Taking time off social media can provide a refreshing break and benefit mental health. Disabling certain apps, using alternative ways of communication, and other tips can help.
Many people continually check their phones and other devices for notifications and spend time scrolling through social media. These activities can sometimes be difficult to stop.
Social media has revolutionized how people interact, and it can help with building networks and connections across the globe. However, a substantial body of research suggests that it can have negative consequences.
Recent data show that 58.4% of the global population uses social media. Experts estimate that about 5–10% of people in the United States may be at risk of social media addiction.
A social media break, or social media detox, is a period of time during which a person stops using social media to varying degrees. The individual defines how long the break will last and which social media platforms it includes.
This article explores the benefits of social media breaks and discusses the signs that it might be time to take a break. It also offers tips for taking a social media break.
Stepping away from social media, even for an indefinite time, has many benefits.
A 2020 study found that a fear of missing out, known as FOMO, drives nighttime use of social media, causing sleep disturbances and sleep difficulties.
A 2021 study involving 132 people found that limiting social media use for a week improved well-being by preventing sleep problems. However, the authors note that adolescents who were already heavily engaged with social media may have chosen not to participate in the study because they were unwilling to reduce their use.
Another 2021 study found that limiting adolescents’ internet access before bedtime prevented sleep problems, but this was more effective for those who were less engaged with social media.
A 2018 study found that abstaining from social media use for about a week reduced stress in both typical and excessive social media users. The effects were more pronounced in excessive social media users.
Prevents depression, anxiety, and psychological distress
The authors of a 2019 study note that common social media behaviors, such as constantly checking for messages, and addictive use of social media are risk factors for anxiety, depression, and psychological distress. However, they also highlight that there are limitations to the research and that further study is necessary.
Meanwhile, a 2018 study found that limiting social media use to about 30 minutes each day significantly reduced feelings of loneliness and depression in undergraduate students after 3 weeks.
Boosts mental well-being
The authors of a 2020 study asked 61 participants to abstain from social media for a week. They report a significant increase in mental well-being and social connectedness after the period of abstinence.
They also note both a positive relationship between social connectedness and mental well-being, and a negative relationship between FOMO and mental well-being.
A 2019 study found a positive relationship between social anxiety, loneliness, and social media addiction.
Social media use can cause FOMO and a sense of inadequacy. This may lead to loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Stepping away from social media may help reduce FOMO-induced anxiety and loneliness.
It may be time for a person to take a social media break if social media leads to any of the following:
- getting frequently annoyed or frustrated with people’s posts, comments, or trending topics on social media
- tending to compare their life, body, career, relationships, well-being, or other factors with those of other people on social media
- having the habit of checking social media first thing upon waking up
- noticing an increase in anxiety or depression symptoms
- spending a significant amount of time on social media
- getting insufficient sleep or having trouble falling asleep
- checking notifications in the company of others or during an activity
- getting into arguments on social media
- feeling overwhelmed by social media posts
- feeling disappointed for not receiving any engagement with a post or comment
- losing focus and missing deadlines or neglecting chores
- feeling tempted to compete with others on social media — for example, for more likes or followers
If a person thinks that they may have a social media addiction, they should consider speaking with a healthcare professional.
Below are some practical strategies that may help people start their social media break.
Create a goal
Every person has unique needs and may have different goals for their social media break. However, behaviors that may be beneficial include:
- refraining from scrolling mindlessly
- avoiding engaging in unhealthy conversations, topics, or debates
- stopping the use of a specific app for a certain number of days
- using social media for a maximum of 20 minutes a day
Decide on the length of the social media break
Some people may begin with smaller breaks and gradually build up to more substantial breaks. It may be helpful to try the break when going on a vacation or out of town. The different routines and busy schedules may make it easier to stay away from social media.
A person may find themselves reflexively checking social media apps and notifications. Deleting apps may help a person stop automatically checking them, as they will need to re-download the apps to be able to sign back in.
Turning off push notifications may also help. Newer devices may allow a person to customize the notifications on each app.
Temporarily disable the accounts
If people find that deleting apps is not effective, they may temporarily disable their accounts. This may mean that it takes more time before they can log into their accounts again.
Inform friends and family about the break
It can be worrying for friends and family if a person is suddenly absent from social media. A person should consider informing close friends or a trusted circle about taking a break, as this may provide them with a support system.
Look for activities or tasks to replace social media
Whenever a person has a strong urge to visit social media sites, they can look for alternative activities. One of the advantages of abstaining from social media is that a person may have more time to do other things.
These activities may include:
- catching up with a friend in person
- learning a new skill
- finding a new hobby
- practicing mindfulness or meditation
Find other ways to keep in touch
Some people use social media apps as a primary communication tool for work. A person may use other means to keep in touch with colleagues, including:
- text messaging
- video conferencing
Alternatively, a person could use the messaging function on some social media platforms without browsing or scrolling on the platform itself.
Social media has become a significant part of many people’s lives. It offers a range of benefits, but it can also have detrimental effects. Research suggests that taking a social media break may have positive effects on a person’s mental well-being.
A person can try various techniques to reduce their social media use or take a break. People may also wish to consider speaking with a healthcare professional about excessive social media use and their mental health.