how to limit social media
Slow Living

8 Powerful Ways To Limit Your Social Media

Hours of mindlessly scrolling social media can lead to depression and anxiety. Here are some powerful tactics to limit your social media time.

Social media has helped you stay in touch with family when you couldn’t travel. It’s made you friends, inspired you and even landed you clients or freelance work.

But social media has also got you staying up watching cat videos, wondering where 3 hours just went. It’s made you question why your life is so lackluster compared to your Instagram friends. Scrolling has become a distraction whenever you feel the pangs of boredom.

And you’re not alone.

Studies show that mobile users reach for the phones about 150 times a day – and spend more than 3 hours a day on their phones.

And the effects of all that screen time are alarming.

You might not realize how much time you spend online because the hours fly by in apps designed to get you addicted. It’s that dopamine high you get when a new notification pops up that gets you returning to feel that validation.

Why too much social media is harmful

how to limit social media

Statistics show all those hours spent on social media kill your attention span and impact your short-term memory.

If you find it more difficult to focus on a novel or a long-term project, then you know the feeling.

Social media also often just makes you feel bad. Numerous studies have shown passively consuming content correlates with feelings of loneliness and triggers envy and resentment. The filtered reality you see on your social media feeds raise expectations that real life can’t meet.

Hours on social media have also been shown to reduce the quality of your real-life conversations, impact your sleep and increase obesity and depression. Numerous studies have linked high social media use to anxiety and depression caused by comparing yourself to others and feeling like you’re missing out.

And although limiting your social media will do wonders for your concentration and well-being, it isn’t exactly easy to cut back on something that’s such a huge part of your life.

So if you’ve been thinking of limiting your online time, here are 7 powerful hacks to get off your phone and get over your addiction. Even if you’ve tried before and failed!

How to limit your social media:

1. Track your online time

limiting social media

If you’re spending hours a day on your phone, you’re probably aware of your problem. But you may justify it to yourself saying, “it helps me relax, I’m networking, it helps me get inspired and stay in touch with friends.”

And you may not realise just how many hours you spend online.

An app that tracks the time you spend on your phone (like Offtime, Space or AppDetox) can be a much needed wake-up call.

Once you realise exactly how many hours you’re devoting to the Internet, and how many times you pick up your phone to check every new email and WhatsApp notification, you’ll probably gain some perspective on how your phone is impacting your life.

Journaling is an incredibly valuable way to boost your self-awareness.

If you’ve ever barely remembered what you had for breakfast yesterday, you know how easy it is for our routines to pass in a hectic blur. We’re so busy with the obligations of our daily lives that they often pass us by.

When you reflect on your day in a journal, you gain insight into exactly where all that time goes. And journaling helps even after you put down your pen. You begin to build awareness of your daily routines and you’re more mindful about how you spend your time.

And you get some accountability, too. Because who wants to write in their journal everyday that they’ve spent 3 hours on Facebook watching Karen videos every day?

2. Know your addiction

cut down screen time

Realize that you’re addicted and that your self-control may not be as powerful as the design of the apps designed to keep you online for hours. Thousands of engineers with data on exactly how our minds work have engineered those apps to get us hooked. The more you know about those tactics, the easier it will be to identify when they’re working on you.

Realise that you are persuadable and that companies are fighting for your attention. Your time spent online means more advertising profits for them.

To know more, documentaries like The Social Dilemma offer insights and interviews with experts in the tech sector. There are also dozens of incredible books on how social media has transformed our lives and our societies – not always for the better.

Reading more about the far-reaching tentacles of social media, and its ability to influence anything from our buying habits to the political process, is a powerful wake-up call to reevaluate what social media means in your own life.

3. Build self-awareness

cutting down on internet use

Take the hours you spend online and add them up into a weekly total. Then ask yourself: what else could you be doing with that time?

Being self aware of exactly what you’re doing online helps you gain perspective. If you’re using Facebook to get notifications about your book club group, then notice whenever you stay logged in to comment on your distant cousin’s political rants.

