How often have you found yourself lost in time and space on social media?
I’m pretty sure this has happened to many people, for some even daily. It has definitely happened to me.
So many ‘short’ breaks have turned into an hour of Instagram scrolling. So many precious free hours have been wasted on social media instead of my actual hobbies.
I tried to quit social media several times but I always came back. The methods I followed were not effective, especially not in the long-term.
Then I watched ‘The Social Dilemma’ on Netflix, where they explained the negative effects of social media. Not only on individuals but on our society as a whole. That was my wake-up call to really do a social media detox this time.
I didn’t want to stop cold turkey, because I knew from previous attempts that wouldn’t work. Also, I didn’t want to quit social media but rather have a healthy relationship with it. Where I would check my profiles every so often – instead of spending every bored and procrastinated minute there.
So I tried a slower but more effective and sustainable approach.
I’m proud to say that it has worked! It’s been about 2 months since I have deleted social media apps from my phone and iPad.
Because of my approach, I don’t feel the need to aimlessly go through social media.
Sounds good and want to try it too? Here’s how I did it so you can do your own social media detox!
My effective and sustainable approach for a social media cleanse
Okay, so I mentioned that I have tried to go cold turkey before, but that didn’t work for me. This slow approach has been super effective.
I did this for Instagram because that’s the social media app I used most, but this approach works for any social media platform.
Social media cleanse step 1. Turn off notifications
First of all, the best advice I can give you is a simple action. But it works wonders for decreasing your phone use in general. And improving your productivity.
Turn off notifications.
Turn off all notifications for your social media, email, mobile games, news apps, etc.
The business model of mobile apps is to make you spend (waste) as much time as possible on their app. Notifications are their way to demand your attention and send you to the app. It works great for them.
But notifications are terrible for you. They interrupt you during work, social time, cooking or whatever. But have you also noticed how often you reach for your phone to check for new notifications?
Notifications wire your brain for distractions and phone addiction.
When you turn off your notifications, you’ll miss it a lot at first. And you will most likely open your apps much more at first but trust me; this will fade away.
Give it a try for 2 weeks. You’ll get used to it, your mental health and productivity will improve and you won’t want to go back.
Social media cleanse step 2. Set a time limit
I would lose track of time when I was on Instagram. I could easily spend 45 minutes in the app during a ‘short break’.
So I set a time limit for Instagram on my phone. This had several great effects.
- It’s great to bring you awareness of how much time you have spent in the app. Even if you ignore the time limit. It nudges you to climb out of the social media rabbit hole.
- Having a time limit also helped to spend my time in the app more wisely. I was more intentional of what I wanted to see.
- And of course, I couldn’t open the app after I reached my time limit. If you have a hard time being disciplined, let someone else set your time limit passcode so you can’t cheat.
Towards the end of my social media cleanse, my time limit for Instagram was 20 minutes. As I knew I only had a limited amount of time, I didn’t want to spend it on aimless scrolling. Instead I checked in on the accounts I was actually interested in.
Start with a time limit about 25% less than your current screen time. Take the average screen time for a certain app or all social media during the last week.
How to do this?
Find your average screen time for an app on:
iPhone: Settings > Screen Time > See All Activity > select Week. Look for ‘Show Apps & Websites’ You can also check previous weeks by swiping through the Screen Time graph.
Android: Settings > Digital Wellbeing and parental controls > Click on the time tracker or bar to go into more detail > You’ll see your most used apps, click on one > Tap ‘Weekly’ at the bottom
Set a time limit:
iPhone: Settings > Screen Time > App Limits > Add Limit > Choose a whole category or specific apps
Android: Settings > Digital Wellbeing and parental controls > App timers
An example: If your average time on Instagram is 2 hours per day, set a time limit for 1,5 hours per day (0,75 x the minutes or hours).
Repeat this every 2 weeks.
Social media cleanse step 3. Unfollowing and muting
Do you watch and read everything in your news feeds? I noticed there were some posts and stories I didn’t really look at or read.
