Last month, Chrissy Teigen, the queen of online clapbacks, did something wholly unexpected: She left Twitter. (The model-turned-cookbook-author is so influential on the platform, she was dubbed the “Mayor of Twitter” by the company itself.)
“It’s time for me to say goodbye,” she wrote to her more than 14 million followers. “This no longer serves me as positively as it serves me negatively, and I think that’s the right time to call something.”
Teigen isn’t alone in walking away from one or more platforms for their mental well-being. (She’s still on Instagram, for what it’s worth.)
Kate Rosenblatt, a therapist and senior clinical manager at online therapy platform Talkspace, said that in recent months, many clients have deleted their social media or taken extended digital detoxes. Digital minimalism, they’re realising, can do wonders for your mental health.
“Post-pandemic, one year later, many clients have shared that since they’ve drastically increased their social media use this past year due to quarantine, they’re finding now is a great time to experiment with a digital detox,” Rosenblatt told HuffPost. “The vaccine is here and the world is slowly opening up again, so they can begin connecting with people safely IRL.”
Still, logging off for good ― or even temporarily, to give your brain a much-needed break ― isn’t easy. You don’t have to be an “extremely online” person to have become extremely addicted to the “likes” that pour in when you post a selfie, or the compliments you get when you humble brag about a work win.
“We know from research that seeing ‘likes’ or comments on our posts is correlated with our brains releasing dopamine in the reward areas,” Rosenblatt said. “It feels good physiologically.”
“I know I will never look back and think, ‘Gosh, I wish I had spent more time on social media.’”
- Jody, a 40-year-old who left Instagram and Facebook
This can create a constant craving for those quick dopamine hits. Just like that, we’re spending hours on social media, constantly scrolling and posting, which in the long term is a detriment to our mental health, Rosenblatt said.
But what does it feel like to go off platform when you’re addicted to scrolling? Below, readers who’ve done it share what it was like for them to hop off social media, what challenges they faced, and how it affected their friendships and mental health.
Note: Responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.
“I had already stopped using Facebook years ago, but the events of last spring and summer led to my decision to delete Instagram: Ahmaud Arbery’s death, then Breonna Taylor and then George Floyd, coupled with the pandemic and losing my father-in-law in April 2020 to Covid-19. My algorithm was filled with social and political injustices with a spattering of friends’ posts. I was increasingly anxious, constantly refreshing my feed to follow the latest police shooting, Covid death number or how many kids were separated at the border. What I discovered was that anytime there was a ‘lull,’ I would scroll, such as during an active text convo while waiting for a response. My last scroll was Sept. 18, 2020, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. At one point, I thought I would like Instagram better if I created a new account, but that didn’t last. I deleted the app altogether.
Without IG, I sleep better, my mind feels lighter. I feel less anxious, less angry, and better able to organise my thoughts around what can be done with regard to social and political injustices rather than just being mad. I feel the gloom and doom is more manageable. And my friends are supportive. I have to make an added effort to check in with them via text, which feels more meaningful to me.
It makes me feel ‘old’ to disconnect, but I guess I am old(er), and being on social media isn’t going to change that. I now see the way it drove me to increase consumption and compare myself to impossible filtered and Photoshopped standards.”
“What made me decide to delete my social media was the overwhelming negativity that just seemed to circulate around the apps, Facebook specifically. I deleted it about two weeks ago, after years of being very active and having a lot of friends on the app.
Before, Facebook somewhat consumed my life. I found myself getting affected by a ton of drama that circulated around a friend’s death. I thought maybe a death would bring all of us together, but it really just turned into this nasty string of arguments, pain and grief. I decided that I just could not take it anymore, so I deleted the Facebook app off of both my iPhone and iPad.
My mental health has improved drastically. Although I still spend quite a bit of my time on my phone, as most 21-year-olds do, I find myself not feeling as stressed or pressured when I post things on Reddit. My friends and family supported my decision, because of course I still talk to them and update them on my life. Overall, I’m not regretful of my decision in the slightest.”
“I was plugged into all of the typical outlets: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter from their early days until the fallout of the 2016 US presidential election. I lean conservative, and I grew tired of promoted articles and advertisements regularly promoting a worldview to which I did not conform. I was additionally inundated with vitriolic and spiteful posts from friends and colleagues aimed at conservatives. As I was (and am) in the closet regarding my beliefs, I became afraid of the social and professional backlash I’d receive if somebody caught wind of my ideology.
When I deleted my accounts, I made sure to first download all photos and videos posted by me so that they wouldn’t be permanently lost. Not knowing I could do so earlier was one of the barriers that prevented me from leaving these platforms sooner.
I did initially lament the lack of contact I would have with old acquaintances and colleagues (as did they), but over time I realised that those who are truly important to me will stay in touch regardless. In the intervening years, I have set up shell accounts with fake names on Facebook and Instagram that I rarely use-they are mostly for Marketplace shopping and keeping in touch with groups I’m an active member of. But I don’t see myself ever returning in a greater capacity than that.
I find that I have considerably higher productivity and less overall screen time these days. My worldview and political thoughts are more nuanced and less inflammatory than those of my peers. Most importantly, I’m free to live in the moment and experience the real world around me. As it turns out, the air is sweet, your neighbours are good people, and most humans have a desire to leave the world better than they found it.”