Ask yourself: what do you really want to get out of social media?

Then get honest and ask: are you using social media in the best way to accomplish your goals?  

Before you pick up your phone, ask yourself what you’re hoping to accomplish with this online session. When you put your phone down again, ask yourself how you’ve spent your time. Did you get distracted and end up spending an unplanned hour scrolling?

Journaling helps with building self-awareness. Be aware of your mood and how your online time makes you feel. Do you find yourself scrolling competitors’ feeds whenever you feel bad about your own business?

If you’re scrolling because you’re too tired for anything else, ask yourself if scrolling is really the best way to unwind.

4. Do a digital detox

limit social media

If your social media time is out of control and all the scrolling leaves you anxious, then limiting your online time might not help.

Have you ever gone on a diet and found yourself suddenly craving chocolate cake? Then cheating by eating a bag on chips?

When you’re deep into an addiction, sometimes it’s best to make a clean break for awhile. If you limit yourself to an hour a day, you’ll still be constantly thinking about your phone.

To get a taste of the offline life, take a digital detox for at least a few days – to the point where you’re no longer constantly thinking about social media.

When you get back online after your detox, you’ll have valuable perspective on what the offline life feels like. You’ll see all the benefits of quiet evenings away from your phone and less hectic mornings. And you won’t ever want to fall back into an online addiction again.

You might even find – when you log back in – that you really didn’t miss as much as you imagined.

Many people who cut back on social media do it suddenly and don’t miss it. When they return online, the experience feels flat and they wonder how they spent so many hours online.

How to do an effective digital detox:

  • Get your phone out of sight. When your phone isn’t so easily accessible, laying by your side on your nighstand or in your front pocket, then it will be much easier to take a digital break. Keep it in another room when you’re trying to work, and put it away in a drawer when you’re going to bed. Out of sight – out of mind.
  • Log out of your social media accounts and delete your social apps off your phone. Why fight temptation when you can just avoid it altogether? Getting social media off your phone makes it more difficult to access, and therefore easier to detox. If you absolutely must check in with a friend or family, then access the app on your laptop and log out when you’ve accomplished your task.
  • Get busy and find something engaging to do. Sitting around and thinking about your smartphone isn’t the best way to spend your digital detox and will make the process tedious and painful. Instead, use your offline time to take a walk, listen to some music, start an art project, read a good book or throw yourself into that one thing you’ve always wished you had more time for.
  • Don’t give up. When you find yourself logging back in, and then spending a few hours scrolling Reels, then don’t despair. Don’t use that lapse as an excuse to give up altogether. Forgive yourself and log out and continue your detox. In the beginning, a short lapse or two is inevitable. Use the experience as a learning opportunity that broadens your awareness of your social media addiction.

Once you’ve done a longer-term detox, then make it a habit. Plan a day away from your phone. Make 9pm the cutoff time for switching off your phone every evening.

There’s also virtue in just doing nothing – and white space is often missing from our lives. The state of boredom often drives our best ideas and gives our minds the freedom and space to wander and dream.

Your life won’t be miraculously anxiety-free. But it will feel good to no longer feel obliged to check your phone every hour.

5. Use social media less – but better

limit social media

It’s easy to optimize your social media use once you know what you want from it.

If you use Facebook to keep up with your book club, then bookmark the book club’s group page and go there directly to read messages then leave.

If you’re on Twitter to keep up with your favorite political pundits, then make a Twitter list with your favorites and bookmark that.

On Instagram, set a time limit for yourself and turn on a notification that will remind you once you crossed it.

Turn off the notifications on all of your social media accounts and set a daily time to check in with each. You don’t need to constantly check your phone every time it pings with a notification that someone posted a meme in your WhatsApp friends group.

Unfollow accounts that make you feel bad – you’re not obligated to keep up with anyone.

Draw boundaries and don’t apologize for them. If you get a message at 10pm, then don’t apologize for replying the next afternoon. You’re not obligated to answer messages immediately, and your friends and family will quickly stop expecting instantaneous answers from you once they get used to your social media habits.

