Around this time last year, I had an epiphany. Ok, it was less dramatic than that. I mean, it was a calm realisation. Maybe that is an epiphany. We tend to believe that epiphanies are something dramatic like a lightning bolt from the sky, cartoon-style. But maybe more often they are like that which I had last year.
One day I just realised that I needed to quit social media.
I can’t quite describe it. The moment of realisation wasn’t rooted in reason nor discussion. It was more of a quiet noticing of a sense. I guess this is what I think of now as the inner voice. I just knew. I knew it was time to stop.
Of course, the wider context is that I was halfway through my year-long process of therapy with a psychotherapist for my anxiety and panic disorder.
But the knowledge that I needed to quit social media was a quiet one.
One day, I just knew it was time to stop. To step off the wheel of checking, and posting, and seeking validation, and the constant niggling feeling at the back of my mind.
Social media did not make me feel good anymore.
When I quit social media last November I was pretty anxious about what I would feel, and how I would function. I was worried about my career, my reputation, and whether I’d be totally forgotten about.
But more importantly, I was at the end of my tether. I needed the change. I needed to put a stop to it all. I needed to stop the noise. I had just had enough.
So I quit social media. I unfollowed everyone on Twitter and Instagram to remove the temptation to peek and scroll. I deleted/deactivated my Facebook account. And I deleted all the apps from my phone.
What followed was a fascinating process as I detoxed from an addiction to social media, an addiction I didn’t even know I had. I then noticed a totally different mindset appeared as I settled into my life without the noise of social media.
It was the first time since 2005 that I existed in the world without social media. Let that sink in for a moment. This was the first time in 13 years I had experienced the world without being connected to social media.
That. is. mind-blowing.
You see, it crept up. I was a super early adopter of all the main social networks. What started out as fun, exciting, new, and a great way to connect morphed into something entirely different. It was insidious, and without knowing it, it had a negative impact on my mindset.
What did I notice when I quit social media?
The first noticeable thing was how often I kept picking up my phone. It was like a reflex. I was constantly picking up my phone to check for notifications, but of course, there were none because I had deleted social media.
I also noticed that I carried my phone around with me everywhere, even around the house from room to room. There was no need to do this. And yet, without realising it, out of habit, I was carrying and checking this device.
I would say it took around 2 weeks for me to stop mindlessly picking up my phone to look at it.
I realise now that these devices and these apps are designed to keep us hooked. They are designed to be addictive. They are designed to keep you logged in.
The next thing I noticed was how much brain space how I had. In those two months without social media, I felt freer. I was able to think about and concentrate more on my real, physical life. I felt more creative, thoughtful, and considered. I felt like life and possibilities were expansive.
That is, instead of spending hours scrolling through what other people were doing with their lives, I was actually living mine instead. Hours! I was regaining hours of my day!
I felt a sense of ease. For the most part, my anxiety symptoms eased off. There was less sense of pressure. I felt more grounded and in the moment.
During those two months, I regained perspective. I was able to spend time reflecting and understanding what was me, and what was being influenced by all that I consumed around me. I began to understand the need the space from consuming so much information, the need to let the mind just process, to come up with its own ideas.
I had freedom from reacting. When you are constantly consuming information and scrolling through apps you are required to react. This is exhausting. Constantly reacting is exhausting. It doesn’t give us space to take action.
We need space from reacting to take action.
By allowing my mind to have space I was able to be creative and philosophical again. We don’t need to keep filling that space. Without space in our minds, we lose control of it. Space is needed to process. Fill it and you lose control.
I was able to reset. It takes time to untangle what is you and what is other people. That is very hard to do when constantly connected to others, especially so through social media.
I became increasingly aware of how I was being used by social media. I was angry and upset that I had been duped into thinking it was this lovely, democratic, free tool to connect and share. No, that was a manipulative technique to lure us all in, to create a product out of us, and then package the data on us to sell to advertisers. If something is free, then you are the product.
I didn’t want to be a product any longer. That’s not a pleasant thought and is certainly not what I want my life to stand for.
Taking two months off social media was a chance to recalibrate. It gave me the much-needed detox to rid myself of the addiction to social media. It was the time to figure out what I stood for, and what I wanted my life to look like.