“I had Facebook and Instagram for years. I deleted all of my ‘friends’ about four years ago. I would say I left to have less negativity in my life; there were so many ‘fake’ people and relationships on there. I didn’t delete Facebook entirely because I still use it for groups and Marketplace ― but I don’t use it for any personal postings or followings. IG I did not delete either at first, but I took occasional breaks that became more often and lasted longer until I quit for good last summer.
Before I unfollowed everyone on Facebook, I shared a post saying I was deleting everyone and if they wanted to stay in touch they could via Messenger or I could give them my number and we could text. As expected, very few reached out, but I knew those who did were my people, my real circle.
I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything because what’s most important to me is what’s right in front of me: my kids, my close friends and family. I still have all of that. It actually means even more to me now. Life is short. With the pandemic, I think that’s a lesson more people are realising now. I know I will never look back and think, ‘Gosh, I wish I had spent more time on social media.’”
“Around November last year, I decided to delete all my social media in a ‘detox’: Instagram, TikTok and Twitter. I did it because I find myself comparing myself to my friends on there and it clearly made me unhappy and not satisfied with myself. I also made this decision because I started getting into minimalism and one of the ways to achieve minimalism is to stop comparing yourself to others.
It had a positive impact on me ... or that’s what I thought initially. For the first three days, I noticed that I used my phone less and my battery lasted longer. It felt refreshing at first because I found myself doing productive things: cleaning, reading and also writing. But as the days went by, I started to be anxious because I couldn’t really keep up with new trends. Basically I was missing out on the latest news and ‘tea.’ My friends would personally DM me posts on Instagram and once they knew I was doing a social media detox, they shared stuff with me via text so that I didn’t miss out on current trends. No one I knew was particularly upset because I explained the reason I did the detox.
I ended up reinstalling my social media back because the fear of missing out kicked in. Would I do it again? Absolutely.”
“I’ve been taking incremental steps away from social media over the years, mainly because I wanted to find time for reading and writing. Initially, I turned off my notifications but I still checked compulsively. So I deleted my apps and used mobile web instead. I swapped my big-screen Samsung for a BlackBerry Key2 and I scrapped Facebook and Twitter. I haven’t deleted my Instagram account yet, but I’m not using it any longer. I moved from WhatsApp to Telegram too, mainly on principle.
I think these apps are divisive, addictive and unethical. It’s hardly breaking news either. Removing them has given me the headspace to see the wider picture. Unless you’re reminding your followers you exist (via stories, likes, tweets, etc.), people will forget about you. But that’s OK. The folks in my life right now feel closer. Rather than dishing out ‘press releases’ to the masses, we’ll trade pictures and anecdotes directly. It’s less about our egos, more about experiences.
Social media is a tool. We should use it if it benefits us. Everybody says we need an online brand or persona for employment prospects but if it stresses you out and hinders your creativity, seek alternatives. For instance, Goodreads encourages me to read and Letterboxd is a great way to discover films. Books and films end, whereas your Instagram feed keeps washing over you forever ― it’s designed to addict you. Make decisions. Think for yourself. Don’t just eat up the algorithm. (It’s called a feed for a reason.)”
“I am a physician and minimalist composer, and used Facebook mainly to try to get my music out there, communicate with musicians and other composers and keep up with a number of friends and acquaintances. At one point I easily had nearly 2,000 ‘friends.’ Some of them I got to meet in person, but many I have never actually met to this day. Some people I ended up unfriending because it became clear that they harboured racist views or were otherwise not helping to make FB a positive experience.
After an unpleasant experience with a consultant who did not take kindly to my private message about her support of a white supremacist (Trump) in early 2017 as well as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I completely quit FB around 2018 and have not looked back. I became convinced that FB was, in essence, a criminal enterprise, and the intervening years have only made that even more clear. While I am still active on Twitter (mainly to keep in touch with a good friend as well as to be able to quickly contact American Airlines since I fly a lot for work and sometimes it is the quickest way to get information and action) and Instagram, I am glad I am not on Facebook. My wife is still on social media so she keeps me filled in about people we both know, so it is very manageable in that regard.”
“I gave up social media for Lent, including Facebook, Instagram, two Twitter accounts, several Discords and a private forum. I was scrolling through all of them endlessly. I’d put down my iPad for the night, go to bed, pick up my iPhone, and just continue browsing crap.
I read more books, which was nice, and I finished a couple projects I’d been putting off for too long. I kept in touch with friends mostly via phone calls while walking the dog.
The problem is, I have a five-month-old baby, and he can be completely exhausting some days, and on those days I just need a way to completely turn off my brain for a couple hours. Without social media I fell into a habit of reading the world’s dumbest listicles on you-know-which-sites while watching reruns. It wasn’t an improvement. So the result of this Lent was mixed. Some accounts I’ll delete permanently, but for others I’ll just trim them down and keep around.”
“It was 2011 when I first noticed the insistent pull social media had on my attention. I asked a friend to use her phone to check my Facebook. After checking my notifications, I give the phone back. Right away, I want to check my Facebook again. That didn’t feel right to me. The more I paid attention, the more I realised how overbearing this was on my time, attention and life. I was angry that my productivity and mental health were being compromised just to see what people had for lunch. I deleted Facebook shortly after, then I deleted Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr and Twitter. I was off social media for three years from 2017 to 2020.
Quitting social media was the best decision of my life. It allowed me to live life to the beat of my own drum. It’s a very freeing feeling. When I’m doing things, I don’t care to capture the perfect picture or think about how it will look online. I’m fully present in the moment. Take a break. Social media can wait. Life cannot. Rediscover the pleasures of the offline world.”
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