If you’re looking to network, instead of liking the person’s Tweets think about a more memorable and personal way to connect with that person. Leave a thoughtful comment on their website or send a reply to their newsletter. This will get their attention far better than an Instagram follow.

6. Avoid online arguments

limiting social media use

That righteous anger so often seen in Twitter wars rarely helps those who are facing an injustice. The anger in online bickering is often just a way for the poster to feel better about themselves when compared to the more ignorant, misinformed object of their anger.

Why it’s tempting to want to “win” an argument and look smart, the truth is you’re only wasting time and a fiery diatribe will rarely actually change anyone’s mind. It might give you a shot of adrenaline when you come out the more intelligent victor, but then you realize it’s also taken hours – if not days – of your life away for that momentary hit of feeling good.

The person you’ve won against will probably walk away feeling that your side is full of angry, intolerant people.

And while debate is a healthy and natural human desire, there are other healthier and more constructive ways to discuss controversial topics. Join a real life book club or set up a regular coffee meeting with friends devoted to a different topic each week. You’ll get more stimulation from such real-life debates and they’re far more likely to broaden minds than online arguments.

If you post a controversial opinion, then don’t engage when others attack. Acknowledge their comment and move on. If their reply is rude, then block the user. Your social media is your own space and you don’t have to let everybody in.

Think about a more positive way to post about the causes you care about. If it’s animal rights, for example, then talk about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet and post some recipes instead of leaving angry comments on strangers’ hunting photos.

Walk away when somebody tries to bait you into a heated argument. It takes more strength to stay silent sometimes that to “win” a bickering war.

And if you really do want to change someone’s mind, then realize that kindness is far more persuasive than anger.

7. Treat social media like a marketeer

cutting down on social media

If you run a small business, or if you’re working a side hustle or building a personal brand, you’re probably thinking: I can’t take time off from social media! I can’t afford to lose customers and followers!

But here’s the thing: it’s just as easy to get sucked into social media when it’s part of your work. After all, you can justify those hours online with defence mechanisms like “I’m networking” or “I’m building a community.”

When your social media presence becomes an all-consuming and deeply personal passion, then you’re very likely to measure your self-worth by the amount of followers and likes your business gets. And while it’s important to monitor those numbers for you business, taking them personally will damage your confidence and sap your energy.

How to be more effective on social media in your business:

  • Write a clear set of goals for your social media and design a strategy. Do you want more visitors to your website? More clients for your interior design business? Research the best tactics to achieve those goals. Once you know your goals, outline a strategy: how often will you post and on what platforms? What content will most help your audience and help meet your goals? Once you post and reply to comments, then log off. Treat social media as another part of your job, not a worm hole to watch funny videos and worry about the competition.
  • Choose your platforms wisely. If you want more website hits, then your focus should be on SEO and Pinterest – not Twitter. And remember, it’s far better to have a strong presence on your most optimal platform than spread yourself thin over them all.
  • Dedicate specific times for managing your social media. Just like with everything else in your business, your social media gets a block of time (weekly, daily) dedicated to management. Once you’re done, log off and focus on everything else your business entails.
  • Listen to marketing podcasts and read blogs. Getting a marketeer’s perspective will not only give you valuable tips and hacks. It will get you thinking about social media as a tool – not a lifestyle.

8. Remember the benefits of an offline life

social media use limits

When you feel tempted to pick up your phone for an evening of unrestrained scrolling, remember why you decided to limit your social media in the first place.

Were you constantly anxious? Did you have too little time as life passed you by? 

Limiting your online time may help you to sleep better. Some 71 percent of American adults sleep next to their smartphones. And that blue light can interfere with your production of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep.

Limiting social media helps you prioritize in-person connections. It can also reduce anxiety, FOMO and comparison.

And it frees up time for other things. You’ll no longer feel pressured to keep up with a constant stream of notifications.

