What is a Media Fast, and Why Should You Do One?

by Amy Steinberg Published Jul 3, 2018 Last updated Jul 3, 2018

Fasting has been a trend of late, but it has its roots hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. Religious devotees would choose voluntarily to go without food in order to sharpen their senses, deepen their prayers, and acknowledge their reliance on food. In modern times, people have noticed that occasional fasting can actually have positive effects on the body even when done with no religious intention at all.

Recently, however, the concept of a “media fast” has caught on, where media like television, the internet, and other screen-based media are substituted for food in the fast. The goals, however, are remarkably similar: in noticing how reliant we are on media and remembering how we feel without it, we can make a better, more measured use of media after the media fast.

Rules of a Media Fast

Everyone goes about media fasts differently, since everyone has different affinities when it comes to media. If your problem is checking the news on your phone, deleting those news apps for the entirety of your media fast may be the need. If you tend to watch multiple episodes of shows on a streaming service in a row, that might be the place to target your fast. Some people have to cut down rather than cut out: if checking email compulsively is the problem, you might have to say that a single daily check is permitted for up to, say, 30 minutes.

Another question is how long a media fast should be. Some people find they achieve the results they want with only 7 days, while others need 21 or 30 days to feel like they’ve truly rediscovered what they are like without their media needs. These choices can be determined in concert with your family since a home television turn-off will impact more than just you. If you as a family come to the conclusion that the fast will cover everyone but will be shorter, you may still reap more benefits since you’ll have partners in the endeavor.

Also, it’s important to establish what you are allowed to do: if texting isn’t a problem for you and it is an easy way to communicate with co-workers, keep it in the “can do” column. If you delineate beforehand what you can do and what you can’t do, you are more likely to stick to the fast.

One last practical tip: figure out what you want to do instead of these things. Some studies show that people spend multiple hours a day (millennials come in at 3.8 hours a day) on social media, not even including television. You are likely to have some time to kill if you do this fast, so go ahead and daydream about what you want to get done. If you quit Facebook for a week only to dawdle around on Twitter, you’ll be disappointed.

Reasons Why a Media Fast Might Improve Your Life

You’ll Notice and Critically Evaluate Your Media Choices: Using screens and spending time with media isn’t inherently bad but doing so unconsciously can easily become bad. Most people who try a media fast notice at least two things: how different they feel without media, and how much free time they have without media. After the fast, you’ll most likely go back to using your same beloved media sources, but you may realize that the mood boost from quitting makes it worth it to scale back a little, especially if your addiction includes depressing news sources.

You’ll Evaluate Other Uses of Time as Well: Most of us let work, family obligations, or school creep slowly until they are taking over all of the time we allocate to them and much of our free time besides. When you’ve taken a step back from media, you have a little margin with which to decide about time allocations in other areas of life. Most people are happier if they intentionally choose how they spend their time, even if much of that time is devoted to the work they love. Many people discover they are also more creative and more engaged with their favorite activities during a media fast, which can translate to life after the fast as well.

You’ll Inspire Friends and Family: Many of us are most interested in social media because those we love are already participating heavily in those media forms. If you take a break, there’s a chance you’ll give a friend a silent form of “permission” to take a break as well. A great way to do this is to ask others to join you on your fast and deliberately spend time together, socializing in person. This isn’t meant to deride the community created via screen time, but since most of us can use a break, taking a break together can give some excellent perspective.

For Media that Doesn’t Serve You, a Fast Can Aid in Quitting: Telling oneself that it’s time to quit watching a beloved show or visiting an addictive site is overwhelming, but taking a break from it for a few days is much less so. However, many of us know deep down that our particular media addictions don’t serve us at all, which means that the fast can be a first step to a life without that kind of media. If Instagram, for instance, plays havoc with your self-image, the first month of taking a break from it may be such a positive experience that deleting your account without ever looking at another post will be easier than you think.

Media is essential to much of the modern workplace and relationship-building structure of our society. However, breaks from these forms of communication, entertainment, and knowledge acquisition can prove healthy and centering. As you conclude a media fast, it is very valuable to write down the things you’ve learned from it, as well as a set of goals for how you’d like to use media going forward: what did you truly miss, and what was really quite unnecessary? Living a fulfilling life involves making wise choices, and a media fast can help you do just that.