How to Take a Social Media Detox and Improve Your Mental Health

Amber Murphy
Amber Murphy

How often do you reach for the phone first thing in the morning and check your Twitter notifications? How often when you’re on vacation are you more concerned about taking the perfect Instagram picture than enjoying yourself? How often are you locked in an internet argument on Facebook? A social media detox gives us a bit of clarity into this.

The amount of mental energy we give our phones, specifically social media, could be put to much better use.

Social media, in its inception, was harmless fun. Now, it has evolved to be part of our daily lives. It’s how we consume most of our information, and it influences everything from elections to public discourse. 

But social media is not real life. As much influence, or seeming influence, it has, it’s a curated and selective sample of what’s actually going on in the world.

Many people are beginning to discover this. There has been a recent trend of people consciously reducing their social media use. Some have even gone full cold turkey and deleted their social media accounts.

However, you don’t need to go cold turkey to experience the benefits of avoiding social media. A social media detox may just be enough for you if you’re experiencing the anxiety and stress that comes with social media use.

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What is a social media detox?

A social media detox is a conscious elimination of social media use and consumption for a set period of time. Generally, most social media detoxes are 30 days, but some people do 7 days or even a year-long social media detox.

Ideally, you’re completely eliminating social media use and consumption. This means deleting and removing all social media apps from your phone, and in some cases where it’s possible, temporarily disabling your social media accounts. 

Why take a social media detox

If you’re here or you’ve been thinking about taking some time off of social media, you should probably do it, and that should be reason enough.

If you feel like social media has taken over your life, if it preoccupies your mind, or if you find yourself constantly and habitually reaching for your phone, these might be signs that it’s time for a break.

Social media detox clears the mind of clutter

Clear your mind

A social media detox gives you a chance to clear your mind. 

We’re sucked into this online world of pretty filters on models and influencers, a friend’s curated version of their life in photos and captions, and news headlines designed to spark an emotional reaction.

This is all a recipe for a disaster when it comes to our mental health. It’s unnecessary clutter, it’s informational junk food, and ultimately most of it is useless to you besides disturbing your tranquility.

Imagine how much better use of your time and mental energy could go into the things you actually care about, or changes you can actually affect on the world. Taking a break from social media gives you a chance to take a step back and really evaluate what’s most important in your life and what is a much better use of your time and mental space.

Take back control of your digital habits

It also gives you back control of your phone and your digital habits. Social media apps and websites are designed to get you addicted to the feedback loops, notifications, likes, and instant gratification it gives you. 

Every time you pull down the screen and refresh, hoping for a new notification or Like, you’re pulling down that slot machine arm hoping there’s something new to stimulate you. And when there’s a new Like, Favorite, or Comment, you get a little bit of a dopamine hit.

This is intentional.

These apps and websites have been optimized and iterated on for years by behavior scientists and psychologists hired by these tech companies to keep you engaged with their application.

Why? So you keep coming back and stay on their platform longer. The longer you stay on their platform, and the more you keep coming back, the more ads they can serve you. The more ads they can serve you, the more money they can make from you.

Keeping you glued to the screen

This creates an incentive for these tech companies to optimize their platforms against the spirit of their original intention or mission. It isn’t really about connecting you with people, it’s about keeping you and your brain addicted.

It gets to the point where you’re no longer really in control of your digital habits. It becomes compulsive. You check your feed first thing in the morning, you check it every time you get a notification, and you’re glued to your screen even when you’re trying to spend quality time with real people.

Finally, the last reason to take a social media detox is simply the benefits of taking a break from social media.

Benefits of a social media detox

So, are there any real benefits to taking a social media detox? What can one expect?

More free time

When you start a social media detox, you may find yourself a little bored. That compulsion to open Twitter or Instagram whenever your phone is in your hand will need to be replaced with something. The amount of time you spend on your phone will have to be used for something else.

Hopefully, something much more productive.

If social media was your way to stay informed on issues you care about, instead of consuming information, why not spend this time taking action and doing something?

If social media was your way to stay in touch with friends, write them a letter or spend more time in person with people you care about.

More free time

Less anxiety

Inevitably, what will happen after a week or so is with more and more mental clutter out of the way, you’ll no longer fall prey to the worry of the day that makes the headlines, feeds or Trends on social media.

With enough time, you’ll find yourself being more positive since social media tends to jade us and make us more cynical.

You’ll also find yourself comparing yourself less to other people. You’ll no longer feel like you’ll have to keep up with the Jones, so to speak.

This will help lower your anxiety significantly. There’s a lot of evidence that suggests most of today’s anxiety comes from social media use and consumption.

Better mornings

Most people check their phones first thing in the morning, and some of those people immediately open up a social media app upon waking. They see that alert and notification and they need to investigate it.

This sets the tone for the rest of the morning, and sometimes even the rest of the day.

