Breaking Up With Social Media

social media break

“Social media pulls us up into our heads. We’re judging, comparing and daydreaming about what we’re seeing online, so we’re not fully living our own life. Instead, we’re caught up in a virtual world that might not be exactly the way it appears.” ~Jane Pernotto Ehrman, MEd

When we open Facebook or Instagram, what do we see? We likely see friends posting pictures on beautiful, tropical beaches, or flexing their muscles while showing their ripped abs. Or maybe we see a friend posting about how she landed her dream job, while someone else boasts about how perfect their marriage is. I am sure I am not the only one who sees these posts and ends up feeling like my life does not measure up to my friend’s lives. Sure, social media can connect us to people we care about, but it can also leave us feeling empty. What can we do when we feel this way?

Reality check: Social media portrays only the tiniest sliver of reality!  There is absolutely no denying that social media is a huge part of modern-day life and that it can come with a lot of upsides. It connects us to those we care about but may not be able to interact with regularly, due to distance or availability. Yet social media can also be a slippery slope, leading to depression, loneliness, anxiety, low self-esteem, etc. If we start going down that slippery slope, what is the way out? Introducing: The Social Media Break.

One study found that people interact with their smartphones a ghastly 2,617 times a day (this is scrolling, clicking, texting–essentially any time the phone is picked up). Social media platforms are designed to be addictive, so taking a step back could help us see how dependent we are. If we are experiencing any of the following, it might be time to take a social media break: cannot  stop comparing ourselves to everyone else; automatically start scrolling in a social media app when picking up the phone; often become upset or saddened as a result of getting online; feel or express irritation when something impedes us from getting on social media; spend A LOT of time scrolling; cannot enjoy a meal, a friend’s wedding, a workout, etc. without first posting about it; the first and last thing we do every day is check our socials; obsess over likes, follows, comments, shares, and other interactions. 

If any of that sounds familiar, it might be time to step back from social media. A social media break could look a million different ways depending on our needs. It might mean stepping away completely for a few days, weeks, months, years, or even indefinitely. It might mean paring back our usage of time spent perusing social media. According to one study, keeping social media use down to just 30 minutes a day can lead to increased mental health and well-being and decreased depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, body image issues, and more. We need to make sure that we are using social media with intention and purpose. Here are some tips for keeping social media habits in line:

  1. Track your usage. We can download an app, turn on settings for alerts, or simply check how much time we are spending on social media each day or week. We can identify what platforms we are using the most and consider what changes need to be made. Tracking our usage will give us a baseline for the time we are spending and that will help us determine how much we need to cut back.
  2. Limit access. Schedule specific time(s) to look at social media. Set aside time each day or week to look through social media–maybe it is on lunch break or every Sunday morning that we check our favorite accounts. Consider having regular “rest days” that are completely social media-free.
  3. Turn off notifications. I have done this and it is magical. I have turned off all social media notifications on my phone so I do not feel prompted to check my Instagram or Snapchat whenever I get a notification. Additionally, if the little red bubbles on our phones alert us to check apps, we can organize our home screen so that these apps are not the first thing we see. Not seeing these notifications minimizes the temptation.
  4. Physical distance. Do not sleep with, by, or near the phone. Get a real alarm clock and keep the phone plugged in elsewhere when you sleep. This ensures we are not on our phones right before bed or first thing in the morning. Have phone free zones like at the dinner table or in the bedroom. Our phones do not need to always be in our hands or pockets!
  5. Delete social media apps off your phone or temporarily disable accounts altogether. This may seem like a big step, but just get rid of it! Deactivate or delete these apps–even just for a time–and take a major break/detox from social media. It is sobering and liberating to realize how much we unnecessarily rely on these apps and just how good real life is!

Social media is literally addictive. Dopamine, the pleasure and reward chemical in the brain that spikes during sex, cocaine, chocolate intake, etc, also spikes every time we get a message, notification, or like. When it begins to wear on us, it is time for a break. So maybe we remove an app, unfollow accounts that make us question our self-worth, stay off all social media platforms for one week or one month, or simply limit the time we are on social media each day. However we choose to do it, stepping away from social media is a powerful way to reconnect with people, including ourselves, in real life. Social media, I think we need a break!

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.


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Melissa Cluff, MS, LMFT, CSAT

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.