I was chatting with a co-worker in the kitchen the other day, when she off-handedly mentioned that she was taking a break from Instagram. Surprised, as I had recently seen her post on the app, I looked up from heating my oatmeal and asked her to elaborate. She explained that for her, a social media cleanse solely involved deleting the app from her phone. Fascinated, I began to ponder how different people social media cleanse —and if one method of madness is more efficient than the others.
The only time I truly committed myself to a social media cleanse was the summer between my junior and senior years of college. I had absentmindedly posted an offensive Snapchat story that had led me to question if social media only brought out the worst version of me. It was that disappointment in myself and my moral compass that led me to commit to quitting cold-turkey. I deleted my Snapchat account and deactivated my Facebook. The only thing that remained somewhat active was my Instagram account, which I permitted myself to check via my computer.
I found my social media cleanse freeing, as it truly allowed me to live in the present moment, and for the most part, extinguished my FOMO. I also discovered that the only application I actually missed was Instagram, which I use to curate content that inspires me. After my summer off the grid, I became more rooted in my convictions, and focused on bettering myself as a human being.
But what is it like for others? Here's what social media cleanses mean to 10 women.
1. Elisa, 28
"I work at a digital agency. It can be a challenge to completely 'cleanse' from social media, as it is part our job after all. But my team tries to manage their social time for mental health and sanity in a variety of ways: putting the phone on airplane mode (travel, quiet hours, alone time, for notification free workouts, etc), deleting certain apps for the weekend, going to areas or venues where there is zero service (then you don't have a choice), turning your phone off for extended periods of time (cruel punishment). For the rebels: try simply setting your phone down and ignoring it."
2. Jessica, 34
"When I want to unplug from social media, I first disable the pop up alert setting on my phone. With fewer notifications, I'm less likely to check it. As a second step, I sometimes remove the apps from my phone. I do this because if I have to personally take the extra time to log in on a browser just to post or check updates, I'm less likely to do so. I have found both of these to be helpful in my attempts to get offline. It allows me to be more present and enjoy the moment that I'm in without the need to document it for the public.
"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. It is a little difficult to maintain the abstinence though when I'm hanging with friends and everyone whips out their phones. That's when I feel the pull the most, but it's a small price to pay for the serenity and peace of mind that comes with not logging in."
3. Sherrell, 43
"After a few months [on Facebook], it was time for a social media detox, because if you're not careful, comparison can come in and rob you of your joy in what you have and who you are.
"Since that time I've learned how to unplug and step away. Like a social media fast, because I've learned that social media will always be there but my life is for the moment.
- I notify people online that I will be offline for a while and most times people are very supportive and wish me well during my break.
- I also, notify people that if they need me to just call me. If people don't have my personal number then they are not in my personal circle and that's OK. Some people just Facebook, Instagram Twitter friends and they will be OK with my absence
- Then, I mute all social media notifications during the fast. I will even move all social media apps into a folder on my phone and move the folder to from the main screen so I don't see it when I'm just using my phone to make or receive a call. Just hearing a person's voice during an old fashion phone call can be refreshing.
- When I'm engaged during my break I usually leave the phone in my purse or in my bedroom giving that person or activity my full attention.
"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."
4. Jesse, 33
"At least once a year, I go entirely phone-free for a weekend. I turn it off and leave it at home. This is really hard because I’m on social often for work and clients. It’s a deeper cleanse than just turning off notifications, but it really helps to remind me the world is awesome when you’re disconnected. It also puts my FOMO in check. I try to do this in smaller windows at least once a month, leaving my phone at home when I go out to dinner with my wife or walk the dogs."
5. Katie, 24
"1. [I] turn off notifications on [my] phone: Sometimes it’s not the actual phone that pushes me over the edge, it’s the constant notifications, beeps and alerts that are sent to my phone ... I choose to switch notifications off so I’m reachable by phone, but not across my social accounts; you’ll be surprised how much comfort and peace you get out of this small action.
"2. [I] log out of all apps on social: I sign out of all apps to take away the temptation of going on my phone. If you are going to follow in my footsteps, remember to note your passwords down, particularly if you’re likely to forget them, for when you’re ready to go back online. Delete apps if you know you’ll cave quickly; remember, everything can be restored. However, don’t go cold turkey, do slowly come off each social media channel to wean yourself of social engagement. I’ve noticed that if I stop all at once, I just disappoint myself, get withdrawal symptoms and give in.
"3. [I] Notify those [who] contact [me] regularly: I notify friends and family that I may be less reachable than usual, or less likely to reply to their social media messages, due to my new decision to go offline ... I also think there’s no harm in sending a Facebook post or making an announcement on Instagram to warn everyone I know I’m logging out for a while. If this is a little extreme for you and your small circle of friends, notify them personally and exit group chats on Facebook and WhatsApp.
"Group chats also must be avoided; they’ll land you right back onto your social platforms when someone is discussing something you can’t access. Group chats are a great way to communicate, but they are a major distraction and remaining in them will only lead to curiosity and the inability to stay away."