Intentionally staying away from social media forces you to use your time either in the mornings, or during your commute to work, or while your morning coffee, in a different way. 

Instead of reading a feed, read a book. Instead of taking some photos for Instagram, take a quick morning walk. Instead of seeing what so-and-so Tweeted, notice what thoughts enter your mind with a morning meditation.

More mindfulness

One thing I’ve found when I’ve had to force myself off of social media for a while, was just how mindful I became of my device usage.

It actually started to bother me.

I caught myself several times, reaching for my phone, scrolling over to an app that I deleted. I found myself compulsively typing Twitter.com into my address bar before stopping myself.

I became much more mindful during this period. I was no longer a zombie scrolling through feeds and moving from one social media app to another without putting much thought into it.

I began to realize just how much mental real estate and time this stuff actually took from me and my life. It was pretty eye-opening. Then I began to think about how many of my friends and family are caught up in this as well. 

It helped me practice mindfulness more in my daily activities and routine. It forced me to be present and actually sit with the boredom and cravings I had.

How to take a social media detox 

Here’s the step-by-step process to take a social media detox. On the surface, it may seem simple, but we’re going to walk through it anyway to ensure you’re set up for success with it.

Tell people

The first step to taking a social media detox is to tell people.

Tell people you interact the most with that you’ll be offline for a while. This will do a few things. 

First, it will keep you accountable. If you’re back within a few days Tweeting or posting photos, the people you told will hopefully call you out on it. This will help you stick with the detox.

Secondly, it will let people know you haven’t disappeared if you wind up sticking with it. Most people won’t really care, and some may not even notice (don’t take it personally!).

Delete the apps and block the websites

Delete Facebook during your social media detox

The next step is to delete the social media apps from your mobile devices, especially your phone. This step is required. I can almost guarantee you that you will not succeed if you keep the apps on your phone during the detox, or you try to rationalize to yourself that you’ll only check them once a week.

For this to work, you’ll need to disconnect completely. If that seems too hard (or even impossible), try a shorter detox. 

You may also want to install an app or tool on your computer that can block out social media websites for you. A few suggestions we like are Freedom and Cold Turkey

This isn’t required, but it’s beneficial, especially if you check social media on your computer or laptop. 

If you’re struggling despite deleting apps, have a trusted family member or friend change the passwords to your accounts, and only give them to you after your detox is over. This is the extreme case, but I thought it’s worth putting it out there for those that need it.

Plan what you will do during your detox

The last step is to plan what you will do during your detox and actually fill your time with the things you plan to do.

You may wind up surprised at how much time you’ll find during the day that you otherwise would have occupied with your social media habit. 

If possible, try to replace your social media habit with something that doesn’t involve technology. I suggest this because using your phone or laptop to replace a digital habit isn’t really productive. 

Some suggestions that I found useful:

  • Reading
  • Spending time with friends and family
  • Learning something new (language, hobby, skill)
  • Working on a side project or business
  • Exercising, gym, yoga
  • Travel during your detox

Also, some of the best times to meditate and practice mindfulness are when you’re bored or have downtime. Go on a meditation retreat as part of your detox if you’re feeling bold.

Read on your Kindle

But if you need to replace your digital habit with a more productive digital habit, here are a few suggestions:

  • Download Kindle on your phone and read books during downtime/boredom instead of looking at social media
  • Listen to podcasts or audiobooks
  • Write
  • Take an online course

How to deal with FOMO

One of the most prominent objections to taking a social media detox is “how will I know what’s going on?”.

Often, there’s this sense of FOMO or “Fear of Missing Out.” For some, social media is how they consume most of their news and stay informed. For others, it’s how they keep in touch with friends they aren’t able to see everyday in real life.

If you feel like you will be out of the loop when it comes to current events and the news, don’t. If something is important enough, you’ll hear about it from a friend, family member, or colleague. Also, most information you consume is not actually informing you. It’s distracting you. 

Even if you follow inspirational people on social media, turn to books, documentaries, and podcasts for a while to learn from interesting people.

Finally, when it comes to staying in touch with people, we could all put a little more effort into it.

During my social media detox, I pen-palled over email with long-distance friends. 

I also picked up the phone and called people every weekend, even just to see how they were doing for 10 minutes. Yes, it confused people at first, but eventually, after I did it every week, it deepened my connection to them. 

Finally, I simply tried to spend more time in person with people. Yes, everyone is busy nowadays, but I still made an effort. 

Your turn

The first step to a successful social media detox is merely trying it. Even if you’re hesitant or unsure if you can do it, try it for a weekend. See how you feel after 2 or 3 consecutive days of being off of social media.

Like how you feel? Try a week and slowly progress to a full month.

Many people find that after their social media detoxes, they never want to come back. It’s often the first step to not only a much calmer and simpler life, but to disconnecting from social media for good.

What do you think? Have you tried a detox from social media before? What happened? Let us know in the comments.

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