I admit it – I’m a little bit addicted to my smartphone. And to Instagram. And Facebook. ?
Gah! A part of me truly hates admitting that to myself, especially given how damaging social media has been in my own life.
Like most people, I’ve fallen prey to “comparisonitis” (i.e. constantly benchmarking my own life against other people’s curated versions), and have been the victim of a social stalker or two.
There’s no doubt that social media can be a force for good; for example, it allows me to sprinkle positivity across the internet like jacked-up fairy dust. It also gives us the opportunity to connect with people all over the world (including those we would otherwise lose touch with), and to document our lives in a way that’s never been possible before.
So what’s the problem?
My main issue with social media is that I’m terrified of it becoming a replacement for real human interaction.
Facebook, for example, is pretty much like the McDonald’s of relationships – it requires very little energy or effort on our part, gives us an instant boost of gratification, and can really damage our health if we consume too much of it.
It’s also changed the way we’re sold to as consumers. It’s become very personal indeed.
Instead of being shown an advert on TV, which we’d just switch off if we had enough, our attention is now what’s being sold as currency. And because we’re becoming more and more dependent on these platforms to maintain our relationships, it’s harder than ever to escape the ever-alluring call of targeted advertising (which simply serves to feed our consumerist tendencies).
Again, this isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself. In fact, if anything, I’d much rather be shown stuff that’s relevant to me than random adverts for crap I’ll never buy. It’s just that I need to remain aware that each moment I spend on Facebook is serving to earn them more money (and not just an innocent scrolling session).
I quit social media… and I came back
A few years ago, I accidentally went on a total social media hiatus.
I was living in Spain, and my smartphone got stolen at a nightclub (I may or may not have given it to someone to take a photo and forgotten to take it back… whoops). I couldn’t afford to replace it, so I just got a simple text-and-calls-only deal, and learned to live without it.
And it was so incredibly freeing.
All of a sudden, my concerns about everyone else’s life seemed to lift. I learned who my real friends were; the ones who kept in touch despite not being reminded of my existence every day. I was so much more present with everyone around me (because my phone literally didn’t have enough functions to distract me).
Buuuut I did come back to it, eventually. I realised that I wanted to build a platform of positivity – to combat all of the negativity that seemed to be all over the internet – and social media seemed like a good way to do that.
And it has been. But I started to become disturbed by the amount of time I seemed to spend scrolling through my feeds, getting distracted by random stuff, and generally wasting time on social media.
So, I decided to try a detox.
How to do a social media detox
Create your rules
These were the rules I set for myself:
- No Facebook (including messenger)
- No Instagram
- No Pinterest
- No YouTube
- No email
I don’t have Twitter or Snapchat, so those were no-brainers.
I also eliminated YouTube since it can become a crazy attention suck-hole for me, and I took a break from email because I was going on holiday, so it seemed to make sense.
The one exception I made was WhatsApp – the only people who would message me on there are close friends and family, and since I was going away I felt it was important to check it (but I limited myself to once per day).
Set a time limit
Any time I’ve eliminated anything from my life (including alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, and sugar), I always started out with an initial test period.
This seems to work well because it tricks my brain into pushing through the tough parts of the elimination – after all, it’s not permanent.
For my social media detox, I set myself a time limit of 10 days – 8 of which were spent on the island of La Palma, with 1 additional day on each side of the trip.
The ideal time to do this detox would be when you have white space in your calendar.
This will pose the ultimate challenge; how will you spend your time once social media is removed from the equation? ?
The 7 things I learned
1. I felt less stressed
Almost immediately, I felt relief.
I felt more calm, more focused, and less scatterbrained. I felt clear about my projects, and the direction I was taking them in.
However, I also felt a bit lost. I noticed that removing social media created a void; I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, and kept wanting to reach for my phone whenever I felt a pang of boredom. This only confirmed that my addiction was hella real.
Key takeaway: removing social media makes room for clear thinking. Less external noise results in our internal guidance kicking things up a notch.
2. I felt freer, and less overwhelmed
After a day or two, I started to notice how much freer I felt.
