Today, social media is how we interact with the world. We do nearly everything online — messaging friends and family, learning new ideas, dating, shopping, reading news and events, and finding community.
As of 2022, users spend an average of two hours and 27 minutes per day on social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook.
But sometimes it can just be too much. Staying so highly connected and being exposed to so much content can take its toll on your mental health, your relationships, and your productivity.
If you’re sensing that you’re using social media too distracting, or are coming away from social media feeling drained, sad, or less positive about the world, it may be time to reevaluate your relationship with social media and take a break.
Here are some tools and tips for how to disengage — and how to return feeling refreshed.
The Benefits of Social Media
Social media, like many other features of modern life, is a tool. It has made connection around the world possible and offers a number of benefits.
Connection: Social media was designed for people to connect with others. Today, the primary reason people use social media is still to keep up with friends and family.
Community: Social media offers a way for people to connect with affinity groups or communities; this can be especially important to those who don’t have in-person access to those communities in their day-to-day lives.
Networking and professional development: Users can network with coworkers, find job positions, or engage in professional development on platforms like LinkedIN.
News: Social media is a primary way people learn news, from updates from their friends to global news stories. One out of every five individuals say they get their political news from social media.
Brand Discovery: 83% of users say they use social media to discover new products or services. Many social media platforms also provide ways for customers to shop directly on the app as well.
Education: From life hacks to fun facts to tutorials, social media can serve as a place to learn something, too.
Entertainment: If you’ve spent any amount of time, for example, watching comedians on TikTok or artists on YouTube, you know that social media can just be for fun!
The Downside — and Darkside — to Social Media
While any technology has its upsides, it can also contribute to more negative effects. These impacts are what may be causing you to question your ongoing social media usage.
Impact on mental health: There have been a number of studies to confirm the correlation between social media use and the impacts to mental health, including increased depression, negative feelings resulting from comparison, higher anxiety, insomnia, and impulsive behavior, and an increase in anxiety disorders. Reasons for these impacts stem from feelings of inadequacy and inferiority in seeing other users’ carefully curated lives online. They also come from cyberbullying — 57% of school-age children say they’ve received abusive comments online.
FOMO: Social media usage can also heighten feelings of FOMO, or the fear of missing out, when someone sees friends and influencers only posting travel, successes, relationships, and other happy (yet curated) content. 62% of Facebook and Twitter users said that when compared to others’ posts, they felt their achievements were inadequate. Additionally, 30% say social media makes them feel lonely.
Overwhelm: It can be overwhelming to be exposed to so much content all at once and try to process what you’re seeing. Today, social media exposes us to everything happening everywhere all the time — both the good and the incredibly bad and violent. These feelings of overwhelm or fatigue can even be compared to PTSD.
Addition: Social media triggers the production of dopamine, a feel-good chemical that’s released whenever your brain makes a connection, learns something new, or when something grabs its attention. But social media is also designed to be addictive with elements like infinite scrolling, auto-play videos, notifications, sounds, bright colors, and other appealing features. A former Facebook employee compared social media to a slot machine that gives you the promise of a reward every time you interact with it.
Recognizing When You Need a Break
Considering all of the above, you may be ready for a break. Ask yourself the following questions if you think it’s time to reevaluate your relationship with social media:
- Do you come away from your interactions on social media feeling inspired, informed, and positive? Or are you drained, saddened, frustrated, overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, angry, or negative?
- Do you find yourself on a social media app, yet don’t remember picking up your phone and tapping on the app?
- Is the amount of time you’re spending on social media taking away from time you used to spend with friends or family, doing schoolwork, or doing other productive activities?
- Are you constantly comparing your life to the lives you see on social media, and think that you could never “catch up”?
- Have any friends or family members expressed concern that you’re on social media too much, or that you talk about what you see there too much?
- Do you have more activities and relationships in real life, or do you conduct most of your life on social media?
