Needless to say, social media is all around us today. Even though it barely even existed two decades ago, many of us now make social media the first thing we see when we wake up in the morning and the last thing we see before going to bed at night. Millions of us have a love-hate relationship with social media, and scores of people may even be physiologically addicted to it. But whether you love it or are increasingly frustrated by it, it can be beneficial to do a social media detox every once in a while. Before we discuss how to practically do a social media detox, let’s take a quick look at why you may want to consider doing it. 

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Of course, social media is not inherently bad. The Harvard School of Public Health reports that using social media can in fact have positive consequences for one’s mental health and wellbeing. Having a strong social network, staying connected with loved ones, and reconnecting with those you may not have otherwise are incredible benefits to using social media (when used in a certain way!). 

Social media has also provided oppressed individuals and groups with a voice and platform that was never available to them in the past. We’ve witnessed some extremely powerful social justice movements, which may not have ever taken place at all if it were not for social media. For that, we are grateful.  

The problem, however, is that the positive aspects of social media use can quickly become overshadowed by the potentially negative ramifications of using it. . With each hit of dopamine that comes from posting a photo, getting a “Like,” our brains are slowly being rewired. using social media can literally become addictive with overuse, creating similar issues as other addictions and even leading to withdrawal symptoms when we try to give it up. Many of us crave the scroll, thirsting for more notifications. And so we end up mindlessly scrolling, searching for the next hit… and it often leaves us feeling exhausted and unfulfilled. 

Every week, more research is being released that implicates social media in negative mental health outcomes. One June 2020 study, for example,  reported a 70% increase in self-reported depressive symptoms among participants who use social media. In addition to triggering sadness, social media has also been linked to greater feelings of loneliness and social isolation

Not to mention some of the other problems that social media apps present to us as individuals and as a society. As the popular 2020 Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma warned us: the social media apps we use are a risk to our privacy, intentionally and constantly manipulating our experiences to keep us engaged (so they can sell more ads), and deepening our biases by eliminating alternative viewpoints from our feeds, leaving us in dangerous echo chambers. Many psychologists, sociologists, and Silicon Valley tech gurus believe that the way social media apps are built is a large part of what is causing the deep divides that we see in civic life today.

But, there is good news: many of these problems can be reversed or minimized. 

Take Back Your Mental Health

Research supports the idea that limiting social media use can decrease those feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Taking a break from social media, either for a certain amount of time or for good, can give your brain and chance to rewire itself back to normal and bring you back to reality. 

After we get over the initial withdrawal, quitting or decreasing our social media use can leave you with much better focus, restored self-esteem, skyrocketed productivity, decreased anxiety and depression, increased moment-to-moment happiness, and greater perspective and gratitude for your surroundings.

Take Back Your Time 

Feel like you don’t have enough time in the day? Most people are spending a lot more time on social media than they think—an average of 144 minutes per day, or 2.4 hours! Imagine what you could do with all that extra time: reading books, exercising, starting a new hobby, or spending more time with loved ones. 

So, would a social media detox be a good idea for you? Everyone’s health, habits, needs are different, so do what is best for you. You may want to completely quit social media cold turkey, or you may choose to put boundaries around when and for how long you engage with the platforms. You may choose to do a one week or one month fast, or you may choose to leave the platforms indefinitely!

Whatever you decide, below are some tips to help you detox from social media. 

How to Do a Social Media Detox

#1. Get real. Start by getting honest with yourself about how much time you’re spending on social media. Most operating systems now come with certain Screen Time tracking abilities, which you can access in your phone’s Settings. Or, you can download a tracking app like as StayFree or BreakFree. These apps run quietly in the background, monitoring how much time you spend on social media each day. You may be surprised to discover how much time you spent on those sites!

#2. Make a plan (and stick to it!) Once you make the decision to detox, make a specific plan that feels right to you. Will you start with one day, or one week? What other boundaries will you put in place? If you need to use social media for work, how will you keep yourself in check? Do what feels right to you—then stick to it! 

#3. Plan ahead. Before you start your detox, set yourself up for success by eliminating “temptations.” You can do this by:
– Turning off notifications
– Deleting any relevant apps from your phoneot posting anything in the day or two leading up to the detox period. If you post leading up to it, (If you do, you’ll probablywant to go back to see if people have responded or reacted to your post!)
– Start disengaging a couple of days ahead of time, becoming an observer. 

#4. Write down your “why”. Before you begin, write down a line about why you want to do this detox. Why is it important to you? How do you hope it will improve your life?

When you begin your detox, you’ll probably automatically reach for your phone or try to open a certain app out of habit. This is when you’ll return to your “why.” As you get the urge to log on, read what you wrote down to remind yourself of why this is important to you and get a renewed boost of motivation. 

#5. Announce it. While you don’t have to announce ahead of time that you are taking the social media break, doing so will keep others from wondering where you are and sending out messages to bring you back. It may also inspire others to take a break as well.

#6. Deactivate and sign out of your accounts as needed. Some platforms will allow you to deactivate your account without completely deleting them (which you may not want to do). If you can’t deactivate, just sign out of the platforms on all of your devices.

#7. Find new ways to get your hit. There are so many other ways to send “happy chemicals” to your brain and enjoy the moment. Will you pick up a new hobby? 

#8. Connect with loved ones the old-fashioned way. When you miss connecting with others through social media, choose instead to call, text, or Facetime someone. Get together with friends and family in person, or write a good old-fashioned letter through snail mail!

After the Detox

After your detox, it’s time to evaluate your experience and decide how you will move forward.

Take some time to reflect on how taking a break from social media changed your thought processes, everyday experiences, and relationships to those around you. What was helpful about taking a break? What was unhelpful?

Then, use that information to decide how you’ll move forward. Some may completely pull the plug on their social media accounts, even deleting or deactivating them altogether. Many others will continue using the platforms for their positive benefits, but with more balance and boundaries.

As you move forward, consider how you might help make your social media feeds friendlier and better for your mental health (and others’!). Consider taking a little time to clean up your feed by unfollowing or unliking pages and people who bring negativity or stress into your life. Try to avoid engaging in unhelpful digital debates and comparing your life to others online. Try to develop a mindful habit of catching yourself when you’re scrolling mindlessly for too long, and pay attention to the way your mood changes.  Set limits on the time of day you’ll engage with social media, and avoid it during other hours of the day. 

Will you be doing a social media detox anytime soon? What is your “why”? Let us know how it goes!


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Image Credits: Oladimeji Ajegbile