Social Media Detox: How effective is a social media break?

31 May, 2023


What is a detox and what is it good for?

When we talk about detox, we usually mean abstaining from or getting rid of toxic substances in our bodies. Like a full internal cleanup. With social media, this is obviously a bit more of an abstract endeavor. Social media might at times be (or feel) toxic, but it’s more of a feeling and less of a substance. It can, however, really impact your health.

So, is a social media detox worth it? I’d say yes, if you do it well and manage your expectations. But because I’m personally very wary about anything that radically changes your behavior (and I’ll tell you why in a second), let me start off with the downsides.

Why a social media detox might not be as helpful as you think

1. It’s impractical

For people that do not depend on socials too much, a social media detox might seem like a great idea. But what if you talk to your friends through these platforms – do you need a detox from your friends as well? Or what if social media is actually your job?

The point is, a full social media detox sounds great, but it might not always be practical.

2. It’s temporary

As a teen and in my early twenties, I tried out many diets. I even had a full on eating disorder for a while. This experience taught me in a very real way that temporary radical change doesn’t really lead to long-term change. Too much radical change is neither healthy nor sustainable. 

Why? Because restriction mostly makes you bounce back afterwards, and sometimes, you bounce back hard. In diets, we call this the jojo effect.

You can think of your social media detox as a diet. Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash.

The jojo effect of a social media break

Everyone who has ever been excessively dieting probably knows about the jojo effect. You give it your all to not eat sweets for 8 weeks, and then once the diet is done, you get a cake, and icecream, and pancakes. Because you earned it. And a few weeks later, you start from scratch. Think about your social media break as a diet. If you force yourself not to check social media for an extended period of time, the same thing might happen to you. There are just too many funny videos, trends and conversations you need to catch up on. 

Excessively controlling my diet taught me that too much restriction will never get me the outcome I’m looking for, because I can’t force myself forever. Lasting change needs to be desirable, easy – and fun.

3. Some apps work against you

Most social media apps will notice your change in behavior and try more aggressively to lure you back in – that’s just how their business model works. That makes it even harder for you to not fall back into old habits. If you ever uninstalled Facebook or Instagram and came back after a few days to 200+ increasingly random missed notifications, you know what I’m talking about.

BUT this post is in no way meant to convince you not to do a social media detox. On the contrary. It’s just also about managing expectations. Now that I gave you my precautions, let’s get into the good part.

Sometimes a break can help you to reset. Photo by JOYUMA on Unsplash

So… what is a social media detox actually good for?

What a social media break CAN give you is a deeper understanding of your habits and a glimpse of an alternative lifestyle, and you might like that experience so much that you stick to some elements of it.

And then, you can start to incorporate some of those experiences into your daily life and routine. You might entirely get rid of apps that overwhelmingly make you feel bad. You can also continue to take shorter social media breaks in a way that actually fits your schedule. In a diet world, we would call this intermittent fasting 🙂

And there is more good news – a recent study found that taking just a 7 day break from social media can improve psychological wellbeing, depression and anxiety – but it also indicates that the outcomes vary per platform.

Some tips to go about your social media detox

1. Identify which apps you are trying to get away from

This is where you need to be honest with yourself, because the apps we use excessively are also often the hardest to let go. The best indicator is your actual screen time. 

2. Get feedback and support 

Bad habits can be very tricky, and you might not be fully aware of them. So a great thing to do is to ask your friends and family for feedback.

3. Set a timeframe

Are you looking to do a full month without social media, or maybe start with a day? It’s important that you set a timeframe that you think is actually feasible for you. Sometimes it’s best to start small. 

4. Build accountability

Now that you have identified your goals, tell others about them. The best (and most fun) way to do a detox is to team up with an accountability buddy. 

5. Delete or limit access to the apps you want to include

To make it easier to follow through on your detox, you need to make it harder to access the apps you are trying to get away from. If you are taking a full break, the best thing might be to uninstall or block apps for your timeframe. 

Another thing you can do (that also works really well when you are not taking a full break) is to rearrange your home screen. And an absolute must (detox or not) is to turn off all unnecessary notifications.

6. Get away from your whole phone

Another thing that makes it harder for you to access apps is to get away from your phone entirely – and sometimes leave it behind on purpose. This absolutely includes not taking your phone to your bedside when you sleep. It can also include leaving it behind for dinner, leaving it in a basket by the door when you invite or visit friends, leaving it in your bag when you have a conversation, or taking a walk outside without taking your phone at all.  

7. Make it fun!

At first glance, a social media break sounds very restrictive and not fun at all. The last thing you want is to get bored. So to avoid that you’ll just be glad it is over and go back to old habits, you need to actively make it fun. This is another reason why not doing it alone is so great. A buddy is not only great for accountability.

The best way to go about a social media break is to find activities with others that are so much fun that you actually forget about your phone.

Do things that are so much fun that you’ll forget about your phone. Photo by Jannes Glas on Unsplash.  

My personal experience with taking a social media break

I wouldn’t write all this if I hadn’t personally experimented with social media breaks. So here are some of my own highlights and learnings: 

Uninstalling apps and leaving my phone behind gave me a sense of freedom & relief

The first thing that really surprised me is how relieved I felt after uninstalling some apps. I was expecting the opposite, but uninstalling apps and leaving my phone behind mostly gave me a sense of freedom. 

It also took a lot of the pressure away – the pressure to stay up to date and not miss anything, and the pressure to perform, because I was actually caring too much about the engagement I got.

I got a glimpse at just how automatic some of my actions had become

When I deleted some apps, I found myself mindlessly going to their exact location on my phone a couple of times, just to “wake up” and realize the app was not there anymore. This is quite a powerful way to see how automatic some usage patterns really are, and it actually shocked me to see how little control I had over my own actions.

It really made me reevaluate how I spend my time – and where I can improve

The scariest part for me was realizing that I unconsciously wasted a lot of time, and I didn’t even feel good about or had positive memories of that time. This really encouraged me to do more against this time waste. Doomscrolling is very, very high on that list, and I just wrote a post on stopping this. Besides that, I’m trying to more consciously use each app in a good way – or not use it at all. Some apps disappeared from my phone because I liked the break so much.

The great thing about a social media detox is that it gives you a sense of what you really miss.

At the same time, not using social media feels quite impossible because of my work and because I’m often far away from friends, and I missed other positive sides of many platforms as well – finding and getting to know amazing people and causes, connecting with other people with similar interests or life situations, saying what I need to say – and yes, sometimes just finding some funny videos and memes. 

Now, I am on an ongoing journey to build a more positive experience and change my unhealthy habits – and build a non-toxic platform that really brings people together.

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Maike Gericke

Maike is one of Tiramisu's co-founders and really passionate about wellbeing, sustainability and creating a better and more equal future.

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