What I Learned From Doing a Social Media Detox

Escape the scroll and detox from the digital world. It's not as scary as it sounds, and ditching social media for a while could do you some good.

Published August 9, 2023
Woman putting her smartphone on wireless charger

Ever find yourself opening your phone to check a notification real quick, then suddenly it's been several minutes -- and you're still scrolling endlessly? Because, same. It's so easy to lose track of time when you're perusing a Twitter feed, drooling over drinks on Instagram, and liking picture after picture of your friend's wedding on Facebook. Or catching up on the latest memes. Or pet accounts.

It all just happens so fast. So fast we might not even think we need a social media detox. But, there are benefits of taking a break from the digital community. In the interest of not giving advice without going throughout, I've decided to step away from social media for a week.

9 Tips for Doing a Social Media Cleanse

Here are a few things I learned during my social media cleanse that might help you.

1. Give Your Friends and Family a Heads Up

Heads up about quitting Social Media

The day before kicking this off, I'm mostly a little blue I won't be able to use BeReal and see what my friends are up to. I don't feel much about skipping Facebook or Twitter for the week, but I'll for sure miss Instagram, too.

I gave friends a heads up about my plans, especially the people I exchange memes and videos with on a regular basis, because I know I'll inevitably get a message asking if I'm okay. That being said, maybe that's a sign I need to step away from the 'gram for a bit. Tell your people about your cleanse; they might even be tempted to join you!

2. Set Ground Rules

Setting ground rules made it easier to go through the process. These ground rules weren't made up as I went. In fact, I set these in place before I even started.

  1. No social media. No Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook, no Threads, no BeReal, no Reddit. Not on the phone nor on the computer. Pinterest is permitted, as I use that as an actual source for current projects, however, I've set a 15 minute time limit each day.
  2. When social media is allowed: I cover college gymnastics for College Gym News and although it's the off-season, I keep up with training updates over the summer and will only use that designated Instagram account to quickly check for any updates. The same applies for the LoveToKnow Twitter account (yes! I am the person behind our tweets!) but with a twist: absolutely no scrolling, only posting.
  3. All social media apps will be deleted off of my phone so there's no easy way to take a quick look at what's happening.

Just to go the extra mile, and because I know myself, I'm also deleting games that I find myself opening mindlessly so I won't have an easy outlet for the lack of scrolling. See you soon, 2048 and Parking Jam.

3. Be Prepared You'll Mindlessly Start Going to Social Media

Day 1 without Social Media

On day one without social media, I was slightly alarmed by the amount of times I started to type Facebook or Twitter before stopping myself. Also, the amount of times I thought, "I should totally Tweet this" or "This would be a good picture for an Instagram story." However, I did take the time to finally, and very, very belatedly start Yellowjackets. And I'm glad I've started that while on a social media hiatus because you can't look away for a second.

Rather than scroll on the phone, I wound up painting my nails while watching tv. Mostly, I missed my end-of-day laying in bed scrollfest that I usually do. Instead, I opted to check out new backgrounds for my Garmin watch since it had been so long since I freshened it up.

4. Find Productive Outlets That Aren't Social Media for Your Updates

Day 2 without Social Media

On day two without social media, I did a quick scroll of the New York Times to see what's going on in the world instead of my morning Twitter scroll to catch up on the news. I definitely accomplished things a little quicker at work because I didn't have those micro-breaks between projects and was able to knock out a few extra things on my to-do list as a nice bonus. Nothing like ending Friday on a high note.

5. Tackle Your Physical Space & Other Projects You've Been Putting Off

Day 3 without Social Media

Saturday I kept busy! I ordered a bookshelf from Amazon on Prime Day, and that arrived late Friday night. I cannot express how often I thought about posting progress pictures to Instagram stories or Tweeting about my now fingerprintless thumbs after finally finishing the assembly. It was nice going out for dinner and very intentionally tucking my phone away.

I intentionally, and with purpose, spent a bit of time on Pinterest to map out how I wanted the office to look as well as finally started piecing together a color theme for the bedroom because the pastel yellow is starting to feel like the Yellow Wallpaper without social media.

6. Treat Your Self!

Day 4 without Social Media

You don't have to go on a shopping spree, but there's nothing wrong with a little reward. I skipped the morning scroll for the Washington Post crossword and slid my bookshelf into place while reorganizing the rest of my office. Of course, I took too many pictures that I then spammed to all my friends to show off my handiwork.

As a reward for the hard work of organizing, cleaning, donating furniture, and returning Amazon purchases, my spouse and I went to a local brewery. But this time I was happy to be under the radar and off the grid.

Quick Tip

It can be hard to take a break from social media, but remember it can be rewarding too. There's something freeing about no one knowing what you're up to. And I no longer had the stress of trying to keep up with Instagram messages and meme threads during.

7. Evaluate Your Shopping Habits

Day 5 without Social Media

Life is starting to feel pretty normal without social media. I swear I can almost remember things better and while I wouldn't say that I'm more present, I do have an easier time recollecting what I've done that day or even the days prior.

Honestly, I miss those mindless, quick games more than social media. That being said, I'm glad I went for it and deleted games, too. Because I know that those would've absolutely become my outlet. Now, when I'm browsing Etsy or Pinterest, it's with intention because there's a concrete reason or image of a room, space, or life I'm trying to define.