- Do you just have a feeling you need to take a break, but aren’t sure how?
If you answered yes to even a few of these questions, it may be time to step away from social media.
How to Disengage and Detox
If you’ve decided that you need a different relationship with social media, it doesn’t mean you have to get rid of your phone and quit social media forever. Here are a few methods of adjusting your habits — and hopefully set yourself up for success going forward.
Make a Plan
The first step is to make a plan for what you want to accomplish and how you want to accomplish it. If you simply want to reduce your screen time each day, what times will be off limits and what times will be designated as social media time? How will you go about enforcing that time limit? How many days or weeks will you reduce your social media consumption?
If you’re planning on completely cutting social media out of your life, choose a time period in which to do so that feels achievable. Detoxing from social media for a full month when it’s such an integral part of your life may seem daunting and set you up for failure. Try starting with one day per week, or practicing a “social media fast” on the weekends and go from there.
Recognize Your Triggers
Next, recognize your triggers for when you engage on social media. Do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling in certain situations? Do you turn to social media as a distraction from school or work? Do you check social media as soon as you wake up in the morning, or before you go to bed? Do you grab your phone any time you’re bored?
Once you recognize your triggers, you can take action to change those habits or fill your time in different ways. Find alternatives to spending time on social media, such as reading, taking a walk, working on a puzzle, or connecting with people in real life. Finding ways to fill your time before you disengage from social media will help make the transition easier.
Limit or Delete Apps
If you simply want to cut back on your usage each day, there are apps and settings you can use to limit your access, like the Freedom app or Cold Turkey. Both iPhone and Android allow users to set time limits on their apps in their settings, after which they’ll be blocked from using them.
You can also delete social media apps from your phone entirely, without deleting your accounts. If you find that you’re constantly picking up your phone and mindlessly tapping, take your apps off your phone for a period of time — you can always add them back in.
You can also change your tech altogether, as there’s a growing trend of Gen Z users are trading their smartphones for “dumb” phones in order to limit their time on social media.
As you embark upon your disengagement or detox, find a friend, family member, or partner to help you out. Be accountable to them about your efforts, and enlist them to help you by checking in with you, holding your phone during non-social media times, or even entrusting them to change your passwords if you really want to log out.
Reevaluate and Return
Finally, choose a time length after which you’ll reevaluate your relationship with social media. You may decide that you really enjoy being off social media, and will continue to stay off of it. Or, you may decide that you want to engage in social media again, with added stipulations or other restrictions that can help you set boundaries for yourself and your mental health. If you return to social media, yet find yourself again becoming anxious, sad, angry, or negative, go back to the detox.
The Benefits of Disengagement
If you’re able to distance yourself for a significant period of time, there are many benefits to disengaging or detoxing from social media.
Free time: Without spending time on social media, you’ll find that you have more free time to devote elsewhere, like to relationships, activities, or new skills. If you use social media as a distraction while working, you’ll also likely find yourself more productive.
Improved mental health: Disengaging from comparison culture and constant bad news can help improve your mental health, reduce your anxiety, and help you feel more at peace. Staying off of social media can even improve your happiness
More connection: Detoxing from social media will give you the opportunity to connect with others in real life. Maybe it’s catching up with friends over coffee, joining a club, volunteering with an organization, taking up a sport, or other in-person activity.
Better sleep: Detoxing from social media can also help you sleep better if you were one of the 70% of social media users who scroll before bed. Not only will the lack of stimulation help you sleep, but the lack of blue light will help you sleep as well.
Decreased FOMO: Once off social media, your likelihood of comparing yourself to others will decrease, as individuals who took a break from social media experience decreased FOMO, and an increase in mental wellbeing and social connection. No longer chasing after what others have can help you better define your own personal goals, values, and desires.
Ultimately, you’re the one who can decide if taking a break from social media is right for you. Taking some of these steps can help refresh both your relationship to and perspective on social media and keep you more connected to what really matters.