Do you ever turn to your phone when you’re down, anxious, or lonely, only to realize that a few minutes of scrolling just makes things worse?
Does posting to your feed sometimes feel obligatory rather than joyful?
Recently, Healthline and several celebrities and influencers collaborated on a social media detox to explore the mental health benefits of taking a break from social media.
Here, Colton Underwood and Kelly Uchima share their experience disconnecting from their feeds and getting a much-needed hiatus from viewing the world through a 6-inch screen.
Colton Underwood is a former football player who found reality TV fame on “The Bachelor” and the Netflix series “Coming Out Colton.”
Underwood came out as gay in 2021, surprising fans by publicly sharing his story and embracing who he is. He grew up Catholic and had difficulty accepting his sexuality, which he was aware of since high school, he says in an interview.
After experiencing self-hatred, suicidal thoughts, and saying prayers to be “healed” from his sexuality, Underwood finally found self-acceptance.
What the detox was like
When asked about insights gleaned from participating in Healthline’s Social Media Detox, Underwood talks about being present.
“It’s so nice to be 100 percent present and in the moment,” he says. “I wasn’t worried about getting a picture or sharing my experience … I got to live it.”
Although the benefits were obvious, Underwood says the habit was hard to break at first, especially in the first few hours.
“I caught myself scrolling through [my phone] mindlessly looking for social apps,” he says. “It’s crazy how muscle memory works!”
Making new habits
After getting used to the change, Underwood says he felt an occasional twinge of FOMO (fear of missing out) but an overall sense of relief and calm.
“I spent my time going on walks, working out, cleaning the house, and calling my family,” he says. “I loved my break.”
When asked whether he’ll make social media breaks a regular thing, Underwood was enthusiastic.
“I think I’m going to start doing it every Friday,” he says. “What a great way to reset and recalibrate in a much different way.”
“I wasn’t worried about getting a picture or sharing my experience … I got to live it!”
Kelly Uchima (aka Kelly U) is a content creator who shares her experiences with eating disorders, depression, family trauma, and an abusive relationship. She inspires body confidence, self-love, and sobriety, helping others on similar journeys feel less alone.
Uchima believes in healing, no matter how deep the trauma may be.
On her Therapy Thursday podcast, she shares the lessons she’s learned from her own experiences in therapy and beyond, helping others implement the same tools in their lives.
What the detox was like
After participating in Healthline’s Digital Detox, Uchima says she had a lot of different feelings.
“I felt 10 times more connected to myself but completely disconnected from the rest of the world,” she says. “It’s fascinating that such a healthy break can feel so isolating.”
Part of the challenge for Uchima was that she felt she wasn’t doing enough from a professional standpoint.
“Since my full-time job is social media and content creation, it’s hard to take breaks and feel like that’s ‘productive.’ It can feel like I am missing out on opportunities to post meaningful content, connect with my audience, boost engagement, or appeal to more brands with my output,” she says.
Though challenging, Uchima stuck with it. Eventually, she found her own tools to manage the urge to log on.
“When I notice my urge to reach for my phone just to stay occupied, I pause and take a breath,” she says. “It sounds corny, but it helps to reset, check in with myself, and ask, ‘What do you need right now?’ My answer is never ‘my phone.’”
Instead, Uchima realizes her needs tend to be simple when she slows down and checks in:
- a snack
“So I pick one of those and do it!” she says.
She also noticed the deeper motives behind the urge to engage.
“I’m on my phone a lot because I feel like I’m missing out on something,” she says. “I want to see the number of likes, comments, and messages incoming, and I also want to scroll and see what everyone else is doing.”
Instead, Uchima got out of the house.
Making new habits
“I went outside a lot more. More sun, more walks, and farmers market trips for my two favorite things right now: avocados and raspberries.”
When asked how she felt as a result of the challenge, she said she felt calmer, more present, and more grounded.
“The biggest difference was my energy level. I felt more awake, aware, and engaged with the people I was around — especially myself,” Uchima says. The experience was “100 percent positive.”
As for plans for future breaks, Uchima is on board.
“Social media breaks are hard but necessary,” she says. “I have no excuse but to take more extended breaks more often. I feel more creative and inspired when I stare at my screen a lot less. That’s a nice realization.”
