A quick Google search for “digital detox book” pulls up tens of results: Off: Your Digital Detox For a Better Life by Tanya Goodin, How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price, Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Staying off social media is something many have tried to do, and while many have failed, research shows it might be worth it for our well-being to try.
Our relationship with social media has changed monumentally in the last few years. Misinformation on social media is nearly as ubiquitous as factual information from health experts. Early studies on social media during lockdown suggest some correlation between frequent social media use during the events of the last two years and a higher prevalence of mental health issues.
It isn’t just books that want to readdress our relationship with our phones. In 2020, Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma examined our relationship with social media, featuring interviews with tech experts who have worked everywhere from Facebook to YouTube to Pinterest. Their message is clear: social media is having an increasingly damaging impact on humanity. If you feel like you're becoming more and more addicted to social media, the documentary is a healthy reminder of why it's necessary to take a step back from scrolling every so often.
While new research points to the negative effects of using social media, we’ve been having this conversation since Facebook's inception: Is social media hurting us? A 2012 study from Harvard found that sharing personal information on social media taps into the "reward" center of our brain, triggering the same part that's tapped into when taking an addictive substance. In 2019, a study out of Michigan State University found that social media use may negatively impact our decision-making. Specifically, it seemed to correlate with an inability to make good decisions in high-risk situations.
Some report that staying off social media, either a little or entirely has been incredibly rewarding. Jessica, 34, who’s done a social media cleanse, previously told Bustle: “I am also more productive at work because updates are out of sight, and if my phone isn't going off, I'm deep into my computer focusing on my projects.” For Sherrell, 43, detoxing from social media leaves more time to get in touch with loved ones: “I use that fast to reconnect with family and friends. I spend time filling my mental and spiritual tank by reading, meditating, writing, journaling, walking. I usually come back refreshed and ready not only to be inspired by others but to also engage and share."
Whether you need a momentary break or want longer-term ways to combat your social media addiction, here are seven ways you can start to disconnect.
1. Turn Off Your Social Media Notifications
When it comes to stepping back from your phone, Do Not Disturb is your best friend. When you stop notifications from disturbing your normal routine, you might find it easier to concentrate on your daily tasks and not get distracted so easily. Social media notifications are a constant reminder that something is happening in the online world and you might feel like you're missing out. So to quell your FOMO, turn off your notifications. The bonus is, when you do come around to check your social media, you may have a build-up of more notifications which will make it more exciting and will make the experience more rewarding.
2. Limit Your Social Media Screen Time
Set a timer on your watch or phone to limit the amount of time you spend on social media. Your iPhone has the capability in the ‘screen time’ settings to set a hard and fast limit, and while you can work around it, it will prompt you to rethink whether or not you really want to be on Twitter. Choose a limit depending on the severity of your social media dependence — say an hour a day, which equates to seven hours per week — and whenever you check your accounts, start your timer going. When you reach your limit, be strong and don't be tempted to add on extra time. This will be a strong test of your willpower, but it will be worth it in the end.
3. Get A New Hobby Outside of Social Media
What did you do before you had social media? Going outside, roller skating, reading, meeting new people? Think of things that brought you joy before doomscrolling and anxiously refreshing for new notifications, and reintroduce them to your life or pick up a new hobby to fill your spare time. You could learn a new skill or do something you've always wanted to do but never had the time. You'll probably surprise yourself at how much free time you have when you stop mindlessly scrolling through your newsfeed. Plus your new hobby — whether it’s knitting, playing guitar, or cooking — will keep your mind and hands preoccupied when you're craving social media. That being said, resist the urge to share your progress on Instagram.
4. Check In With Friends And Family – Offline!
You can never really know what’s going on with someone from their Instagram feed. Instead of assuming that you’re all up to date with what your friends or family are up to, why not shoot them a text or give them a call? Even if you can't hang out in person safely, you can stay connected without tapping through Instagram Stories. Need to spice up your Zoom happy hour? Try turning it into a weekly game night. Long phone calls may have fallen out of fashion, but there’s nothing more rewarding than really connecting with someone in more than bitesize chunks.
5. Make Social Media A Treat
Look at social media as a treat. You might not buy an artisanal coffee every day or get your nails done every week, but you may reward yourself with these kinds of small treats when you feel like you deserve it. So think of social media in the same way: only allow yourself screen time when you've achieved something or you've done something productive first. This way you might change the way you think about social media. Once upon a time, you would log ‘on’ and ‘off’ rather than constantly staying up to date with everything that’s going on — try to return to this mindset.
6. Delete The Social Media Apps You Don't Use
A common chorus among experts in The Social Dilemma and those who make their money writing digital detox guides is to uninstall apps you aren't using often. Haven't checked Twitter in months? Take it off your phone. It'll remove the temptation, the notifications, and the temptation to scroll mindlessly. If you absolutely need to check it, there's always your laptop. In fact, maybe even delete the ones you do use. Having an extra step to go through when you feel the urge to hate-read someone’s Twitter feed will make you think about whether you need to do it.
7. Go Cold Turkey & Quit Social Media
Depending on how bad things have gotten, it might be time to go cold turkey and stay off social media entirely. If you're spending more time on social media than you are interacting with people in real life, give yourself a reality check by having a holiday from social media. Decide how long it's going to be, inform your friends online how long you'll be away and how they can reach you if they need you in person, and delete your apps. If you normally spend a minimum of two hours on social media per day, you will have an extra 14 hours per week which are totally free to do whatever you want with — letting the world be your WiFi-free oyster.
Additional reporting by Marianne Eloise
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