The Mental Health Benefits of a Week-Long Break from Social Media
Almost all of us use social media these days. According to studies, well over 90% of people in some age groups are regular social media users, be their platform of choice TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or others – or multiple different platforms, of course.
With that use of social media can come plenty of pleasure, but also a lot of pressure. When we are constantly bombarded with perfectly posed pictures, with posts getting thousands of likes and shares, and generally with images or videos of people (ostensibly) living their best lives, we feel compelled to match them.
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What’s the best way to engage with social media? To try to post even more and better content? To check your various feeds even more often to make sure you never miss anything?
Actually, the best thing you can do for yourself social media wise has nothing to do with how you frame your pictures, how many Likes your post gets, or how many followers you accrue – the best thing you can do is simply to stop using any of it for an entire week.
How can we say that with such certainty? Because a recent study found an undeniable cause-and-effect relationship between take a week-long break from social media and a better sense of mental and emotional well-being.
Social media is addictive. That has been demonstrated time and time again in study after study, and if you’re honest and clear-eyed with yourself, you probably don’t even need a clinical and peer-reviewed study to tell you that – just imagine going without a scroll of Insta or a few Likes here and there on FB or some TikTok rabbit holes and chances are your pulse will quicken.
It’s no surprise why so many people are, at least to some degree, dependent on social media: it can be fun, it can be a distraction, it can be scintillating, it can be heartwarming. And what’s more, social media platforms are designed to be addictive; the algorithms choosing what content to serve you are designed to keep you hooked for as long as possible and keep you coming back as often as possible.
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If you’re spending a glut of time on social media – just like the platforms want you to – then chances are you are doing yourself a disservice, mental health-wise. Why? Because for many people, social media is more than just a time suck, it can literally damage your wellbeing.
An overuse of social media can cause depression and anxiety; that has been proven by rigorous scientific research and studies, and the effects are especially severe in younger social media users. And we’re not talking about just feeling a bit down for a bit of time, when we say depression, we mean the actual clinical term referring to a protracted state of low motivation, low energy, sadness, a lack of pleasure in life, and even thoughts of self-harm.
Anxiety, often paired with depression but distinct from it, refers to a state of worry and fear so elevated that it precludes many normal, meaningful engagements in life, preventing a person from doing things, going places, and seeing people that would otherwise bring them joy and satisfaction.
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In other words, depression and anxiety are real problems, and they can be caused or worsened by too much social media consumption.
Fortunately, a social media break of as little as one weeks’ time can reset the effects social media has on your well-being.
If you’re worried that quitting social media for a week will be hard for you, you’re probably right – it will be. At least on day one, and maybe days two and three, too. But by day seven, it’s almost certain you’ll be glad you took the time. So plan ahead how to make this break happen.
The first thing to do is prepare yourself mentally. Try to get your thinking into a place of gaining more time, more peace, and more focus in your day instead of losing your social media time. Then try to go for longer than usual without checking any social media even before you forgo it fully for the week.
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And don’t forget to tell a select group of people about your plans. If you interact with anyone on a daily (or very regular) basis, let them know you’re intentionally going dark for a week; that way, they won’t worry about your sudden absence, and furthermore they won’t try to contact you about your social media silence, a contact that could well draw you back into the very orbits from which you’re trying to break away.
During your week away from all social media, make sure you’re not dwelling on its absence and waiting to get it back. You can do this by trying something comforting, like a favorite hobby or reading or exercise. Or you can try something new, also, to get your mind off the absence. Or get out there and have some actual social experiences with friends or family or even meeting new people.
If you’re having struggles with the process, indulge in some self-care, be it in the form of meditation, a massage, a floating session, or just a quiet night relaxing at home. And don’t be too hard on yourself if this is a surprisingly hard process for you. Remember, you are effectively breaking a cycle of addiction, so it’s no shame in it being a challenge to take a week off from social media.
There are a lot of great things about social media. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram make it easier than ever to keep up with friends and family. Twitter lets you follow celebrities and politicians and authors and more with a sense of familiarity never before imagined. TikTok can introduce you to some hilarious content from some hilarious people. In short, your daily time on social media can be like a daily dose of happiness – and literally so, when social media engagement releases some dopamine into your brain.
You just have to make sure that when you do get back to social media use after your week off, you reengage with some new boundaries for yourself. Don’t start scrolling and tapping when you’re angry or said, as social media use an amplify these negative emotions. And don’t go on Instagram or TikTok or any of it when you have things that should take higher priority in your non-virtual life.
Used like a spice, social media will enhance your happiness, bringing interesting people, places, and things right to your phone or computer screen; overused, and social media can sour your every day. And week. And month, and on it goes.
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