“I check in with myself and ask, ‘What do you need right now?’ My answer is never ‘my phone.’”
Want to give a social media detox a try? These simple tips can get you started.
Set up a phone-free space at home
Having a physical space designated as a no-phone zone can help you detach from your feed and cultivate peace of mind.
Similar to a mindfulness corner, this might be a corner of the living room with the comfiest chair where the light trickles in just right, or a little nook in your bedroom where you can decorate with pillows and candles.
When you find yourself reaching for your phone, consider taking a break in your phone-free sanctuary instead.
Play some music, listen to a podcast, break out a puzzle, or simply relax for a little while. Just giving yourself the intentional space to relax in another way can make a world of difference.
Put your phone in a drawer
Similar to creating a no-phone zone, this strategy works by making it a conscious effort to retrieve your phone.
Instead of in your back pocket or on your bedside table, giving your phone a new home in a drawer makes it just a tiny bit harder to get to. That means when the impulse arises, you have the opportunity to think twice.
When you do, you can check in with yourself with these questions:
- Do you really need your phone right now?
- Do you have a specific reason to use it?
- Are you just reaching out of boredom?
Then you can decide whether you want to go through with bringing your phone out to see the light of day.
Install a social media tracking app
There are lots of apps that can help you track and curb your social media usage. Many of them have built-in limits that block the apps you choose once you reach your maximum time.
Unpluq is an app with a unique solution. Instead of requiring a password or locking you out of using your phone, Unpluq uses “distraction barriers” to keep you from mindlessly using your phone.
These are actions that require a little bit of investment to unlock specific apps so that you have a moment to really decide whether it’s worth it. The actions include shaking your phone, repeating a random pattern generated by your phone, or scanning a QR code.
Unpluq is even working on a Kickstarter for a physical key that has to be near your phone for certain apps to be used.
Do it with friends
Instead of flying solo when choosing to take a break from social media, get a few friends to do it with you.
Not only will this create a sense of solidarity and accountability, but it can help you beat the FOMO when you’re feeling isolated.
Instead of scrolling, you can schedule a group video call, a coffee shop meetup, or a board game get-together. Need some pointers on getting out of your shell? Try these tips.
Choose specific times to check your feeds
You can also designate specific times during the day for social media usage.
Instead of scrolling during the morning meeting, set aside a half-hour on your lunch break to check your feed without distraction. Maybe you have another half hour on your commute home and another after dinner.
Alternatively, you can even block off your calendar with times to check your feed. Set reminders, just like a meeting or date, and notice whether you actually want to use that time to scroll or whether you’d rather do something else.
Keep it on airplane mode
Airplane mode can make your phone feel like a cloudless sky: no notifications tugging at you, no missed calls, and no voicemails to catch up on.
Notifications are designed to create a sense of urgency, but the reality is that you get to decide what’s important and what isn’t.
Simply removing all that noise from your home screen can help you remember that your phone isn’t the boss. You are. You can turn off airplane mode and check your messages when you’re good and ready.
Make a plan you can be excited about
If you choose to take a full break from social media, don’t set yourself up to fail by leaving a huge, gaping hole in your schedule. Instead, hype yourself up about things you want to do instead of looking at a screen.
Plan to walk your dog in a new park, dig into that book you’ve had on your reading list all year, or finally redecorate that bathroom. Even little things can be sources of joy.
If you turn your attention away from likes and comments and toward something inspiring, exciting, or fulfilling, you’ll have a much better chance of benefitting from your social break — and sticking to your guns when it feels hard.
Social media is simply a part of life these days, but that doesn’t mean it has to control you.
It’s possible to use social media in a beneficial way that doesn’t take over your life or your mental health.
Healthy boundaries are key, and you may find that they help enrich your life with more presence, flavor, and off-screen engagement than you might expect.
Crystal Hoshaw is a mother, writer, and longtime yoga practitioner. She has taught in private studios, gyms, and one-on-one settings in Los Angeles, Thailand, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She shares mindful strategies for self-care through online courses at SimpleWildFree.com. Follow her on Instagram.