Try a Social Media Detox
By Robin Howard
Ever wonder how much time you spend on social media? If you have an iPhone, go to Settings, Screen Time, See All Activity. If you have an Android, go to Settings, Digital Wellbeing, Menu, Manage Your Data, Daily Device Usage.
Are you surprised at what you see?
The average American spends about three hours a day—or 45 days a year—on social media. In addition to the massive waste of time, new research shows people who use social media more than 30 minutes a day are more anxious, depressed, and have lower self-esteem than those who don’t.
If you need more convincing, Jaron Lanier’s “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” provides food for thought.
In the book, Lanier makes the argument that social media:
- Brings out the worst in us.
- Disconnects us from others.
- Puts us under constant surveillance.
- Manipulates our behavior.
- Costs us dignity, happiness, and freedom.
The More We Get, The More We Want
Social media itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We can use it to keep up with friends and family, which has been even more important since we haven’t seen each other in person for the past year. However, too much social media can rewire your brain, so you spend more and more time scrolling and clicking.
Positive interactions, such as someone “liking” your post, trigger your brain to release dopamine—the same feel-good chemical associated with love, food, exercise, gambling, or recreational drugs.
As dopamine levels drop, we want more, so we go back to the trigger. When triggers are delivered at random, the drive becomes even more potent, so checking social media becomes a habit or addiction. The more we get, the more we want, and the more we feel like what we have isn’t enough.
This isn’t an accident. In 2018, Facebook co-founder Sean Parker admitted the social network was designed to distract us, not unite us.
“Our thought process was how do we consume as much of your time and attention as possible,” he says.
Parker says Facebook designers exploited a vulnerability in human psychology: the dopamine reward reaction.
Interestingly, many of social media’s original architects have left the industry and are now outspoken about the dangers of the platforms they designed. Recent studies back up their concerns.
Another detrimental long-term effect of social media is chronic impatience. These days we are always occupied, sharing content, posting, and commenting, even when it’s time to relax. When we must wait for anything— including small things such as traffic lights or food orders—we respond with extreme frustration and impatience.
Lack of Critical Thinking
The like button is a way to show our approval or support. However, that little thumbs up—or even that cute little heart—doesn’t allow us to define to what degree we like or love something. It’s just all or nothing. Clicking an emoji also doesn’t give us time to consider how we feel about complex issues. When we chronically digest dozens or hundreds of opinions quickly and react without thinking, we lose the ability to delve into our life experiences.
If we’ve learned anything from social media, it’s that cowards are courageous online. After all, it’s easy to bully and dehumanize people you don’t know anything about. The problem with internet trolls is our brains perceive them as real, physical threats. As we consume a steady diet of angry interactions, our anxiety levels rise.
Distraction & Fractured Focus
Because social media delivers that feel-good chemical, we instinctively go there when we feel bored, sad or any time we want to feel better. The result is a constant distraction from the people and things that require attention, or the people and things that could make us feel better.
Study after study links social media use to depression, especially in those who use social media at night. In a recent University of Pennsylvania study, one group limited its social media use to 30 minutes a day. A second group had no time limits. After three weeks, members of the group that limited social media said they felt less depressed than the group without social media limits.
People tend to post the best moments of their lives on social media. When you scroll through your feed, you’re just consuming the highlight reels. When you compare your life, even subconsciously, it can make you feel dissatisfied and inferior.
On the surface, it seems like social media would help us feel connected. However, interactions on social media are mostly superficial.Constantly comparing your life to others also leads to fear of missing out, or FOMO, which leads to anxiety and feelings of isolation.
How to Detox
If any of this sounds familiar, a social media detox may be in order. The goal is to reboot your relationship with social media by taking a break or eliminate it if that makes more sense for your life.
- Detoxing may be as easy as deleting the apps from your phone, but installing an app or tool on your phone or computer that blocks social media sites can help.
- Offtime allows you to block your choice of distractions during certain hours.
- Flipd locks social media apps on your phone for a set period.
Cold Turkey is a browser extension for your computer that blocks web pages, or even access to the internet, for a set period.
FocusMe allows you to block websites and apps for a limited time or forever.
If you’ve been using social media heavily, it may cause anxiety when you first quit. Making a list of what it costs you versus what you hope to gain by quitting can help you understand your motivations and stick to the plan. Create a strategy for using the time you get back and alternate ways to connect with people you care about.