From sugar detox to juice fasts to the bone broth diet, it seems like there’s a cleanse for everything these days. So it’s no wonder the idea of a social media detox has entered the healthy-living landscape. Social media can keep us connected, but it can also wreak havoc on our well-being.
Feel like you might need a break from Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, and the rest? Here are 5 ways to tell if a digital detox might be good for your soul.
1. You can’t put your phone down.
In a way, we’re wired to become addicted to social media. “Social media use triggers the same brain systems that respond to novelty and pleasure in other contexts — including the same systems that respond to cocaine,” says Melissa Hunt, licensed clinical psychologist and associate director of clinical training in the department of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
And just like other addictive substances or behaviors, the pleasure you experience from getting a few “likes” on your latest photo is fleeting. Constantly checking your social media “can be highly reinforcing in the moment, but actually makes you feel worse over time,” Hunt says.
So if you find yourself thinking about social media all the time — for example, you can’t even get through a Netflix special without glancing at your newsfeed — you may need to step away for a bit.
2. You feel lonely and disconnected.
While the intent of social media may have been to connect people, your favorite social platforms may leave you feeling the exact opposite way.
In a study titled No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression, Hunt and her colleagues found that participants who limited their social media use to 10 minutes a day reported significantly lower levels of loneliness compared to those who did not limit social media use.
By spending less time on social media, you may be more likely to spend time engaging in activities that help you feel truly connected to people around you — like taking a yoga class, going on a coffee date, or even just running to the grocery store.
3. You’re anxious all the time.
Feel jittery, but not sure why? Several studies have linked social media use to increased levels of anxiety — and the more platforms you use, the more anxiety you may experience.
Checking social media may feel like downtime, but it’s rarely a stress reliever: You wonder if you’re posting enough (or too much!). You worry about how people will react to what you’ve posted. You get heated reading political rants. And you get FOMO from seeing what other people are up to.
Taking a break from social media can be challenging, but you may find it quells some of your nagging anxiety. “It can make you realize how much better you feel once you get over the anxiety of missing out on things,” Hunt says.
4. You’re playing the comparison game.
It’s easy to feel cruddy after looking at post after post of carefully curated content — whether it’s from your friends, social media influencers, or celebrities. You may feel jealous or believe your life pales in comparison to all the jet-setting adventures, flawless selfies, seemingly impossible workouts, and relationship goals you’re bombarded with on a daily basis.
But — we’re sure you’ve heard this before — what people post on social media isn’t the whole picture. “True intimacy and social support involves sharing not only the good moments, but also the times in life that distress or embarrass us — times when we are vulnerable and not at our best,” Hunt says. “Social media doesn’t encourage or reward that.”
If social media has you feeling pressured to be perfect, cut back and spend some face-to-face time with friends who want to hear about the less-than-perfect details of your life.
5. It’s messing with your sleep.
Sure, social media can keep you up at night worrying. (Why hasn’t your friend responded to the message they read 10 hours ago?!) But it goes deeper than that — too much screen time can also have physical effects.
Research suggests that “blue light” from the LEDs used to illuminate smartphones can impact our circadian rhythms — the internal clock that controls our 24-hour sleep/wake cycle. And while any amount of light can decrease the production of melatonin — the natural hormone that helps us fall asleep — blue light is a more powerful melatonin suppressor than other light sources.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, consider putting your phone down about 2 to 3 hours before bedtime — and make sure you’re getting plenty of natural light during the day, too. Even if you aren’t ready to swear off social media completely, reducing your exposure to sleep-hindering blue light can help you feel better.
Should You Take a Social Media Break?
If you constantly stress about whether you’re racking up enough likes, comments, and retweets — or if your first thought during a delicious meal or dream vacation is “I need to share this on social!” — it’s likely a good idea to take a social media breather.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to quit cold turkey. You can ease your way into it by turning off notifications for awhile, or limiting the hours you spend online.
And when you choose to reenter the world of social media, take stock of your emotions and behaviors. Hunt suggests mindful self-monitoring: Try an app like InMoment or SPACE to keep tabs on how much time you’re spending on social media networks. (Or, if you have an iPhone, use the Screen Time feature to get that info.) Above all else, pay attention to how social media use makes you feel — if it’s taking a toll on your mental health, take a break now and then.