How a Social Media Detox Can Help You Be More Focused, Calm, and Present
Here are the exact strategies I apply whenever I refuse to consume social media for 30 days (and the benefits).
“How much of your life can we get you to give us?” — The Social Dilemma
I finished another ‘30 days without social media’ round, and I feel refreshed. Sometimes I decide to disappear from the addictive world of digital connectedness. Not radically forever, but for a considerable amount of time, for 1 or 2 months. I can easily allow myself to do so because I’m a university student and my work is not directly connected to social media. Therefore, I have the freedom to make such decisions.
This kind of detox helps me to balance my digital life without the fear of remaining isolated forever. Don’t get me wrong, I admire and love to use social media. It inspires me. I love to use Instagram as a photo album where I can store the memories of the best years. I get ideas for my articles, and I also love to stare at aesthetic artsy pictures that calm my mind. I communicate with my parents and old friends via Facebook, I love to catch up with their lives there.
I don’t intend to eliminate social media from my life for good. Sometimes, I get tired though. Sometimes, I cannot give more from my life to social media giants and I desperately need to get back to the non-digital reality.
There are several indicators that tell me I need a break from the world of social media:
- the apps take control over me, and I don’t have a say anymore
- I find myself scrolling down the feed in times I don’t really want to
- social media makes me stressed out because of a deluge of their notifications
- I seek unnecessary information bits instead of working or studying
- I spend more precious time in the digital world than in the beautiful real one.
The Benefits of a Social Media Detox
In spite of its benefits, social media can affect us negatively. While research proves the harmful effects of social media, a specific study suggests the deactivation of such platforms can lead to enhanced subjective well-being and to an increase in offline activities.
Both the experiences of my friends and my own experiments affirm these findings. I can say with confidence, my 30-days challenge helped me to focus, stay calm, and remain present in the midst of my university obligations, working, and writing.
Benefit #1: Focus
During my social media free journey, I slowly stopped procrastinating. I got fully immersed in the tasks I wanted to complete and I lost the desperate urge to check my feed. This led to highly concentrated flow phases.
I could focus on my work and studies in an undisturbed manner. Also, I got ready earlier with my daily to-dos, and thus had more time for my family, friends, and myself.
Benefit #2: Calm
As my social media usage was reduced to zero, I realized I became less stressed. During the second week without social media, I could clearly notice the effect. I became calmer.
Indeed, social media can cause stress in different ways. On the one hand, studies say the excessive usage of two-sided digital platforms may result in emotional exhaustion, technology-, and social overloads, self-exposure and privacy issues, social comparison, or procrastination. On the other hand, my detox journey and the experiences of all my friends suggest social media detox results in a greater calm.
Benefit #3: Presence
I experienced the best part of this detox during a short vacation I spent with my boyfriend in the mountains. I was there. I mean, fully there, in the non-digital world. I didn't want to share the precious moments of my life with a bunch of people with whom I don’t even communicate regularly. I could embrace and live the social-media free reality. It felt incredibly uplifting and liberating.
When we excessively engage with the digital world, it can feel like we would be living in a Matrix-style simulation. We work, socialize, do sports, and entertain ourselves with the help of technology. Smart devices determine almost every aspect of our lives, and there’s no single day when we can completely free ourselves from its impacts. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need to recharge to realize, the reality is so much more than technology.
Even though I’m aware of the negative side effects of social media, I can barely control my behavior. It comes close to an addiction.
I already deleted and reinstalled the apps way too many times. I still try to use time restriction on my iPhone, but usually, I simply click the ‘ignore time limit’ button. I promise myself to not bring Instagram to bed, and read a book instead of scrolling down before sleeping. Still, I keep finding excuses on why to keep consuming feed ‘just for a few more minutes’.
So far, the occasional social media detox I’ll describe in the following paragraphs is the only method that helped me to take a little break from this slightly toxic digital reality.
Thinking back to my whole journey, a successful detox requires way more steps and planning than I initially thought. I followed a self-constructed plan which can be described as a mixture between science-based ‘goal setting and achieving’ methods, and ‘habit-building’ methods.
Here are the exact steps that helped me follow through on my 30-day challenge and live a more focused, calm, and mindful life.
This Is How You Can Create Your Own 30-Day Social Media Detox Challenge
Prerequisite #1: Realize there’s a problem
The first, and probably the most difficult step towards a social media detox is recognizing the issue. In fact, problem-identification is the first step in the problem-solving cycle according to studies. Unfortunately, social media is designed to make this prerequisite harder. These shrewd applications can flow into our lives without our realization, and more importantly, without our consent.
Realizing, and getting aware of my addictive behavior was one of the most difficult steps along my journey. Even though I struggled with my short attention span and couldn’t fulfill longer concentrated work phases, I wouldn’t have guessed it is due to my social media usage. For a long time, I simply ignored the situation.
