One Week Social Media Detox: How To Quit (And What To Do Instead)

Social Media is an awesome tool that connects us closer with those who are far from us. Left unchecked, however, it’s easy to get hooked, shackled, and make people close to us feel far. It’s like a heavy barbel where one end carries the weight of its benefits while the other end has the burden of dependency. We’re pressured to balance and clean and jerk it. And sometimes, the best way to do that is let go and enjoy a one week social media detox.

I was fortunate to witness life in the pre-social media era, see its genesis, and how it changes our life. Before, our community revolved around our neighbors, distant relatives, and peers at school. Our point of reference for what it meant to live a good life was how people around us lived.

But with social media, the world became our neighborhood. Our reference expanded exponentially as we got backstage access to the lives of other people. Especially their highlight reels. And since we see our day-to-day messy behind-the-scenes, we think they’re awesome and we’re not. We compare ourselves with others and this affects our overall mental well-being.

In fact, one study from University of Houston suggests that Facebook Usage is linked to depressive symptoms. It’s not like Facebook or other social media are making us depressed, no. It’s just that we need to learn the right usage and balance, as with everything in life.

Why Quit Social Media (Even For Just 1 Week)

On February 17, 2014, Sushma Goswami, a 24-year-old Indian woman hanged herself after her mother confronted her about her Facebook addiction. She used it so much that it affected her personal life and her relationship with her family. Just a few months before, she stumbled upon Facebook and was soon spending hours of her time surfing the site.[*]

You may think this is an absurd story. But in 2017, there’s an estimated 210 million people addicted to the internet. People who rely on social media to forget or run from their personal problems. Those who can’t take their mind off mindless scrolling and feel restless if they don’t have their phone and can’t network online.[*]

“But that’s not me.” I know. You may not be an addict. In fact, you may not even be dependent on social media. But you don’t have to be any of those to benefit from a digital detox every once in a while. Listen, social media detox is not about turning back the clock or packing your bags for regressive movement. It’s about taking back control of your time and your life. And there are compelling reasons as to why stepping back is important, critical even.

Get More Discretionary Time

Time is the scarcest resource you and I will ever have – you can’t replenish it. Now, I get that we use social media whenever we’re bored. But using it for longer periods of time tends to kill time. And as Henry David Thoreau said, “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”

Aside from that, an average smartphone user unlocks their phone 58 times a day. To put this into context, that’s one unlock every 16 minutes, excluding time spent on sleep! Aside from that, people spend an average of over 3 hours per day on their phones. Two hours of which is spent on social media. Which translates to at least 9 years of your life in total.

Imagine if you get an extra 9 years on your hands. What one thing will you do that can make your life happier, healthier, and more meaningful? In fact, let’s stop looking at the future for a second. Instead, think about all the great things you did the past 9 years. What if you could do more?

I’m not saying you stop using your phone or end your use of social media and be productive all the time. That’s not the point. And you need some down time, too. My point is you have time. Time to:

  • Chase your dreams;
  • Build your own business;
  • Spend with your family, spouse, and kids;
  • Enjoy a hobby;
  • Learn a new skill

Instead of it using us, let’s get smart in using it.

Experience Lesser Stress

We get tons of benefits from using social networking sites. In fact, a 2015 study by Pew Research showed that use of some tech can lower stress for women. For men, tech (internet and socials) users experience the same level of stress as non-tech users.

On the flip side, studies show there’s a strong link between too much use of social media and higher risk of depression. Now, networking sites and apps aren’t inherently bad. They’re tools. But if you’re already experiencing stress or anxiety and expect these tools to bring comfort and validation, that’s where the problem starts.

In 2018, Pennsylvania University Psychologist, Melissa G. Hunt linked the use of social media to depression and loneliness. She said, “using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decrease in depression and loneliness. These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.”

The reason? Social Comparison. Social Psychologist Leon Festinger said that we compare ourselves with others to have an idea of how we’re doing socially. There’s two kinds of comparison: downward and upward.

Downward social comparison is when you compare yourself to someone who’s doing worse than you. This can improve your mood and your self-esteem. Upward social comparison is the exact opposite – you compare yourself with those who seem to be doing “better” than you. And this can reduce your self-esteem and lead to stress.[*]

Social comparison is amplified through social media. After all, we see the progress, the good news, and social approval (likes, comments, etc.) of other people. Stepping back from using these tools, even just for a week, can lessen your stress and improve your mood.

Thrive In Boredom

Boredom is like a disease we run away from. It’s an unpleasant feeling we don’t want to engage in. That’s why we’re always on the lookout for something to stimulate us: social media, Netflix marathon, snacking, and so on. But what if I told you that boredom is the door that leads to the hallway of creativity and productivity?

Doing nothing gives you the mental bandwidth to explore things. When you’re bored, you daydream, you reflect, you think about things on a wider, different perspective. 

But don’t take my word for it. Great inventors, scientists, and artists all believe in the power of boredom. For example, Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.” Steve Jobs, one of the entrepreneurs I look up to (because of his mind, not personality) said:

I’m a big believer in boredom. Boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity, and out of curiosity comes everything.

Steve Jobs

In fact, the psychologist William James, later adapted by Austin Kleon invented an exercise to stimulate creativity. It’s about drawing a dot on a paper or wall and staring at it while doing nothing. William James said that you can’t focus on the dot for a period of a few seconds because your mind likes to wander. It has to “refresh” its attention by looking for something new to focus on.[*]

Excessive use of social media cheats you away from the opportunity to explore and let your mind wander.

How To Stay Off Social Media For A Week: The One Week Social Media Detox Plan

Social media detox is simple. You don’t need complex plans, apps, or systems to start with because honestly, it will only hold you back. There are only three things that you need to plan and do. Anything more is optional.

