how to break phone addiction

12 Powerful Ways To Start A Digital Detox (And Reduce Stress)

Hours of scrolling social media mindlessly leads to depression and anxiety. Here are some powerful tactics to start a digital detox.

Social media helps you stay in touch with friends. It helps you make new friends, inspires you and lands you business clients.

But social media also keeps you up at night watching cat videos, wondering where 3 hours just went. It makes you question your lackluster life compared to your glamorous Instagram friends.

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 that screen time are alarming.

You might not realize how much time you spend online in apps designed to get you addicted. Because it’s that dopamine high you get from new notifications that gets you returning for more validation.

Why too much social media Harms You

how to limit social media

Browsing social media for hours kills your attention span and impacts your short-term memory.

If you find it 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 that passively consuming content correlates with feelings of loneliness – and triggers envy and resentment. The filtered reality you see on social media raises expectations that real life just can’t meet.

Heavy social media use also reduces the quality of your real-life conversations, impacts your sleep and increases 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 does wonders for your concentration and well-being, it isn’t always easy to cut back on something that’s such a huge part of your life.

If you’ve been thinking of starting a digital detox, here are some powerful ways to conquer your addiction – even if you’ve tried before and failed.

How to Start a digital detox:

1. Track your online time

limiting social media

If you spend hours a day on your phone, you’re probably aware of the problem. But you may justify it to yourself by saying, “social media helps me relax, I’m networking, I’m staying in touch with friends.”

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

An app that tracks your phone time can be a wake-up call.

Once you realize how many hours you’re devoting to social media, and how many times you check your email, you’ll gain perspective on how your phone impacts your life.

Journaling is another incredible way to boost self-awareness.

It’s easy for your everyday routine to pass by in a haze when you’re busy. And it’s sometimes even hard to remember what you had for breakfast yesterday.

When you reflect in a daily journal, you gain insight into where your time is going. You gain awareness of your daily habits and your mindfulness improves.

And journaling provides accountability, too. Because who wants to write in their journal everyday that they’ve spent 3 hours watching Instagram Reels?

2. Know your addiction

cut down screen time

Your self-control may not be as powerful as the design of the apps made to keep you online for hours.

Thousands of engineers with knowledge about how your mind works have designed apps to get you hooked. The more you know about their tactics, the easier it is 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.

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 society – 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, gets you 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 together. 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 updates about your book club, 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 ask: are you using social media in the best way to accomplish those goals?  

Before you pick up your phone, ask yourself what you’re hoping to accomplish during that online session. When you put your phone down again, ask yourself how you managed. Did you get distracted and spent an unplanned hour scrolling?

Be aware of your mood and how your online time makes you feel. Do you find yourself scrolling competitors’ feeds whenever you feel low about your own business?

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

4. Do a Full digital detox

limit social media

If your scrolling leaves you feeling anxious, then limiting your online time might not help.

Have you ever gone on a diet and found yourself suddenly craving chocolate?

When you’re addicted to social media, sometimes it’s best to just take a break. If you limit yourself to an hour of social media a day, you’ll be constantly thinking about your phone like a dieter constantly thinks about their cravings.

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

When you return online, you’ll have a valuable perspective on what an offline life feels like. You’ll see the benefits of a less hectic morning or a quiet evening away from your phone. And you won’t want to return to your old addiction again.

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

5. Get your phone out of sight.

When your phone isn’t easily accessible on your nightstand, then it’s much easier to take a digital break. Keep your phone in another room when you’re working, and put it away in a drawer when you’re going to bed. Out of sight – out of mind.

6. Log out of your social media accounts and delete your social apps

Why fight temptation when you can avoid it altogether? Getting social media off your phone makes your accounts harder to access – and that makes it easier to detox. If you must check in with a friend, then access social media on your laptop and log out when you’re done.

7. Get busy with something else

Sitting around and thinking about your smartphone isn’t the best way to spend your digital detox. Ruminating makes your detox tedious and less likely to stick. Instead, use your offline time to take a walk, listen to music, start an art project or read a good book. Throw yourself into something you’ve always wished you had more time for.

8. Don’t give up

When you find yourself logging back in, and binging for a few hours of Instagram Stories, then don’t despair. Don’t use your lapse as an excuse to give up your detox altogether. Forgive yourself and keep your detox going. A short lapse or two is inevitable in the beginning. Use your relapse experience as a chance to better understand your social media addiction.

