You miss out on a lot
Forget the phone call: nowadays social media is the primary platform on which people share major life news, from engagements and wedding snaps, to pregnancy and birth announcements, new jobs and tales from holidays abroad. Some might judge this as impersonal, but you can’t help but appreciate its efficiency in broadcasting news to a wide audience, instantaneously. Coming back to social media after 40 days, I realised – much to my embarrassment – just how many such occasions had passed me by while I was away.
And you’ll miss social media - a lot
Much of western Europe recently enjoyed a public holiday in the form of Ascension Day, which marks 40 days after Easter. And that made me realise how comparatively quickly those 40 days had sped by, compared to the same period during Lent, which seemed to trickle past interminably. I really did miss social media and, yes, certainly some of that longing was due to no longer enjoying the instant dopamine hit it affords. But a significant part was the absence of a lot of the good it contributes to my life: the interesting book recommendations, the travel tips and recipe ideas I am constantly bookmarking, the silly dog videos I exchange with friends. It might be an unpopular stance, but when I engage with it healthily, I can’t deny that social media is a genuine source of joy in my life.
You notice how second nature scrolling is
It was quite unnerving to observe that in situations of discomfort – when I was feeling tired or avoiding a task I didn’t particularly feel like doing, for example – how quickly I swooped up my phone and sought out the (now deleted) Instagram app. Actually, it would even occur completely unconsciously, maybe to fill a lull or because I was simply used to doing it. At the beginning of the 40 days, this happened so frequently that it really helped to up my motivation for giving up social media, highlighting just how little I was in control of my screen time.
Loads of time is suddenly freed up
Have you ever noticed how you never seem to have the time to respond promptly to your backlog of messages, but a full half hour can zip by while you mindlessly scroll the Instagram explore page? Perhaps you’re not quite as disorganised as I am in this respect (and you have my full admiration), but when you delete social media, you suddenly reclaim a remarkable amount of time. Time that you can dedicate to, yes, answering your friends and family more punctually, but also to a myriad hobbies and habits you never seem to have the time for, that will enrich your life and make you a more interesting and fulfilled person. It’s incredible just how much time those innocent feed scrolls can consume.
The healthiest approach? A balanced one
Despite the plus sides above, my take-away from my complete social media detox was, essentially: never again. I’m proud to have got through it, but depriving myself of a major source of connection and inspiration is something I can’t see being the way forward longer-term. That being said, this experiment certainly demonstrated just how frighteningly addictive social media can be, and it has been empowering to feel more in control of how I approach it.
So as tired and clichéd as it may sound, I think restoring some balance is called for. If you too are looking to find this happy medium in your social media consumption, here are some habits I’ve been trying to implement (albeit imperfectly) that you might want to adopt as well:
- Turn your phone off overnight – plus, it’s good for the health of your phone battery, too. I aim to do this around an hour before I go to bed, and it really helps to cut the temptation to mindlessly scroll right up until bedtime, or open the Instagram app seconds after your alarm goes off in the morning. Or consider just leaving it in another room overnight.
- Set up screen time limits – sure, the weekly reports might make your heart sink but they are a useful tool to keep you motivated and accountable in curtailing your app use. Even Instagram now allows you to set a daily limit or create reminders to take breaks. Forest is a visually beautiful app I’ve used for years, where you can plant a virtual forest for every time you successfully don’t use your phone for a selected period of time; they also partner with Trees For The Future to plant trees in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s a fun, even addictive, way to gamify minimising procrastination.
- Make your own rules & stick to them – one of the surest ways to boost self-control is simply to remove the temptation completely. Identify your particular pain points, and then keep your devices out of reach – like if you find yourself mindlessly scrolling while you’re watching TV or when you’re supposed to be responding to emails. I think it’s also general good practice to make meals with friends or family – or even if you’re just eating by yourself – entirely screen-free.
- Consider deleting apps – I personally re-installed all the apps I had deleted for Lent, but it’s a worthwhile exercise to sort through the apps on your phone to judge whether you really do need all of them on there. You might find it easier to control your time online if you can only access your favourite apps via your computer once or twice a day – as opposed to every half hour on your phone.
- Cut down your notifications – stronger-willed people than me like to remove all social media notifications, but I find not having any a reason to check the apps. However, I have been sifting out any irrelevant ones so that I only receive alerts when it truly is important, and so my phone isn’t dinging pointlessly every few minutes.