In my case, a conversation with a friend let me recognize the issue. He was balanced, immerged, and calm while he was telling me his decision of replacing his smartphone with a traditional mobile device. As we discussed the effects of such a change, I recognized I’ll have to do something similar in my life.
If you are also not sure about yourself, with a quick experiment you can measure how much time are you spending on each specific app via your mobile device. If you have an iPhone, activate the ‘screen time’ application. In the case of other devices, here are some useful tips on screentime checking. When your daily time spent there frustrates you, it’s time for a change.
Another indicator is the constant feeling of stress, overwhelm, and a short attention span. Also, if you feel you wouldn’t be able to spend a whole day without checking your social media accounts, your situation sounds a lot like mine before I did the detox.
Prerequisite #2: Adopt a strong will, discipline, and commitment
It’s one thing to realize you’re overwhelmed by social media; it’s another to have a strong urge to change this. People can proceed for quite a long time in an unpleasant situation, without wanting to change it. Change is difficult to face, after all.
I desperately wanted a social media free phase after I recognized the problem because I remember how it feels like. I can still recall the time when smart devices didn’t impact my life. I got my first smartphone at the age of 16 and back then life felt more real, calm, and way slower. This further amplified my will to follow through on such a challenge.
If you think you have an issue with social media, but you don’t have the commitment to change yet, you could try to write a list of the benefits you can have with a social media detox. State the negative effects with which the digital world is burdening you as well. In addition, think about all the occasions when social media frustrated you in the last three days. Lastly, meditate on how your life could be without the digital platforms.
Now the prerequisites are clear, here are the concrete steps I took to make my challenge successful.
Step #1: Set a goal.
Goal setting is an inevitable component of the journey. It defines where to head and it also determines the final point of the detox.
I opted for the 30 days because it is long enough to feel the positive effects of the detox but short enough to still remain part of the online communities. Indeed, on average it takes 66 days to form a habit, ranging interestingly from 18 to 254 days.
If you’re not quite there, you can set your own personalized goals. 2 weeks, 1 week, 3 days, 24 hours. You could also opt for detoxing only during your worktime or study time. However, I think the smaller the timeframe is, the more chances you have to become distracted and get back to social media. At least that’s what I experienced. When I only eliminated social media during work and study time, I didn’t take the whole fuss seriously enough and ended up checking my feed instead of focusing.
Step #2: Set a date.
The date- and the goal-setting provide the frame of this experiment. Both steps specify and narrow down the concrete actions.
I started my detox on the first day of October and considered it as being an alternative to the Sober-October challenge. In general, I loved I had some time to prepare mentally before cutting myself off from the digital world.
If I were you, I wouldn’t just ‘start tomorrow’. It is easier to define a day in the near future when you can start your detox journey. It will not only help you to get familiar with the idea, but you will also have enough time to carry out steps that will secure you to be successful on the journey.
Step #3: Inform your friends and family.
Whether we like it or not, we live in the era of digital connectedness, and we cannot disappear from one day to another. Our beloved ones are out there too.
Before I left social media, I messaged or called my friends and told them I won’t be available on social media. I let them know what they can expect from me, and assured them about keeping in touch in alternative ways, such as phone calls or e-mails.
This is an important step because you won’t have the temptation to check your messages, since you let the most important ones know about your plan. You’re not letting anybody down with your absence. If something important occurs, your beloved ones can still reach out to you.
Step #4: Delete the social media apps on your phone before starting the detox.
Deleting the apps from smart devices could be an efficient way to resist temptation on its own, but solely relying on it as a general tip might not deliver a sustainable, long-term solution. It fits the framework of a longer detox perfectly though.
I already went down the road of deleting and reinstalling the applications many times. I even changed my password both on Instagram and Facebook and tried to forget it — uselessly, because I acquired a new password a couple of days later. Still, based on my experience if deleting the social media apps is part of a well-planned, relatively long social media detox, it can help a lot. I didn’t reinstall the apps during my journey.
Step #5: Log out from your social media accounts on your computer.
Logging out from the platforms also on your laptop or computer will help to prevent an unintentional usage of social media during this detox.
At the very beginning of my journey, I automatically opened Facebook or Instagram on my laptop every time I got a bit bored with my university lectures. I wanted to scroll social media without having a concrete goal there. Luckily, I logged out from the platforms and made it hard for me to reenter.
If you decide on a social media detox and experience the same, just remember, it is nothing wrong with you, the issue is a form of addiction.
Step #6: Do it together.
The social media detox can also be done with friends. Doing it together with someone highly enhances the chances of not giving up. In fact, studies suggest collaborations lead to more energy, optimism, creativity, and hope.
