How To Get Your Social Media Addiction Under Control
If you’re reading this article, you probably have some sense of how out-of-control your social media use has gotten. Maybe you opened your phone to find an unfathomable deluge of Facebook notifications.
Maybe Apple’s Screen Time has informed you that you spend four hours a day on Instagram. Whatever the reason, I’m here to help you get it under control.
The first thing you need to realize about social media addiction is that it’s predicated on the Fear Of Missing Out. Social media can be rewarding to use, but FOMO is what drives the psychological bus.
In order to get your social media use under control, you have to acknowledge that you don’t need to see things instantaneously in order to not miss out.
This guide will not ask you to get rid of your social media, but it will ask you to change your settings so that you don’t see all your friends’ social media updates instantly.
This can be challenging for people. There’s a biological reason for that: if you’re used to getting push notifications for all your social media, the animal part of your brain has become dependent on them. Dependent, the same way addicts are dependent on drugs and alcoholics are dependent on alcohol. The animal part of your brain thinks you need push notifications from social media to be healthy and happy, even though they make you sick and sad. Therefore, disconnecting from social media might cause you discomfort.
It may even cause serious discomfort. Your brain will interpret the lack of notifications as loneliness or rejection. In other words, you may begin to feel lonely and rejected. Do not be fooled. At the end of the chapter, I’ll discuss healthy ways to deal with these feelings.
Repeat every step in this guide for every social media account that you have.
Step 1: Unfollow accounts that you don’t interact with in real life
Most of us follow way, way too many accounts on our social media. In addition to our real-life friends, we follow companies we like, and fun facts pages, and meme pages, and all kinds of junk.
We follow people we’ve never met and people we met six years ago at a party once and haven’t spoken to since (and their boyfriend, too).
Going forward, here is your rule for social media:
Don’t follow/friend anyone you don’t interact with in real life.
Social media is meant to augment our real-life social experiences. When we follow hundreds of accounts, those real-life connections get lost in the flood of artificial junk. Social media doesn’t really keep you connected to your friends if your friends are lost in a deluge of internet bullshit.
To cut down on the clutter, any account that is not an account for something you interact with in real life has to go. Ideally, your feed is only people you know in real life or businesses you interact with in real life.
Note that the first condition is people you know, not people you knew. Presumably, you knew everyone you added on Facebook at one point. If you don’t remember them anymore, unfriend them.
Note that the second condition is businesses you interact with. If you buy things online from ThinkGeek, that’s interacting. If you just click posts mindlessly and have no other business with that business, that’s not interacting in real life and therefore ThinkGeek has to go.
If you feel reluctant to unfollow a company that you really like, here’s what you can do instead:
- Find the email list of that company and join it.
- Add their blog feed to your RSS reader.
- Bookmark their website on your browser.
This way, instead of their content being funneled into you via your feed, you choose when you visit that website. This takes control away from your feed and returns it to you.
This will be a job. If you’re like most of us, your social media accounts are several years old and you’ve accumulated thousands of accounts you follow, the bulk of which are things which exist only on the internet.
Spend an hour or two unfollowing accounts to get yourself started. Once you’ve got a feel for it, here’s what I recommend:
- Use your social media like normal.
- Every time you see an account that is not in your real life, unfollow it then and there.
- If you feel a need to bookmark the account or join their newsletter, or something, do it then and there.
- Continue indefinitely.
Get the process started so you have a feel for it, then move on through this book. After a couple weeks of doing this, there won’t be any more accounts to eliminate.
Step 2: Change the notification settings for your social media
Log on to your social media account in your browser. If there is no browser version for the social media, like in the case of Instagram, do it from global account settings.
Most social media apps have several notification settings: push, email, text, and global settings. Global settings are settings for your entire account, and determine *what* you get notified about. Push, email and text settings determine *how* you get notified about these things. There’s no point fiddling with *how* you get notified before we look at *what* you should get notified about.
Once you’ve logged on to your social media’s global settings, continue.