I had nobody asking me anything (or maybe they were, but I wasn’t aware of it), I had nobody to respond to, and nothing to keep up with.
My phone’s home screen was void of its usual flood of notifications. And I didn’t miss them one bit.
I felt far less overwhelmed, but also a little antsy. I started to worry about missing opportunities, or that people who weren’t receiving responses to their messages or events would be mad at me. I tried to remember that in the grand scheme of things, none of these scenarios would be a big deal.
Key takeaway: removing the notifications from our phones is incredibly freeing, and gives us back control over how, and when,e decide to pay attention to a certain app or task
3. I still had a social life
Despite my fears that people would be pissed at me for not responding to their messages, the world just kept on turning, whilst my family and friends continued to check in with me via WhatsApp.
Plus, the world didn’t need to see my holiday snaps. And I didn’t need the “likes” they would have attracted. Those memories remained solely for me.
Overall, I had much more attention available for my partner and the people we met on our trip. I was fully present for the experience – which meant I made connections I might not otherwise have been psychologically available for.
Key takeaway: no social media doesn’t mean no social life. If anything, it means being much more deliberate about who we spend time with, and means we’ll be more present with those people.
4. I had supercharged creative power
Once I took social media out of the equation, I realised how much of my free time I wasted on it.
Because I was constantly distracting myself, my true creative potential didn’t have the chance to express itself. Then all of a sudden – bam! Every single day during the detox I was hit by intense flurries of creative inspiration.
Ideas were constantly flowing through me, many of which I’ve followed up on (and have turned out wonderfully).
Since I’ve brought social media back into my life, I’ve maintained good boundaries around it (e.g. not on weekends), to create deliberate space for this creativity to flow.
Key takeaway: social media can be a massive time suck, which can drain our creative potential. Constant distraction means our creativity gets stifled.
5. I was more present
I’m definitely guilty of scrolling on social media when I’m with people – both at home and out’n’about.
During my detox, I noticed an interesting urge to scroll when I’m in a group of people, and I actually felt quite socially anxious without it. I craved my phone almost like a security blanket.
But since I had no reason to check my phone, I sat with the discomfort and paid more attention to my surroundings, and the people around me.
Overall, I felt much more engaged with life.
Key takeaway: removing social media gives us less reason to check our phones as often. If we can disengage from our phones, we can re-engage with life.
6. I missed my online connections
Despite all of the benefits of detoxing from social media, I did miss my online connections.
I participate in a few Facebook groups that truly bring enormous value to me. The people in those groups feel like my tribe – we’re very similar people, and I haven’t managed to find a tribe like this in my local community.
I like to connect with the folks in these groups, sharing and receiving wisdom, humour, and support. I genuinely missed this; not to simply kill time, but because it gives me so much joy.
This reinforced to me that social media isn’t something I want to give up forever, even though it’s nice to take a break from it once in a while.
Key takeaway: social media can serve as a beautiful platform for connection, when it’s used intentionally. If we don’t feel like we belong where we are, we can always find our tribe online.
7. I can live without it
…but I don’t necessarily want to!
What my detox really taught me was that I’m capable of living a full, happy life – and even successfully running a business – without social media, and that knowledge is important.
Equally, I clearly understood the value I get from social media, both in terms of the connections I’ve made, and the potential influence I could have. Sharing ideas that matter to me and that will (hopefully) serve others is amazing, and social media is a great platform to do so.
The main thing is I learnt is to be intentional with my activity; to start each “session” with a specific goal or time limit, and remember that it’s all about connection.
Key takeaway: we can live perfectly happy lives without social media. Knowing this helps us to take back control of how we use these platforms to add real value to our lives.
Since I returned from my trip, I’ve been continuing to do short social media detox bursts on evenings and weekends, wherever possible.
The 10-day break was instrumental in helping me to reduce my dependency and renew my intentions for social media – so I couldn’t recommend it highy enough!
Over to you – have you ever done a social media detox, and if so, what was your experience? If you haven’t, would you consider doing one, and why?