The happiness with the disconnect finally outweighs the need to scroll mindlessly. I'd say that I've done far less mindlessly internet window shopping because I don't have so many ads with suggestions that catch my eye. Enough of my "this is actually doing wonders for me" text messages convinced a friend to give a social media detox a try too!

8. Evaluate the Importance of Your Time

Day 6 without Social Media

Weirdly enough, I'm not totally excited for the social media-free days to end. I do miss having a casual Twitter scroll, and I definitely could use Instagram or Facebook to check if a business is on summer break or if there are any events going on, but otherwise, it's been nice to be so free.

More and more I'm narrowing down exactly when it is that I want to turn to social media, and it's helping me to form a loose idea of my social media limits when this is over so I spend less time on my phone. Maybe social media-free rooms, I can't scroll when I'm laying down, I can only scroll if I'm standing, no social media multitasking, maybe social media-free days once or twice a week, or a social media-free block of time each day?

Need to Know

I haven't decided yet what my new social media limits will be, but I do know that the happiness I get from the lack of social media absolutely outshines the happy hormone boost I get from being on it.

9. Jump Back in Slowly

Day 7 without Social Media

As today draws to a close, more and more I'm considering ways to extend this social media detox while still staying in the loop. I'm considering making a Facebook account that's only for looking up businesses or events. I no longer had those thoughts of "I should post this!" or "I wonder what I'm missing." Honestly, part of me wants to go a little longer, but also, I really miss the social interaction with exchanging tweets and Instagram posts. I can't say I miss Facebook, though. I cannot wait to get back on BeReal.

For the sake of transparency, I did briefly steal my partner's phone to glance at the Furry Tails page on Facebook on day three. It was a brief and glorious two minutes of animals living their best life. However, putting the phone down, I wound up with plenty of cute creatures in real life. I noticed that we have a family of baby bunnies living in our backyard that enjoy munching on clovers and then taking naps in the taller grass next to the house. I have spent hours obsessing over their every movement. Hat tip to LoveToKnow Pets and their guide on how to tell how old a baby rabbit is.

Benefits of a Social Media Detox

Taking a break from social media isn't just something that seems like a good idea; science actually says it is. In one study, participants stopped social media for a week had a positive impact on well-being, depression, and anxiety. Another found that decreased social media use could help improve mood, self-esteem and even sleep. Other benefits of taking a break from social media include:

  • More focus and productivity. My brain doesn't jump from thought to thought, activity to activity, and I've mastered the art and enjoyment of sitting in the sun, soaking in the sounds and sights.
  • Being more present and better appreciation of living in the now. Have coffee with the birds!
  • Better social interactions or relationship connections. I spent more screen time on iMessage and WhatsApp, actually talking to friends, and not just flooding them with funny things I found on the internet.
  • Less anxiety over comparisons and fewer FOMO feelings. You can't be sad you missed an event if you didn't know about it and I was happy to not see a dozen new must-try skin care products every day.
  • Better physical health (goodbye eyestrain and sore back from bad posture)
  • More free time! Having that time to stare off into space, look out the window, wander around the house and just admire life as it is, is so fabulous.
  • Have a better recall of how you spent your day

Signs You Might Need to Do a Social Media Cleanse

Group of students sitting together and using their smart phones

Most of us are on our devices all the time -- and that means that we're constantly on social media too. That means that pretty much all of us could use a break from it from time to time. Some things in particular that might point to it being time for a cleanse:

  • You're feeling more anxiety and stress than usual.
  • You can't remember the last time you saw friends in real life.
  • Your physical activity or fitness levels are low.
  • You notice social media being on your mind more often than not.
  • Your screen time is up, and a lot of it's because of social media. It was down 13% after just a few days last week, and down another 12% from that this week!
  • You have a hard time allowing even a few minutes to pass without looking at your phone.

More Tips for Doing a Successful Social Media Detox

Here are a few other tips, tricks, and ways to last through your social media-free days.

  • Do: Have something else to do with your hands or mind.
  • Don't: Make that something else a game or another app. Do let yourself be a little uncomfy as you figure out how to get those feel-good chemicals into your brain in ways that aren't scrolling social media.
  • Do: Know when you're most likely to sink into a long scroll. I never realized how much I would mindlessly scroll or click around social media at night in bed or when I couldn't sleep.
  • Do: Take this time to consider why you're so quick to click to your social media feed, even for just a second.
  • Do: Turn off notifications for other apps that sidetrack you.
  • Do: Give your friends and family a heads up. They might even be tempted to join you!
  • Don't: Expect yourself to be perfect.
  • Do: Take note of what apps you start using in place of social media.
  • Do: Add a phone background that's a reminder to be present, a quote that's motivating or inspirational, or something that makes you think twice before opening it.

Finding Freedom From Social Media

Where will I go from here? I'll take a closer look at the apps I'm not excited to use again and maybe delete those off my phone for good and only use the website, be it mobile or on my laptop. It seems counterintuitive, but this was a great reset to see how I want to use social media with intention and not as a filler.

When I'm not comfy, it's a good time to see why -- if my brain needs that boost, I'll take a moment to figure out what's going on. Will this be perfect? Absolutely not. I've already scrolled Instagram a little too long while waiting for my bagel to toast. But knowing what I want makes deciding how I want to proceed with social media a whole lot easier.

What I Learned From Doing a Social Media Detox