I would highly recommend taking some time off social media. It may differ in length of time for you, but it is such a great opportunity to understand what matters to you and wriggle out of the addictive qualities of social media and devices.
How to quit social media
1. Delete the apps
One of the quickest wins for having a social media detox is to simply delete the apps off your phone. If you need to check your social media for messages etc. you could log in via your laptop or computer.
By removing social media apps from your phone you remove the temptation and habit to just pick up and scroll aimlessly whenever you have an empty moment or an urge to procrastinate.
2. Unfollow everybody
If you want to go a step further you could go to the same extreme I did and unfollow everybody. For me, this was the only way to stop the endless scrolling.
I found that deleting the apps wasn’t enough for me as I’d log in via a web browser on my phone and scroll there. Unfollowing was the only way I could remove any small chance of me slipping up.
Before unfollowing, you can download your account details including everyone you follow so you can re-follow if and when you want to.
3. Give yourself a set time to detox
Some people prefer to have boundaries on their social media detox. You could start off small with just a day, or a weekend and then build up to a week or more.
By having a set social media detox time you can manage your own expectations as well as those of others.
4. Or get in touch with your intuition
Others may prefer to follow my route and use your intuition to guide you with how long to stay off social media. This requires being able to listen to yourself truthfully from a place of inner being rather than ego.
5. Put your phone away
Sometimes the easiest way to quit social media, even for just a few hours, is to put your phone away when it’s not needed. The act of physically putting it in a drawer or in another room can have some noticeable effects on how untraining your muscle memory from carrying your phone everywhere. Plus, you will create space in your mind for other things.
6. Let people know how else to contact you
As I mentioned previously, it’s good practice to manage expectations and let people know how else to contact you. This could be pinning an update to the top of your social media page that lets people know you’re not currently checking social media and how best to reach you if they need to.
7. Be choosey with what information or content you receive via email
Whilst you are a social media detox it can be useful to look at the kind of information you are receiving in your inbox. Unsubscribe from any newsletters, company mailshots, or retail sales emails that no longer serve you or interest you.
8. Allow yourself time for nothingness
This is a big one. As a society, we have created a world that keeps us constantly busy, entertained, consuming, connected. We have lost that ability to just be bored, to sit with nothingness, to just be. It’s in that space of nothingness that interesting things can happen. As I said above, when I had space in my mind away from other people’s noise, I was able to start thinking creatively again.
What will your brain come up with if you give it some space?
9. Try other hobbies
Just look at your Screen Time information on your phone and see how much you spend each day on social media. How else could that time be used? I’m guessing you have time to take up a whole new hobby if you want to.
This year I found myself drawn to gardening as a hobby for the first time ever. It feels liberating to be able to do something for fun that is away from a screen. I find it incredibly therapeutic, and you know, just fun.
10. Do something creative
Being creative is a useful antidote to addiction. I know many of us would hate to admit we have an addiction to social media. I certainly found it upsetting. But the nature of it meant we had no idea what it would be like when we started on these platforms.
Once we realise the addictive qualities of social media we can work to move away from it. I think a great way to process that is through creative pursuits. Just like I recommend doing a hobby above, being creative is both fun and therapeutic.
Being creative could be anything from writing, drawing, painting, and photography to DIY, craft, gardening, or cooking. I believe every human being is creative if we just allowed ourselves the time and space to explore that part of ourselves.
11. Just daydream
How much time do you allow yourself to daydream? I mean, just to sit and let your mind wander. Daydreaming is so important for the functioning of our minds. Give yourself time to daydream.
I mean, I’ve noticed that increasingly more and more people take their phones to the toilet. We’re not even getting toilet inspiration these days!
12. Note how you feel not using social media
Finally, and most importantly, try to be mindful of how you feel when you are not using social media. Take note and create awareness for the feelings you have without it.
Do you feel positive? Indifferent? More productive? Inspired? Hopeful? Stressed? Question these feelings and dig a little deeper into why you’re having the reaction to being off social media. I bet you will find some interesting insights when you delve into it.
Have you ever had a social media detox or even quit a social media platform?