Limiting your screen time may even help you to appreciate art more because you’re enjoying the real experience without worrying about posting about it.

You can’t drop out and live in the wilderness on the Oregon coast. But you don’t have to reply instantly to emails or answer every comment on Instagram, either.

Read more about slowing down in What is Slow Living?

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limiting social media

16 Comments

  • Tracey Bacic

    I am very old fashioned. When I saw your headline I thought it was about spending less time watching TV – which is something I would like to cut down on, and like you, I find it’s happening now because the TV doesn’t work here. I’m reading more, which I love. I guess some things are good about social media/TV – it informs/inspires, but both cause a lot of time wasting. Like everything, it’s ‘just’ a question of balance.

    • Dee

      Exactly.. It’s funny, because I was just thinking about TV and how we can easily replace one bad habit and time killer with another, unless we go to the root cause of why we’re not balancing our time better.

  • Megan

    I do a lot of work online and on social media so if I’m not careful the lines between work and rest get awfully blurry. Your tips have inspired me to consider taking a proper break! I think at least once a week, being without social media would make a world of difference.

    • Dee

      I know that feeling.. I’ve worked in social media and it’s so easy because that kind of work never really ends, and there’s the endless checking in to view comments and stats. I used to think of my personal social media time as rest, but then I realized it never really made me feel very relaxed especially when I lost track of time.

  • Alice

    This post resonates so much with me! Back in May, I decided my anxiety was TOO much and I took a month-long break from Instagram. The following month, I decided to not reinstall the app on my phone and use it from the browser with the help of a Chrome extension to read DMs. I recently installed Instagram on my tablet to post a couple of things on Stories but my wifi sucks and, without my phone data, it’s a painful experience so I basically open the app only if I really have to!

    I got my tablet for taking notes at University 2 years ago and I was feeling a bit sorry for not using it anymore but then I realized that I can use it for social media so I no longer have to log in from my phone app/browser and it’s amazing!

    With my new approach on social media and internet consumption, I started reading more blogs and digging deeper into web surfing looking for things I’m interested in like I used to do years ago. It feels so good! I even joined a couple of Discord server chats about things I’m passionate about and I’m loving the anonymity in there. You just share and talk about your passions with strangers without having to think about crafting the perfect photo, followers, stats and numbers.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Alice! I’ve also found that the harder I make it for myself to access Instagram, the less likely I’ll find myself endlessly checking in and scrolling mindlessly. I don’t have any social media on my phone at the moment – just Pinterest because it drives so much traffic to my posts, and an app for meditation and another for podcasts.

      I’ve also been reading more blogs and I’ve actually found it easier now to concentrate. I don’t expect everything to be distilled into a short caption and I’m not scrolling through anything as quickly as I did on my phone.. I think that’s made a difference in my ability to concentrate.

    • Dee

      That’s so true, Supal! Now that I’m on my phone less, or at least trying to be, I’ve started noticing how often people just bury themselves in their screens when they’re bored, alone or uncomfortable.

  • Marie

    Great article. It’s a good reminder not to let the internet control our lives. It’s to easy to lose ourselves in it. Thanks for sharing.

  • Stacy Lowrey

    This resonates. I have downloaded and deleted the FB instagram app so many times. 2020 was a whole new level of addiction to social given lockdowns and political chaos. I like the idea of tracking hours spent online and reminding myself what could I have done with that time? Equally great tip that you provided is decide on a goal before accessing social and asking oneself to assess time spent after logging out. I noticed I don’t feel good after scrolling again given current political and social conditions Its just an abyss that pushes emotions to an extreme and in vain. Anyways, great post. I will have to check out your blog more often 🙂 Happy 2021

    • Dee

      Thanks so much Stacy, and I hope these tips are helpful!

      It’s been especially difficult to limit social media during lockdown, since it’s one of just a few ways of connecting that many people have. I do believe social media can help us stay connected with family and friends but it’s dangerous too unless it’s used in moderation.

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