I don’t have a straightforward personal experience with this step, only something comparable. My boyfriend was doing the Sober-October challenge with a friend of him, and I unofficially joined them with my own rules. Still, the fact I’m not doing the detox alone made me feel secure.
Try to convince one of your friends to join you on the journey. The detox will be so much more social and insightful this way.
Step #7: Turn it into a game.
The best part of the detox is perceiving it as a game with some bets on the stake. Science suggests turning a challenge into a game contributes to reaching the specific goal in an easier, entertaining way.
Sorry for oversharing, but my boyfriend assured me that we will do a ‘No Nut November’ if I fail with my detox. No need to tell you, this gave me some extra motivation to stick to the plan.
Jokes aside, if you create a challenge around your goal, it will presumably feel like a game, where you can either win or lose. So don’t forget to set the rules of the game and enjoy the process. An idea regarding the rules would be to agree with your partners to donate a specific amount of money to a charity if you fail.
Step #8: Reward yourself.
Research says reward boosts intrinsic motivation when working towards a specific goal.
I woke up on the 31st day and spent one whole hour on Instagram as a reward. It wasn’t a good feeling. I would even say I failed at this point. I could resist social media temptation for 30 days but fall back into the trap as soon as my detox terminated. However, this made me conscious about the fact that I was (and I might still be) addicted to social media. In the future, I will try to stick to a very limited timeframe regarding my time spent online.
The detox will end at some point, and rewarding yourself during the journey, or at the end of it can increase your motivation. To avoid the mistake I made, reward yourself in other ways. During the detox free days, you could get back to a long-forgotten old hobby or activity you used to love, such as drawing, doing some sports, going for a walk in nature, or learning something new.
Bonus Step: You, Social Media, and the Future
I’ve finished the detox 2 weeks ago. After such a refreshing month it feels burdening to re-enter both Instagram and Facebook. Therefore, I decided to define how my relationship with social media platforms should look like in the future. I’ll share my best moments with my friends on Instagram, but I’ll only scroll down the content during the weekend, for not more than 2 hours in total.
I encourage you to do similarly and define how would you like to coexist with social media in the future. How much time do you intend to spend there? Do you plan sharing memories, or only consuming content? Create an action plan, and establish a healthy relationship with the digital reality of our times.
To Overcome The Obstacles
I had to face some difficulties along the way. As I want you to be prepared if you decide on taking this challenge, I’m sharing with you the obstacles I encountered and my way of solving them. I believe you can rely on my solutions if you face similar difficulties.
My world of oversharing
During the third week, I desperately wanted to share my holiday pictures with my friends on Instagram. I thirsted for their feedback and reactions. To overcome this feeling, I made a short self-reflection. Why do I need to share my memories with everybody? Do I really need external reinforcement on how amazing my vacation was? Definitely not. As a result, I simply sent some pictures to my parents and to my closest friends.
A challenging difficulty for me was the urge to see what happened to my friends. This is called FOMO, the fear of missing out, and “the desire to know and understand what is happening externally”. As a solution for fighting FOMO, I found relief in talking personally with my friends. Instead of stalking their lives from behind a screen, I called them and we talked as it used to be before Instagram.
Signs of addiction
Another time, I craved to check my social media feed so much I almost failed the challenge. As soon as I recognized my behavior, I reminded myself of the rules of the game. To distract my attention, I rewarded my brain with some peanut butter instead of scrolling down my social media feed.
Filling up ‘empty time’
During the first week of the challenge, I found it incredibly hard to fill up the ‘empty times’ in my life. I was hardly able to wait patiently for the bus, or relax during the 10-minute breaks between my university classes and do nothing at all. I was desperate to spend my time on social media on these occasions. As a solution, while I was outside waiting for the bus, for example, I started to observe my surroundings. I started to notice and appreciate the city I live in. During the class breaks, I created some time for productivity. I quickly finished some short and easy tasks from my to-do list.
I loved to be away from social media. Even though I was waiting for the time when I could finally share my holiday pictures with my friends on Instagram, I genuinely enjoyed taking a longer break again from the digital world.
I’m not saying occasional social media detox is the ultimate solution for handling social media addiction. Some of my friends managed to completely get out of this world by buying a non-smartphone. My boyfriend doesn’t even have to fight with this issue, as he refused to be part of the community from the beginning. I also read about a girl who tried to solve this problem the way smokers try to give up smoking. Some other people can simply turn their back to this world and step out completely.
There is no one correct way to do this, but many. It takes self-knowledge and experimentation to find the best-fit solution for yourself. Keeping occasional detoxes is the method that worked for me and for many of my friends. If you choose to walk this path, I can only encourage you and wish you the best of luck along your way.