Delete or Lock Your Apps

The first thing you must do is put a barrier between your habit and the social media apps you use. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.” To do this, you:

  1. Know what apps tend to steal your time away (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, TikTok, Mobile games, etc.)
  2. Choose what to do with them: delete or lock
  3. Deleting makes it harder for you to access the app. Locking the app gives it an additional hurdle that makes using it harder.

I recently finished my 7 day social media detox and the apps I use the most are Mobile Legends and YouTube. In fact, weeks before I decided to detox, these two apps took an average of 50+ hours of my week. It was going out of hand and I needed to do something (I’ll share more later).

In the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, this is one of the things he suggested when breaking bad habits. If you want to change your behavior, change your environment. Which for our purposes, we can translate as changing our digital environment.[*]

Do something else

The brain abhors a vacuum. That’s why we can only break bad habits (over surfing the internet) when there’s an alternative to it. Planning alternative activities that will replace your social media habits will make the detox stick.

Here are 15 activities you can do:

  1. Read a book
  2. Learn a new skill
  3. Stitch something
  4. Spend time with friends (even digitally)
  5. Do something with your family
  6. Make art: write, paint, sing, etc.
  7. Set your personal vision
  8. Find a hobby
  9. Start a garden
  10. Play with your pets
  11. Go for a walk (don’t forget to put your mask on)
  12. Exercise
  13. Learn to play an instrument
  14. Start journaling
  15. Declutter
  16. Relax on a bath
  17. Watch a movie
  18. Start or listen to a podcast
  19. Meditate
  20. Brainstorm for a business

Once you do a 7-day digital detox, you’ll have more discretionary time in your hands. Spend it wisely.

Record Your Progress

What gets measured gets improved. The only way to have a concrete track of your progress in this detox (and life in general) is to record your growth. The easiest way to do that is by taking physical or digital notes.

There’s more to recording your progress than seeing the effect of your detox. One reason is you’ll track your productivity. When you write down the things you’ve accomplished on your day, you can’t help but feel proud about yourself. Once you see that the time you wasted is spent on doing more productive things, it will boost your mood.

Second, you get to review your day. This is a good practice because we rarely stop and reflect on what’s happening in our life, much less our day. We let the day pass without getting something from it. When you record what’s happening to you, you can think of ways to improve your day. These small tweaks on how we make our days better compound with time. It allows us to live a completely different life from the one we have today.

How Social Media Detox Changed My Life (Or Week, At Least)

I recently completed a one week social media detox. I used to do them regularly before. But I was caught up in doing freelance work and mobile games that I forgot the many awesome things a detox can do. This is a digital log of how my detox went.

In case you missed it: I have no problem letting social media apps go. I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook, Instagram, or other sites. But a HUGE chunk (i.e. 50+ hours per week) of my time is wasted on Mobile Legends and YouTube. So I deleted the mobile game and locked the streaming app. As for Facebook, I was still using it on occasion.

Day 1

It was super boring! I found myself wanting to re-install Mobile Legends and keep justifying to myself that I only use it for “mental breaks.” It was as if something inside me couldn’t live without it. Thankfully, I was able to fight the the urge and instead of gaming, I:

  • Read 5 chapters of a book;
  • Finished an article;
  • Edit my site’s Home Page;
  • Do some research on topics I want to write;
  • Listen to a couple of podcast episodes; and
  • Catch up on an online course

Day 2

I felt less urge to reinstall the mobile game or open YouTube and instead, focused on doing things. In the end, I felt productive and noticed that I accomplished a lot during that day. Here are some:

  • Finished a book;
  • Brainstormed content marketing;
  • Created some content templates for social media;
  • Listened to a couple of podcasts; and
  • Creating images that showed my playful side

Day 3

Still some urge to redownload the mobile game and I’m missing splurging time on YouTube. I wasn’t as productive as the first 2 previous days but that’s okay. Little did I know that day 6 would be worse. Anyway, watching the movie Bohemian Rhapsody was a good ender for my day.

Day 4

My day wasn’t as productive as I wanted it to be. But it’s still way more productive than what it used to be. I wrote some for an article, did some research, read a book, and watched an online course. Still good but I wasted 2 hours watching videos on Facebook.

Day 5

This was better than Day 4. Not only was I more productive, but I felt proud of myself for finishing a lot of things.

  • I finished (and loved writing) an article
  • Dined out with my family
  • Started reading The Tipping Point and learned about the “Bystander Effect” (I’ll write an article about that soon)
  • Edited a manuscript

Day 6

This was the worst day of the week: I was unproductive. I relapsed and downloaded Mobile Legends and played a few games. I wasn’t even aware of the 2 hours that passed – I guess that’s what game designers intend. The only productive thing I did was to try and record a podcast episode and read a book.

Day 7

This was a productive and happy day. I created images for the blog, read books, and did some research on an exciting topic I want to write about. This week has been productive even on days when I felt like I wasn’t moving forward. It made me want to take back control and lessen the time I allot for entertainment and time killing.

Even now, as the 7-day detox ends, I don’t watch a lot of YouTube videos or play Mobile Legends. When I feel the urge to play, I reinstall it and delete it afterwards. It’s a huge burden lifted off my shoulders, unlike before when I started my day with Mobile Legends. Now, it’s at the back of my mind – something I know I can do but don’t by default. Because of the detox, I can concentrate on doing things that I love more: learning and writing about it.

I hope this helps you start your one week social media detox. Maybe you’re still skeptical, and that’s okay. Just remember that you won’t know if something is effective unless you muster up the courage to try it.

Live an inspired life,

Jeric Timbang