Cut Down on Screen Time
Slow Living

7 Powerful Ways To Limit Social Media

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

I didn’t cut down on my screen time through discipline or some habit-changing hack I’d read about in the latest self-help book.

The truth is, one day my Instagram app stopped working. And I had no choice but to stop scrolling.

I’d been posting on Instagram for the past few years. I spent countless hours improving my photography, crafting the perfect captions, growing an audience and snapping photos throughout the day for Instagram stories. I wanted to grow my audience and connect with other travellers. And I’d made new friends and even landed some freelance work thanks to Instagram.

But at some point my screen time became a mindless habit.

It was a clutch during social events when I found everyone glued to their phones instead of trying to start a conversation. And it was often a procrastination tool. It made me feel productive (I was networking, after all), but I often disappeared into the app to emerge an hour later wondering what had happened with my time.

I’m 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 phone.

Cutting back on social media

And the effects of that screen time are alarming.

We don’t realize how much time we kill until we remove ourselves from our phones because the hours fly by in apps that are designed to be addictive. Think of that dopamine high we get when a new notification pops up, which makes us return to repeat that feeling of validation.

Statistics show all of those hours online kill our attention spans and impact our short-term memory.

They also make us feel bad. Numerous studies have shown passively consuming content correlates with feelings of loneliness and triggers envy and resentment. The filtered reality we see on our Facebook or Instagram feeds raise expectations that real life just can’t meet. It seems everyone is leading better lives than us.

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

Cut back on screen time

It’s no wonder that when Instagram stopped working on my phone, I didn’t feel regret.

I felt relief. Because I could finally give myself a break.

I’m now using Instagram from my tablet to post a photo once a week. When that hour is up, I close the tablet and I don’t check in again until the following week.

And as often as I’ve heard people limiting their social media use, I’ve realized that sometimes a clean break works best. It realigns us with reality and makes us realise we’re not missing much when we’re not online.

If you’ve been thinking of limiting your social media, then start here.

Here are some effective tactics to limit social media:

1. Be self aware.

If you’re spending hours a day on your phone, you’re probably aware than it’s a problem. But you may justify it to yourself (I’m being productive, I’m relaxing), or you may not realise just how many hours you’re spending online.

An app that tracks the time you spend on your phone can be a much-needed wake-up call.

2. Own your addiction.

Realize that you’re addicted and that your self-control may not be as powerful as the design and the thousands of engineers with data on exactly how our minds work.

limit social media

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

3. Audit yourself.

Before you pick up your smartphone, ask yourself what you’re hoping to accomplish. When you put it down again, ask yourself what you’ve done. Or did you get distracted and end up spending an unplanned hour scrolling? Be aware of your mood and how your time online makes you feel.

If you’re logging in out of boredom, ask yourself if your online time relaxes you.

Ask yourself if you’ve missed anything when you log back in. Maybe your favorite account hasn’t updated since the last time you checked. Maybe you haven’t missed as much as you imagined.

4. Take a digital sabbatical.

Plan a day where you set aside your phone. Make it a weekly habit.

Or take a longer period of time where you only use your phone for messaging and phone calls.

limit social media

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

Find a way that works for you. If limiting your social media time didn’t work (and it didn’t for me), then try deleting a social media app or two – or take time off from the Internet entirely.

5. Create a better online experience.

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 someone messages you at 10pm, then don’t be sorry for getting back to them the next day.

6. Join positive communities and avoid places full of bickering or pointless arguments.

7. Distance yourself from your phone.

Don’t keep your phone on your nightstand and don’t make it too easy to grab.

Turn off notifications and put something on your phone – like a pen – that will remind you every time you pick it up.

My limited social media use

I haven’t cut all ties with the online world and I don’t think that’s a solution.

It’s just that now, instead of the infinite stream of Instagram stories, I prefer longer blog posts that tell a story. Or Facebook groups where posts don’t disappear because of an algorithm.

I’m now reading more in the evenings, flipping through a magazine when I’m restless, listening to podcasts or journalling.

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.

limit social media

My life isn’t miraculously anxiety-free now. But it feels good to no longer feel that compulsion to check my phone every hour.

The benefits of an offline life

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 your online time may help you to sleep better.

It helps you prioritize in-person connections. It can reduce anxiety, FOMO and comparison. And it frees up time for other things, and makes you feel less rushed to keep up with a constant stream of notifications.

Photos are once again special. They’re not snapped for the sake of an update.

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

I once commented on someone’s Instagram photo about how happy I was to have grown up without any social media – to have spent an entire summer watching MTV, eating vanilla ice cream from the tub and going days with my hair smelling of chlorine.

Then I realized just because we live in different times doesn’t mean we have to adopt that always-connected lifestyle.

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

And sometimes it takes for an app to suddenly stop working to make you realize how very dependent you were.

Read more about being mindful and slow living in What is Slow Living?

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Cut down on screen time

14 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.

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