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Let’s say your partner just dumped you. At first, shock, rage, and grief fill your bones, and your head spins, making your whole life hazy. But after months of marinating in pain, you finally begin to brush up against the contours of that invigorating acceptance stage—the final stage of breakup recovery. You’re almost there! Almost over them.
But then it happens. One early morning, while you’re taking that signature big fat dump and scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed, you see them. You see a post from your ex, all glammed up and beaming, holding hands with an attractive new love interest.
It feels like someone bitchslapped your soul away. You want to throw up. You want to cry. You want to scream your rage out. You want to do all three while taking that signature big fat dump on an early morning. Welcome back to square one, fucker.
A social media detox, analogous to the famous no contact rule, helps you avoid experiences like this. It helps you dodge all of your exes’ “oh look at my new life, I’m so amazing!” posts, all their dating-life updates, and all the other shit that has the potential to re-open your breakup wounds and prolong your recovery.
The benefits of a social media detox
At its core, the social media detox involves limiting social media consumption for a period reasonable to you. And while it may seem that its only benefit is getting over an ex faster, there’s actually way more of them under the hood.
1. It makes it easier to not stalk your ex
We all reveled in purposefully viewing our exes social media posts at some point. And as expected, the indulgence only made us more unsettled.
When you do a social media detox, you won’t have to worry too much about this. Since you’ll be unable or not allowed to use social media, the odds of stalking your ex become slim.
2. IT helps you stop comparing yourself to others
Social media has a toxic tendency to display only the exceptional — the seemingly rich and successful, the hot and famous, the remarkable, talented and amazing.
It’s only natural that when you see these people and compare yourselves to them, you feel like you don’t measure up — like you’re unworthy or lesser.
By going on a social media detox, you prevent yourself from seeing these people and comparing yourself to them. Therefore you dodge all kinds of frustrations that could very well make you more anxious, insecure, and at worse, depressed. Speaking of depression…
3. IT HELPS YOU improve your overall mental health
A massive part of frequent social media consumption is the inclination to grow anxious, lonely, stressed, narcissistic, and in some cases, even depressed. And, if you’re already depressed for whatever reason, continuing in your social media sprees will only amplify that depression. And if that’s not enough, it’s also been proven that the amount of time you spend on social media directly relates to whether or not you feel happy and content. (1)
But wait, there’s more!
Like gambling or video games, social media makes your brain pump exorbitant amounts of dopamine — the pleasure hormone — into your body. This propels you to indulge in even more social-media-related activities for an even more extended period, and if you don’t stop yourself from your indulgences, there’s a real chance you’ll become a social media addict. (2)(3)
Do I need to go on? All instances of social media suck for literally every aspect of our mental health. So, it’s not unusual why people praise and recommend these social media detoxes left and right.
4. It helps you conquer the fear of missing out
Fear of missing out, known as FOMO, is a form of social anxiety stemming from the belief that you’re missing out on an experience — or multiple experiences — everyone else is having and enjoying. (4)
Social media creates many opportunities for FOMO since it keeps feeding you endless instances of activities in which you’re not participating. So every time you see a curated image or video about someone else’s life, it can leave you feeling as if your life is less exciting or even meaningful than theirs.
“This person is partying on a private beach in Ibiza, is surrounded by friends, jaw-dropping Instagram models, and fancy cocktails, and is having the time of his life! And I’m here eating fucking Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in my underwear, mulling over and missing my ex and flossing my dog. Fuck me!”
Relax. Truth is, you’re always missing out on something, and you always will be. It’s okay. When you go on the social media detox, you’ll eliminate the main cause of FOMO — social media (duh) — and thus, have an easier time focusing on what’s truly important — the things that are right in front of you.
One last point to note before we start: not all social media indulgence is inherently bad. An occasional escape from reality is perfectly healthy. We all need those. What’s unhealthy, however, is when you’re using (or overindulging in) social media to distract yourself from underlying emotional issues like loneliness, grief, or unhappiness.
Ultimately, indulging in social media is neutral. It’s the intention behind that indulgence that makes it good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. And the only way to get clear on that intention is by honest self-reflection.
How to perform a social media detox
While there are loads of ways you can do a social media detox — every other productivity blogger has his own version nowadays — the below is how I personally go about and how I teach it to my paying clients.
Step 1: Purify your electronics of your ex
Since you’re primarily doing this to recover from your breakup, start by unfollowing your ex on all social media platforms, like you would when going no contact. In fact, social media detox and no contact go hand in hand with one another and share many similarities.
When you’re done, delete your exes phone number, your texting exchanges, your email exchanges, and any photos and videos of them. Delete everything.