4. Nicky, 45
"There are many versions of digital detoxing but none of them worked consistently for me. I found that taking an accidentally enforced break from the internet led me to reevaluate what I was doing online, and what else I could be doing instead. Social media was a big part of that.
"For me, as an entrepreneur, I found that I was not only being tempted to spend time catching up with friends on social media but also constantly checking my business social media accounts and emails.
"After the detox, I found that whilst deleting apps from my phone did help (because it puts an extra barrier in the way to getting to the app), it became frustrating from the business point of view when I needed efficient access. I needed to find the right balance for me. And it needed to be long lasting.
"It comes down to putting yourself back in control. How much time do you want to spend on social media? Which social media platforms are getting in the way of you achieving your goals? How would you like to spend your day in an ideal world — how does social media fit in? What's the worst that can happen if you don't get a message for a few hours?
"The effects of my digital detox have lasted. Some of the ongoing habits are: being mindful of checking social media at certain times, not 'all day' — and being clear on the boundaries of business and personal. I love to work, so I did find myself on business social media last thing at night! Leaving devices out of the bedroom so it's not the first and last thing I read. Turning off notifications — although for business social media I do use email alerts and will check at intervals during the day instead. Giving myself permission to 'lose an hour' every now and then, because there are positive reasons for being on social media. It helps me to keep connected with friends who aren't living on the same time zone!
"That's worked for me but we're all different. I focused on what I wanted to achieve and how social media needed to help me, and not get in my way. I couldn't stop completely because social media is part of how I connect with people I work with."
5. Nneka, 25
"I have done a social media cleanse a total of three times since 2014. My first cleanse was of my Instagram account in late 2014. I deleted and deactivated my account. I created a brand new account in early 2015. November of 2017 I deactivated for five months. It worked a great deal for me at the time. I wanted to be free of feeling this need for validation, as well as this need to always want to stay up to-date on posts from others. Now, in 2018, at this current time I have been on a one-week cleanse thus far. I do not have a timeline on when I will return again to my personal Instagram."
6. Debbie, 31
"I can accidentally get swept into social media with all the notifications, but can't afford a long-term cleanse, due to fear of missing out (which I feel like happens with a lot of people). I love going out in nature, so I tried leaving my phone in the car and going for walks around our local Greenway in Nashville, but ended up missing out on photographs of really cool things that were happening in nature, that I could share with the virtual world. I starting bringing my phone with me and posting about some of the cool things I was doing, and ended up back in the black hole. In order to counter this, I bought a cheap used camera that took really good pictures (do your research, before you buy!). This way I could go on walks and snap photos without getting swept into all the notifications. My mind stays clear from distractions, while getting back to the reason I started the non-profit in the first place: nature! I feel like this trick would work for anyone! Find something you love to do, buy a camera (because, let's face it.. we love to document everything for Instagram), and leave your phone at home!"
7. Alison, 28
"I work in public relations and social media, so I feel constantly 'plugged in.' This can make it tricky to cleanse or take a break from it all. I try to take a Sunday afternoon to Monday afternoon break whenever possible (every few weeks.) I mute notifications, post a "Social Media Sabbath" profile picture, and let people who might need to hear from me that I'm taking a short break. If there's something urgent, I'll allow them to send me a message and I'll answer it, but I'm not 'surfing' through the site routinely."
8. Joanna, 29
"When I am sick and tired of being plugged in, I take a solo trip somewhere far and away. I put on my OOO and say explicitly that I will have limited internet connection, and then mute all notifications on every app.
"I have to do this once a year to keep my sanity (next month I'll be doing my cleanse in Japan)! The cleanse is meant to clear my head, help me learn new cultures and find inspiration in new places, so I can return and slay even harder."
9. Danielle, 28
"Every year I take myself on a social cleanse art trip, and this year when I went to Joshua Tree. I decided to do a few things to keep myself to this cleanse. First, after warning family and friends, I turned my phone on 'do not disturb' mode so that literally no one could get in touch with me, not even an app notification. I also do delete some apps that I may be tempted to use i.e. Instagram, dating apps, house-hunting apps. I'm the kind of person who will leave her phone home on a Sunday afternoon, just because I don't need it or want to be accountable for it. So when I go on social cleanses, I really take advantage of going off the grid."
10. Ashley, 36
"When I am offline for a vacation or digital detox, I move all social media apps to a folder then move the folder off of my main screen. I'll usually name the folder something like 'On Detox' so I'm reminded not to open it. Then, I mute notifications so I'm not prompted to open the app and check it. It works for me because it's not immediately visible and when it is visible, I'm given a clear reminder not to open it. Sometimes, I'll even set my iPhone background to a graphic I've created which tells me not to look at social media. It may be easier to just delete the apps but I hate having to set them back up again."
From Social Media Sabbath profile pictures to buying a disposable camera, one thing is clear: Social media cleanses help people recenter, reevaluate, and refresh their lives. So the next time you're feeling wired, try unplugging yourself and spending the time you would have devoted to stalking and posting doing something that you love instead, but never have a spare moment for. In the long run, you'll thank yourself for it.