I was sort of ‘speed-scrolling’ through my feed, skipping many posts. But I had to get to the end of my feed, otherwise I was afraid I would miss something (FOMO).
That’s when I realized that I should shorten my feed. And only fill it with accounts that actually added value and were interesting/entertaining to me.
So I evaluated the accounts I was following by checking them one by one. Was I still interested in following this account? Does it inspire me, entertain me or add value in any way?
Your interests change over time. People’s posts change too. While you might have liked them at the time you pressed “Follow”, you might not be interested anymore.
Simply go to the list of people you’re following or your Facebook friends list and start unfollowing. You can do it in one sitting or more.
If unfollowing or unfriending is a step too far for you, then you can “Mute” accounts!
How to do this?
For Instagram and Twitter: When you’re in your “Following list” or on someone’s profile, open the settings (three dots). Here you can choose to mute an account. On Instagram you can choose to mute Stories, Posts or both.
For example, some of the people I was following posted so many Stories. And I simply didn’t care to see it on a daily basis. I muted their Stories and it reduced my feed.
On Facebook it’s called a bit differently. Here you can “unfollow” people, to stop seeing posts but stay friends. Very useful for those family members and friends that post every single update on their life – but it’s too rude or awkward to unfriend.
Back to the main point: unfollow and mute accounts to reduce your daily feed’s length.
Re-evaluate this every 2 weeks as well.
Why and how does this social media cleanse work?
First of all, as I didn’t receive notifications, I wasn’t distracted.
Sure, in the beginning I anxiously opened social media more than before to check my notifications in-app. You will find that’s not very exciting and automatically forget about it after a week or so.
Setting a time limit only works if you gradually reduce your allowed time.
The time limit made me aware of how much time I had already spent in the app. It also made me more intentional of how I used Instagram. I didn’t have unlimited time to aimlessly go through the ‘Explore’ page.
After a while, I noticed I was also more intentional about opening the app. I didn’t open the app any given time, to not waste any precious minutes!
Shortening my feed was also a great help. At first, I would sometimes go to someone’s profile to check their posts or Stories over there.
But if you don’t see an account on a daily basis, you will quickly forget about it and guess what: you will stop caring too! Your FOMO will fade away.
I was used to seeing new content in my feed every time I opened Instagram, so I did it several times a day. Your brain gets a dopamine rush every time it’s “rewarded” with new posts.
But if your feed is shorter, you’ll often find nothing new. And since there is no dopamine rush, slowly but surely you will stop checking less. Because you don’t expect to see anything new in your feed.
Unfollowing and muting only works if you do this regularly too. Evaluate every 2 weeks which accounts should go.
You’ll get better at this every time. Because you will also reduce your time limit, you have to carefully choose which accounts are worth your time.
After a while, my feed was quite short. And I was so trained to go through my feed within my time limit, that I wouldn’t even use the full time.
Another important component was that I filled my newly freed up time with hobbies and interests, for example reading. And because my hobbies would feed my soul much better than social media, I ultimately stopped caring social media and what other people had posted.
Compared to my hobbies, going through my Instagram feed didn’t fulfil me anymore. It almost became like a chore.
That’s when I knew I was ready to delete Instagram from my phone and tablet.
Now, after 2 months I still don’t miss it. I’ve checked Instagram 3 times on my computer since. I have a healthy relationship with social media now where I am in control of how I spend my time in the app.
I have more time for hobbies, I’m way more productive and focused at work and I sleep better too. And I can really encourage others to do a social media cleanse too!
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Let’s get started with this social media cleanse
To sum it up, here are the steps to get started with your own social media cleanse:
- Turn off notifications! (Except maybe text messages)
- Look up your screen time for social media
- Set a time limit 25% under your current average screen time
- Unfollow and mute accounts
- Repeat step 2-4 every 2 weeks
- Use your new free time for activities that fulfil you better than social media
This has been the most effective approach for me – I hope it will help you too!
Share this post with a friend now and do your social media cleanse together!
It keeps you more accountable and you can share your experiences.