown a significant correlation between the amount of time spent on social media and well-being. Dina Alexander, a member of the Church and the founder and CEO of Educate and Empower Kids, said that there seems to be a significant increase in loneliness, depression and body image issues when a teenager spends four or more hours a day on social media.

She said what parents don’t realize is that their child actually resides on social media.

“This is their playground, this is where they talk, this is where they make friends, this is where they lose friends, this is where they bully, this is where they get bullied,” Alexander said.

Taking a break from social media will encourage more face-to-face interaction.

“When we have that break, we use technology and we use our phones more intentionally, we will be more deliberate in what we post, we can realize we’re not just going to scroll, scroll, scroll. ... I’m not going to be on there all day long. I’m going to get on there, share something positive and maybe get off. ... I’m going to be very intentional about the things I post and what I allow myself to take into my spirit,” Alexander said.

Dr. Rob Wright, Robert R. Wright, director of the Health Psychology Emphasis in the BYU–Idaho Psychology Department, said he believes that as President Nelson’s challenge is accepted, people will find greater balance in their lives.

“If we are plugged in all the time, there’s no way to achieve balance and that balance is the major underlying goal, the major thing in health and that goes for physical health, mental health, emotional health. We must have balance,” Wright said.

2. Increased self-discipline

A licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in sexual addiction, pornography and family trauma said that she “wholeheartedly” supports President Nelson’s challenge, citing many benefits she believes participants will discover. The first? Increased self-discipline.

“That’s a real theme of the gospel,” Dr. Jill Manning said. “Many of the laws and commandments and principles that we strive to live help promote this idea of becoming more disciplined and thereby becoming a better disciple.”

She said that as people take part in a social media fast they may recognize how little self-discipline they have when it comes to social media usage.

“I think that’s a lesson in and of itself, to note something and to really realize how compulsive and consuming it has become,” Manning said. “I’ve seen people do media fasts and that awareness in and of itself has been a wake-up call for them where, when the fast is over, they’ve made a commitment to revise or limit more stringently how they’re using (social media).”

3. The principle of sacrifice

Like the traditional fast from food and drink, Manning said that this fast will bring the blessings of sacrifice, which she said “can, if we’re fasting in the right spirit and for the right purpose, draw us closer to Heavenly Father and to, as President Nelson said, the whisperings of the Spirit.”

With this in mind, she said that it is important that those participating in the fast recognize that it is not simply an invitation to turn away from something but rather “an invitation to turn toward something holier and greater and higher.“

“I think when people go into this challenge with that focus, with that spirit of listening to a prophet’s voice and what am I going to turn toward as I make this minor sacrifice,” Manning said, acknowledging that for some it will be a big sacrifice. “It’s really comparable to fasting without a purpose vs. fasting with a purpose. What are we going to do with that time away from something?”

4. Reduced stress

Many studies have researched the effects of social media on stress. In fact, the American Psychological Association devoted its Stress in America survey to taking a deeper look at technology usage and social media’s influence on stress levels.

Dr. Manning said that she believes people will find reduced stress as they accept President Nelson’s challenge.

“There’s a lot of digital stress in today’s world and our young people, our youth, are more inundated with digital stress than generations before them,” Manning said. “It’s unprecedented and it’s 24/7. And I know there are a lot of youth, perhaps even adults, that don’t identify that as stressful because they turn to it to de-stress but we know that’s a benefit. (To take a break from) the mental load and all that’s coming to you in those mediums is really beneficial to the brain and spirit.”

Tips to complete the challenge

1. Prepare before starting

The first key to success in maximizing the benefits of a social media fast should take place before the fast begins, Manning said.

“For people that are really used to having a phone or a device almost like a vital organ in their body, for them to be prepared (knowing that) this type of challenge is going to be a challenge and to not take that lightly,” she said. “There could be some withdrawal in that. ... It’s not uncommon for people to feel almost a heightened sense of anxiety or restlessness initially.”

2. Choose your replacement

Alexander says that summertime is the perfect time for such a challenge as there are many other activities to turn attention toward. She said summer camps and vacations provide “perfect opportunities to step away from technology and get more centered, get back to what makes us really happy, to face-to-face interactions.”

Choosing what will replace the time spent on social media will be key in success with the challenge, Manning said.

“Maybe there’s something as a family you can work on that week, maybe there are some phone calls or contact with others that you can specifically plan,” Manning said. “Think through what would be some constructive, meaningful replacements instead of social media.”

Rhett Mullins, a BYU-Idaho student who assisted Wright, suggested looking at the fast as an opportunity to not only improve yourself but to also help others. Wright also suggested exercise, cooking, reading, practicing a musical instrument, journaling or discovering a new hobby as possible ways to fill the time typically spent on social media.

3. Be aware of your emotions and feeling while you are away from social media

Manning encourages her clients to be aware of how their bodies feel and the emotions they experience as they accept similar challenges.

“For example, if someone is really caught up in comparisons on social media, they may notice as the week goes on that they’re focusing less on how they look and maybe they feel more calm or maybe they feel more fidgety and anxious,” she said.

4. Turn toward something

The thirteenth Article of Faith speaks of seeking after things that are “virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy,” and those are the things Manning said individuals should turn attention toward while participating in this challenge.

“There’s so much good out there and there are so many ways to spend our time in productive channels and veins and so I think coming from a prophet of God, there’s no way that this is just simply an invitation to just turn away from something. It’s absolutely an invitation to turn toward something holier and greater and higher,” Manning said.

5. Pray for help

Sydney Simpson, another student at BYU-Idaho who assisted Wright, said that people pray for help in thinking of new ways to use the time they would spend on social media that they may not have considered on their own.

“I think a prayer can help us remember our goals because it invites the Spirit into our lives, and the Spirit will remind us of all things that we must do,” she said.

Wright said that as people participate in this challenge they will find that “President Nelson knows what he’s talking about.”

“Just like when any prophet has issued a challenge and a warning. When we follow it, we’re going to find blessings. We’re going to find that there’s a reason why they said that,” he said, adding that he believes participants will also find they don’t need social media. “It puts me in touch with a lot of people, which is great but I don’t need it.”

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