If possible, and if the circumstances allow it — you’re not working with your ex, living with them, have kids with them, or want them back — block your ex entirely. Block their phone number, block their email, block them on all social media.
Step 2: Purify your electronics of everyone else
Unfollow everyone that you’re not particularly interested in and anyone who may trigger you at some point—for example, the people who constantly post “couple’s goals type shit” or romantic quotes on their newsfeed.
And if you’re feeling ballsy, there’s a Google Chrome plugin called Kill Newsfeed that, as the name implies, prevents Facebook from showing their newsfeed to you while you’re on the platform. I recommend you throw this nifty tool into your detox.
STEP 3: Uninstall all social media apps from your phone
Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever. — Uninstall all of them. At first, getting yourself to do this is really challenging, but once it’s done, you’ll realize that you never really needed those apps in the first place.
And while you’re at it, disable all notifications on your phone, too. You know, those little red circles that pop up on our apps and encourage you to compulsively click on them. This last part is not tied to getting over your ex, but more so to help you be a more mentally healthy, happy, and productive person.
4. Set a time goal and prevent yourself from breaking it
Okay, buster. So you’ve unfollowed your ex from all the social media apps. You’ve unfollowed all the shit that has the potential to hinder your breakup recovery. You’ve deleted all digital traces of your ex. You’ve deleted all social media apps from your phone. And finally, you disabled all those annoying phone-notifications. Great job.
The final step of our social media detox is to set a goal for how long you’ll keep participating in it.
I’d make the period permanent and the whole detox thing your lifestyle, but that’s ultimately up to you. Some people do make it their lifestyle, others commit to it until they’re over their ex, and some participate in it for only a specified period, like two months for example. Choose what works for you.
When you’ve set your goal, it’s time to maximize your odds of reaching it. In other words, it’s time to make any and all social media indulgences excruciatingly difficult for yourself. How? Website blockers. Phone blockers. And accountability buddies. Let’s explore each option in turn.
For example, I have Youtube blocked from 5 am to 5 pm. If I wouldn’t, I would just keep watching videos the whole day and get no work done. So, figure out which sites and apps you need to block — the usual prospects in these cases are Facebook and Instagram — for how long you’d block them, then do it.
Phone blockers: Like website blockers, phone blockers carry the same functionality, only they don’t block specific websites but rather only specific apps.
Regardless, they are still an incredibly useful tool when doing a social media detox. So like in the last point, figure out which apps you need to block, for how long you’d block them, then do it.
It’s also worth noting that some phones, like the iPhones, have this app-block feature built-in (Screen Time), while others do not. Therefore, third-party apps like Google’s Digital Wellbeing or Help Me Focus are a must.
Accountability buddies: An accountability buddy is someone whose job is to keep you accountable for reaching your social media detox goals instead of contacting your ex, stalking them, or breaking the social media detox in general. This can be a friend, a family member, or a coworker. Whoever.
If you’re hardcore and like things messy, agree on harsh consequences with your accountability buddy for cases where you break your social media detox.
For example, whenever you contact your ex or look at their profile, you need to transfer 50$ to your accountability buddy’s bank account or donate those 50$ to a charity that you’d never genuinely support in their cause.
dealing with boredom
Expect to get frequently bored when you purge social media from your life. It’s inevitable. However, there are things you can do to counteract the whole thing.
Instead of digesting low-quality, dopamine-heavy, and shallow social media content, start digesting long-form, and high-quality content found elsewhere. This way, you’ll not only fend off your boredom — or at least some of it — but you’ll be well on your way to become a better, more well-rounded human being.
So, In practicality, instead of watching 8-minute-long Youtube videos find an hour-long university lecture on an interesting topic and watch that. Instead of reading a 1000-word, fluff piece from Buzzfeed, read a book or at least a longer-form article from a quality blog (Aeon, is my personal choice). And instead of getting your news from platforms riddled with clickbait, fake news, and overly-subjective posts, get your news from pages like Wikipedia Current Events.
Some final thoughts
Don’t take my steps as some hardcore rules that you need to follow, no matter what. Be flexible and alter them to your liking and lifestyle.
Maybe your job relies on social media apps and can’t afford to delete them off your phone. If so, don’t delete them, but only limit them, or at least unfollow your ex from the relevant platforms.
Maybe you use Facebook to an unhealthy degree but genuinely enjoy Instagram and use it to a healthy one. If so, delete just Facebook, and limit your Instagram use for one hour a day, for instance.
Maybe you don’t feel like blocking your ex entirely, even though you know it will rapidly speed up your recovery. If so, maybe just start by unfollowing them on a couple of apps and websites.
Again, none of the steps to the social media detox are set in stone. So be flexible with them. Make this detox your own. But know that this doesn’t mean, go easy on yourself. Go hard or go home. Good luck.