6 Tips for Taking a Break From Social Media

Kyla Bills

This much we know: Despite the pseudo-serotonin of “breaking” headlines, glossy images, and insanely cute animal clips, social media causes FOMO, turns us into “likes” monsters, and can make us feel inadequate in general. Plus, it exacerbates mental health issues like anxiety and depression. But for most of us with a pulse and a phone, social media is part of our daily routine. (Cue me tapping into my third cousin’s ex-girlfriend’s 2018 vacation “highlight.”)

Logging off at the end of the day—and disconnecting mentally—can be tough, but there are ways to reclaim your headspace and stop the endless scrolling. And who better to advise than a few social media pros who make their living online.

Try desktop-only

“For me, the balance that has helped has been removing Twitter from my phone and only using it on my desktop,” says Addy Baird, a political reporter who uses social media to follow trending topics and communicate with sources. This, she says, keeps her interaction with the platform “more purposeful and limited, rather than just habitual use.”

Lots of social platforms still exist on desktop, but they’re often clunkier, so it’s harder to get sucked into an endless scroll hole.

Hide tempting apps

If you can't bear to fully delete an overused app from your phone—whether it’s Tinder or Slack—the next best option is to hide it from yourself. Peter Slattery, a social editor for Morning Brew, puts his social apps into random folders on his phone when he’s off the clock. Often, he says, “I find myself tapping on apps by reflex outside of work hours, so hiding it counteracts the impulse. You get used to which folder it’s in, but it works for a little bit.”

Hypothesis: If you tell enough people that you’re logging off, it will eventually become true.

Set crazy-low screen time limits

To help you snap out of impulsively tapping into a given app, try installing a barrier to the sweet, sweet adrenaline rush of seeing how many people commented on your homemade five-layer cake. Enter screen time limits: When you’ve hit your self-restricted time allotment on an app, a bouncer-like screen stops you from going any further. (On an iPhone, just go to Settings, then Screen Time.)

“Around the holidays last year, I set one-minute screen time limits on my email and Slack,” says Addy. “I noticed I was compulsively using them even while not working. I have to override it on work days, but when I’m off, that little barrier to entry definitely helps keep me offline.” If you’re not ready to press the “one more minute” button 30 times a day, set yours to 10 minutes or half an hour and hope the disruption is annoying enough to prevent a longer binge.

Let your boundaries be known

Hypothesis: If you tell enough people that you’re logging off, it will eventually become true. Peter says, “I set pretty clear boundaries with my boss about when I’m on and offline.” Not everyone can log off exactly at 5 pm, but you can be honest with your manager around when you’re quieting notifications after reasonable work hours.

With friends who expect you to reply to their Snap upon delivery, try just saying something like, “I probably won’t look at messages or DMs during work or when I’m spending time with other people. I like to stay present with what I’m doing, but I promise to answer later if not immediately.” If an app match sends you a late-night message, set expectations by being consistent in responding the next day.

Savor a 10-minute scroll before it turns into two hours. Photo: Julien Tell

Chuck your phone (kind of)

Another tip from Peter: “I keep my work computer in one room and personal computer in another. I’m not logged into work accounts on my personal phone nor on my personal computer.” The philosophical question here is, naturally, If someone Slacks me and I have no way to see it, is it really an emergency?

While you may not have two computers, we can all practice a little physical distance from our devices. Run to the bodega without your phone or challenge yourself to keep it across the room for a few hours—let your dog sit on it, lose it while you make your bed, or hide it in a bookshelf if it helps. Realize that actually, it’s fine to “miss” whatever latest update.

Get a hit of real life

When you’re feeling drained with a social media hangover, remind yourself that what you’re seeing on these apps isn’t “real.” That flawless influencer used three different filtering apps to look that good, that stunning dinner-party spread was cold by the time it was photographed, and that scene queen is a sweet, anxious introvert in reality.

“I have a mental boundary around social media,” says Emerson Obus, who manages social media for musical artists through a marketing agency. “I’m hyper-aware of how far it is from real life because I post on other people’s behalf.”

When you’re feeling something over a high school friend’s post, call them to catch up. Always favoriting a friend of a friend’s tweets? See if they want to hang out. Instead of giving in to the simulacrum of a social life, partake in yours for real. At the very least, you’ll end up on your phones…together.

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