Once you’ve done a longer detox, then make it a habit. Plan a day every week to spend away from your phone. Make 9pm the cutoff time to switch off your phone every evening.

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

9. Use social media less – but better

limit social media

Once you know what you want from social media, then it’s easy to optimize your social media use.

If you use Facebook to keep up with your book club, then bookmark the book club’s page and go there directly for updates. When you’re done, log out.

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

On Instagram, set a time limit for yourself and turn on a notification that reminds you whenever you cross it.

Turn off the notifications on your social media accounts. You don’t need to check your phone every time someone posts a meme in your WhatsApp groups.

Unfollow accounts that send you down an unhealthy spiral of comparison.

Draw boundaries and don’t apologize. If you get a message at 10pm, then don’t apologize when you reply the next afternoon. You’re not obligated to answer messages instantaneously – and your friends and family will eventually get used to your social media habits.

If you want to network, think about a more personal way to connect with that person. Leave a thoughtful comment on their website or reply to their newsletter. This will get their attention better than an Instagram like.

10. Avoid online arguments

limiting social media use

Your righteous anger rarely helps anyone who’s actually facing an injustice.

It’s tempting to want to “win” an argument, but a fiery diatribe will rarely change anyone’s mind. It might give you a shot of adrenaline when you come out as the victor. But the other person will probably walk away unconvinced.

And while a good debate is healthy and stimulating, there are more constructive ways to discuss controversial topics than Twitter. Join a book club or set up a regular coffee meeting with friends that’s devoted to a different topic each week. You’ll get more stimulation from real-life debates and more likely to broaden your mind.

If you post a controversial opinion, then don’t engage when others attack you. Acknowledge their comment and move on. If their reply is rude, then block them. Your social media is your own space and it’s not your job to defend your beliefs.

Think about positive ways to post about the causes you care about. If it’s animal rights, then talk about the benefits of a vegetarian diet.

And walk away when somebody tries to bait you into an argument. If you want to change someone’s mind, realize that kindness is far more persuasive than anger.

11. Treat social media like a marketeer

digital minimalism

If you run a business or a blog, then you’re probably thinking, “I can’t take time off from social media, and I can’t afford to lose clients.”

But it’s just as easy to get sucked into social media when it’s part of your work. Because then you justify your hours online by telling yourself that, “I’m working.” 

When your social media is your brand, you’re likely to measure your self-worth by your follower count. And while it’s important to track your numbers, taking them personally damages your confidence and saps your energy.

Here’s how to be more effective on social media for your business:

  • Set goals for your social media and have a strategy. Do you want more visitors to your website? More clients for your business? Research the best strategies to help you achieve those goals. And once you narrow down your goals, make a plan: how often will you post and on what platforms? What content will most help your audience?
  • Choose your platforms wisely. If you want more website traffic, then focus on SEO and Pinterest – not on Twitter. It’s better to have a strong presence on one platform than to spread yourself thin.
  • Dedicate a set time to manage your social media. Just like everything else in your business, your social media gets an allotted time (weekly, daily) in your schedule. Once you’re done with your tasks, log off and focus on everything else that your business demands. Treat your social media as part of your job – not as a hang-out spot.
  • Listen to marketing podcasts and read blogs. Getting a marketeer’s perspective will give you valuable tips on how to best manage your social media. It will also get you thinking about social media as a strategic business tool – not a lifestyle.
  • Batch your social media work. Schedule your posts ahead of time with tools like Facebook’s Creator Studio. Spend a few hours each week doing a photo shoot instead of scrambling everyday to create content.

12. Remember the benefits of an offline life

digital minimalism

Whenever you’re tempted to spend an evening scrolling, remember why you decided to limit your social media in the first place.

Were you constantly anxious? Did you have too little time for yourself? 

Limiting your online time helps you sleep better. It helps you prioritize in-person connections. It also reduces anxiety, FOMO and comparison.

And it frees up your time for other things, because you no longer feel obligated to keep up with a stream of notifications.

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

You can’t drop out and live in the wilderness on the Oregon coast. But you don’t have to spend your life tied to your phone, either.

Read What is Slow Living? for more on slowing down.

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