Turn off any notification that doesn’t personally have anything to do with you. Things that personally involve you include:
- A message sent directly to you
- When someone tags you in a post
- When someone comments on your post or comment, in direct reply to you
Things that do not personally involve you include:
- Notifications about when your friends update. You do not need to be interrupted to be told that your friend updated her status, even if she’s your best friend.
- Announcements from companies. You do not need to be interrupted by Best Buy to hear that they’re running a special on camera lenses.
- Announcements from the social media company about news or new features. You do not care what Facebook’s new features are.
If you feel that you just cannot bear to turn off some of these notifications, consider this:
Social media is the least important thing we do, yet we give it the most power to interrupt our day. This is insane. I get that you want to keep up with people, but you do not need to do so real-time.
Turning these notifications off doesn’t mean you can’t keep up with people — their updates will still be in your feed — it just means the updates can’t leap out of the feed and interrupt your day.
If you still feel that you cannot bear to turn off some of these notifications, leave them on. Later in this article, you can configure your account so that you only receive these notifications via email.
Step 3: Turn off push notifications and turn on email notifications
Before, you were modifying the global settings for your social media account, turning off and on what notifications you wanted to see at all.
Now that you know what you want to get alerted about, it’s time to decide how. Switch to push, text and email notification settings. Most social media accounts display these settings together in the same window with global settings.
Make sure everything is turned off for push and text. Everything.
Nothing from social media is ever important enough to interrupt your day. Push and text notifications should be saved for only the most urgent things, like calls from your boss, spouse, or mom, and overdraft notifications on your bank account. Social media just isn’t that important.
Turn on email notifications. Why email? Because push and text interrupt you in the middle of the day, meaning they are only for the most important notifications. Email, however, doesn’t interrupt you. It’s designed for notifications which are less urgent, which social media most definitely is.
If your email is a wreck and you think you’ll miss notifications that arrive in your email, consider this an impetus to clean up your email. You will never be able to escape push-notification hell if you have nowhere else for your notifications to go.
If you feel tempted to leave them on, remind yourself that you can check your social media accounts anytime you want to check them. All we’re doing is turning off notifications, not turning off the accounts themselves.
If you still feel tempted, ask yourself this: Would you want to be interrupted during a job interview by that notification? If the answer is no (which it should be), turn it off.
After all this, you should be receiving zero notifications from social media unless…
- it’s to your email, or
- communication directed personally to you
The one exception: if you work on social media
If you are a social media influencer who makes more than $500 a month directly from social media
Why more than $500? Because any less than $500 a month and you are not big enough to justify selling out your psychological peace.
Honestly, I’d say there’s no amount of money big enough to justify always instant responses, but $500 is where hobbyists become professionals in online businesses. It’s where people start needing business tools and having business expenses (any expenses below $500/mo. is a delusion of grandeur).
If you work as a social media account manager for someone else
Instant availability is likely part of your job. Ironically, turning off notifications everywhere else will make it easier for you to see these notifications and do your job.
You are only allowed to have notifications on for accounts that are your work responsibility. If this means your company’s Twitter can beep your phone, but not your own, so be it.
Snapchat, unlike other social media, doesn’t have a ‘feed.’ But you can follow non-humans on Snapchat, so unfollow them. Also, turn the notification for “stories” off. You can do this in Snapchat’s Settings. This way, you only receive a Snapchat notification when someone reaches out to you personally.
After doing all this, your phone will be a lot quieter. If you’re used to a phone constantly beeping with social media, you will feel very weird. I remember a profound feeling of lack. You may even feel lonely.
If you find yourself feeling lonely or lacking, do not re-enable social media notifications. Here are some things you can do instead:
- Get on social media right now! All you did was turn off push notifications. Your social media apps still work. You still get notifications in your email. Go play around on them as long as you want. No one is saying you can’t have social media.
- Instant message someone. This is instant and far more personal than en masse social media interactions.
- Call your parents. Nobody will talk your ear off like your mother.
- Make plans with someone if you have someone to make plans with.
- Look for a Meetup to go to.
Literally (and I do mean literally) almost anything is better than turning these notifications back on.