My birthday is in July and I usually love celebrating. But by 11 AM on my birthday I was having a panic attack. I felt bombarded with messages from everywhere: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, email, text, phone, mail, pigeon carrier…

How to Do a Digital Detox - Social Media Addiction and Dopamine's Role

I felt trapped, overwhelmed, guilty for not being able to answer them all fast enough. And all sorts of other feelz. And you may say, nice Mana, good problem to have. Yes, I have a lot of love in my life. And I am truly grateful for every single message.

Still, it triggered a flight response in me. So I turned off my phone, put on a face mask and took a nap.

You have felt it too. I hear it from pretty much everyone: you’ve felt the social media burnout. But before I tell you how to fix it, let me explain what’s happening, what dopamine’s got to do with it, and why social media burnout is a little different than job burnout, and a lil harder to kick. But you can kick it, and I’ll tell you how.

First, what is Burnout?

The reduction of a substance to nothing! In this case, the substance is YOU.

But with social media burnout or digital burnout, it gets trickier. What I hear from most people is that they have a love-hate relationship with social media. They can feel that something’s off. They may report hating social media. Yet they can’t completely quit, because on some level it also makes us feel good.

Why can’t you quit social media? That’s where dopamine comes in.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, produced in two areas of the brain. Dopamine produced in the first area helps us begin movements and speech. The second area sends dopamine into the brain when we expect or receive a reward. It tells the brain that whatever it just experienced is worth getting more of.

That’s the natural mechanism. However, cocaine, nicotine, heroin, and other drugs, cause huge boosts in dopamine. That’s the “high” people feel. And that prompts them to seek out those drugs again and again.

How to Do a Digital Detox - Social Media Addiction and Dopamine's Role

And guess what? Studies have shown that getting a “like” on social media, also produces dopamine. It gives us a high, and we keep going back to social media looking for it.

Now, what happens when we don’t see the likes?

What happens when we see the pretend perfection of others’ lives? You can feel deprived. What happens when you don’t see anything entertaining or satisfying? You feel annoyed. And all sorts of other negative feelings creep in.

And what happens when we can’t keep up with the flood of content? And what happens when we are constantly distracted by the pings of our notifications?

Burnout.

But when we burn out on a job, we can take a vacation, we can get another job, we typically remove ourselves from what burns us out.

But not with social media. Because we’re addicted to it. Literally, physically addicted to it.

When I first realized that it was happening to me, I felt like technology was taking control of me and my time. And I decided that I control technology, it doesn’t control me. So I took some drastic measures.

Detox Day

One of the things I did is that I implemented a mandatory quarterly paid detox day for my employees. Of course, I can’t check that they detox, but what’s important is creating a habit. It’s the idea that you put yourself in control. You stop and turn everything off for a day.

Now, a day is not enough to kick an addiction. Most literature says you need at least 21 days, and some a month, or some say months.

But we can’t change the business world, and get rid of email and texting etc. So we have to take our detox in small measures.

Business aside, I set in place some rules for myself. And I’ll tell you, most people don’t get it and don’t like it. I’m single and I’ve had issues in dating because of it. But I refuse to let technology and other people control my time and space.

Because every time I allow that ping on my phone to interrupt whatever it is I’m doing, I let someone in my brain space. That’s like leaving your house door open at all times and anyone can come in and out as they please, and shout at you while you’re trying to watch your favorite TV show.

We have lost sight of the fact that when people give us their number or their email address, or when they friend us on social media, they trust us to pop into their digital space. Yet we don’t respect that trust. We flood those spaces with rants, unnecessary communication. (Please stop sending one-word emails or texts. And don’t email me just to say thank you, by default I assume you’re grateful).

So, you need to take back control. Here’s how to detox:

  1. Turn off all notifications on your phone. ALL of them. You will be looking at your phone every 10 minutes as it is. You won’t miss anything. We lose endless hours of productivity because of those pings.
  2. Tell people to call you if it’s urgent. And teach them the difference between urgent and important. So do keep call notifications on.
  3. Stop over-messaging. The more you message, the more you’ll get responses.
  4. Shed the pressure to respond right away to messages that don’t need a response right away.
  5. Take detox days. Nothing but calls, confirming meetings and using the GPS is allowed on those days.
  6. Put your phone on sleep mode at night. You can, at least on iPhone, set permissions so that certain phone numbers can get through, in case you’re worried about mom.
  7. If you’re dating, remember that texting is for laughing, flirting and confirming plans. Please pick up the phone and talk to that person to get to know them. I will not take you seriously if you just keep texting.
  8. And yes, we all know the game, whoever looks at their phone first over dinner picks up the bill.

When you first try to detox, it will be hard. Remember we’re addicted. So without even realizing our brains will crave that dopamine hit. But stick with it and you’ll notice how over time you’ll feel lighter and how you’ll have gained all this time to do other things that will make you feel happy and accomplished.

What tricks do you use to do a digital detox? Tell us in the comments!

And don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel so you don’t miss any of this good stuff! I’ll see you back here next week.

For this week’s challenge, try a digital detox day. Only use the phone as a phone or for GPS for a whole day. Let me know how it goes!