Social media has become an indelible part of life. We check it on our phones while we wait in line, before we sit down for dinner, at work and almost any free chance we get. It’s an addiction, says Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker), an NYC-based therapist at RevitaLife Therapy.
“The addictive aspect stems from fear of missing out (FOMO),” explains Hershenson. “Our brains are wired for collaboration, and we are fully aware when others are doing something that excludes us, triggering primitive survival responses. Constantly checking social media allows us to meet this primal need by becoming involved in the lives of others, ensuring we are never left out.”
While it can be a good thing to be hyper-connected to the world, making it easier to stay in touch with friends and family, it can also be a problem. Too often, social media starts interfering with life, causes self-esteem issues and harms your relationships. That’s why so many people turn to a social media cleanse.
“It is necessary to take a break from social media if you find yourself getting upset every time you log on, find yourself writing rude comments or thinking negative thoughts, or are getting happiness from others’ pain,” suggests Hershenson. She recommends a social media cleanse for anyone who’s looking to reevaluate their day-to-day lives, particularly how often they check their social media feeds.
What Is a Social Media Cleanse?
A social media cleanse is a planned break from social media. It typically lasts thirty days, but the length of time can vary. For some people, the cleanse requires you to give up every social media account, while others choose to take a break from just one platform. In either case, the idea is to break the social media habit—at least, for a time.
“A social media cleanse can be a great idea,” Dr. Sal Raichbach PsyD, LCSW of the Ambrosia Treatment Center, tells us. “By taking away social media for thirty days, it allows people to take a break from expectations and start to experience life without the need to be constantly connected.”
However, Dr. Raichbach warns that a 30-day social media cleanse should only be a starting point for those struggling with addiction. Just as you can’t begin a sober life after thirty days in treatment, someone who is “severely addicted to social media” shouldn’t expect to be cured after such a short time. “It has to be followed up by further action,” expounds Raichbach.
The Social Media Cleanse Experience
Still, even for such a short duration, don’t expect a social media cleanse to be easy. For MBA student Philtrina Farquharson, “it was by far the hardest thing” she felt she had ever done. “On my first day, I was losing my mind,” Farquharson recalls. “I didn’t know what to do with all this free time I had. Social media was my entertainment.”
Colleen Armstrong’s experience was similar. Social media “was an obsession. It was my life,” she remembers. When the cleanse began, she was angry and desperate to get it back. But it didn’t take long for Armstrong to start to recognize a change in her post-social media life.“I realized I felt more rested and positive,” Armstrong notes. “I couldn’t explain it . . . but my mind felt clearer.” After that, her entire social media outlook changed. “I was able to get back to me,” Armstrong explains. “I now have time to do all those things I used to post the celebs doing.”
That doesn’t mean the cleanse is all daisies and roses. For Heidi McBain, her social media cleanse was part of an effort to be more present for her kids over the summer. For the month of June, she turned off Facebook, deleted all her phone apps, and focused on spending time with her family. Unfortunately, an unintended consequence was a lack of connection to people outside her immediate circle.
“I missed seeing what my friends and family were up to, and realized that I rely heavily on Facebook to remind me of people’s birthdays,” McBain comments. “I missed a close friend’s birthday during this social media cleanse.” Though McBain enjoyed her break, she was also ready to get back to social media.
Still, life in a world without social media can be an amazing thing. As Farquharson explains, “You realize that social media does not need to consume you for you to be happy.”
5 Steps to Start a Social Media Cleanse
- Choose a time frame—typically 30 days—that you can stick to. You can mark off each successful day on your calendar.
- Tell your friends and family of your plans to leave social media. The more people who know, the more accountable you’ll be.
- Choose your social media accounts. Are you going to take a break from all your accounts—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, etc.—or just one?
- Turn off all notifications. Turn off emails, smart phone notifications, messages and anything else that reminds you to check social media.
- Delete all your apps and log out of all accounts. You’re ready to take your social media break!