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How to Make A Digital Detox Actually Happen When It Feels Impossible

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You’ve wanted to make a digital detox forever and now you want to actually do it. But when you think about the logistics involved — the emails you need to read, the Instagram posts you love to follow, the Facebook posts from your mother — it feels near impossible. Everything and everyone is online. Your whole life is online. So how are you not only going to do it but stick to it too?

First, according to Courtney E. Ackerman, author of “The Social Media Detox Tracker,” it helps to be honest about how your digital life is impacting your life, which will help you be clear about why you’re choosing a digital detox in the first place. “It’s important to keep track of the signs that it’s time to take a break,” she says.

According to Ackerman, some of the most common are: “(1) When you find yourself scrolling mindlessly multiple times a day, (2) when you’re with loved ones and you still find yourself reaching for your phone and checking social media frequently, (3) when your sleep schedule is affected by your social media usage, (4) when you realize you are getting extra critical about looks (either your own or others’, or both), and (5) when you frequently notice yourself feeling envious of other people’s lives because of what they post on social media.”

If you’re experiencing any of these signs, says Ackerman, it’s probably time to take a step back for a while.”

So now that you know you definitely need to make that digital detox happen, here are some tips on how to make it a reality.

Remember that digital detoxes are important for your mental health 

Constantly scrolling through posts and stories and getting constant updates about everything from news headlines to what your best friend is putting in her morning smoothie, it can feel overwhelming and for good reason.

“Our brains aren’t really wired to handle and adapt to all the information we are constantly bombarded with due to an abundance of information at our fingertips in the digital age,” Lena Derhally, licensed psychotherapist, author of “The Facebook Narcissist .” “Furthermore, our brains are wired to pay attention to negative information for survival (to assess potential danger around us). Social media, news, and other forms of digital content often have fear-based messages and headlines, and it can make those consuming this content feel overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed.”

Also because humans are social creatures, Derhally says it is part of human nature to compare ourselves to others because that is simply how we measure ourselves, which makes us feel bad about ourselves whether we know it or not. “Social media is the ultimate form of comparison, and even subconsciously, scrolling can somehow send us messages that we aren’t enough based on what we are comparing ourselves to.”

If you want to feel better about yourself (and who doesn’t?) then sticking to your digital detox might feel easier.

Decide on what type of digital detox might work for you

Some people might assume a digital detox is going without social media completely but there are different examples of digital detoxes and finding the one that works best for you might make you stick to it.

“A detox can include foregoing social media completely, but it’s not necessarily about using no social media at all,” Ackerman says. “Some of us need to use social media for our job, or maybe that’s our only way of contacting some of our loved ones. While it’s best practice to give up social media entirely for at least some portion of the detox, the point is to limit your usage and reduce the impact it is having on your life. You don’t need to give it up completely to do that.”

A good way of detoxing is stepping down gradually, suggests Ackerman, and using less social media each day until you either cut it out entirely for a while or you reach a point where you are comfortable with your social media time. “Ask yourself if you really need social media for reasons outside of entertainment–if you do, then a limited detox is the better option for you. If not, go for the full detox.”

If you decide to step down gradually, Derhally says that might mean opting for deleting certain social media apps that feel more harmful than others. You might also take a “social media break” and take a time-limited break for the day and come back to it or you might choose to check certain apps at certain times of the day.

“By experimenting with different types of digital detoxes like those I mentioned, it helps people discern what works best for them..and sometimes, after a detox, people will decide to deactivate from social media indefinitely or even permanently.”

How to decide on your game plan  

If you need help on deciding on how you’re going to move forward with your digital detox – because maybe deciding to delete Instagram or TikTok feels like “Sophie’s Choice” to you – Derhally recommends temporarily deactivating from the apps that upset you the most and see how you feel without those.

“Start muting or unfollowing accounts that consistently make you feel bad, no matter the reason. You can also pick a few days, a week, or a month and commit to that being your digital detox time where you detox completely. Some people like to use Lent, a vacation, or other periods that are significant to detox. They can be more committed to following through because it has more significance or importance to them.”

Ackerman suggests your plan should cover your intentions (e.g., cutting down on social media usage), measurable goals (e.g., “I will not use any social media today”), ideas for activities or other things to replace social media time (e.g., cooking, reading, studying), emergency coping strategies (e.g., what to do when you really want to check social media), and your goals for after the detox (e.g., using 75% less social media than pre-detox).

“Journaling every day can help you stay on task and on target and recording your experience during the detox can give you some valuable insight into yourself,” she says. “It’s also a great idea to enlist a buddy you can be accountable to on your social media detox journey. If your buddy wants to do it at the same time, even better! It’s easier when you’re not alone.”

What to do if you want to scratch that Instagram itch?  

But what if you can’t help yourself – you need to know the latest IG story from Jennifer Aniston or watch the current exercise trend on TikTok. How do you prevent that from happening?

Because going back to social media is so easy to do, Ackerman says you should have some strategies in place before you touch your phone, like calling a friend, engaging in a physical activity, immersing yourself in a game or puzzle, or journaling about the craving experience. “There are tons of options, but you’ll need to figure out what works best for you–it might be something that snaps you out of your craving and gets your mind on something else, or it might be practicing mindfulness and sitting with the craving until it’s gone.”

To help curb that craving, Derhally recommends deleting the apps from your phone and starting your digital detoxes with “do-able breaks where it makes you feel more empowered because it’s easier to accomplish. For example, start with detoxing for 1-2 days and make a concerted effort not to check during those days. Deactivating accounts temporarily can help put you in the psychological mindset that you’re not checking social media, even though it’s relatively easy to reactivate and join again by simply logging in.”

How to reframe your digital detox so you don’t feel you need to always detox

We know being constantly on our phones isn’t good for us. Which is why you want to do the detox in the first place. But social media and our phones aren’t going anywhere so does this mean we will forever be needing to detox?

“The goal of a social media detox is not necessarily to never use social media again (unless that’s a goal you’ve identified for yourself); the goal is to develop a healthier relationship with social media,” Ackerman says. “A detox is great for getting a break and resetting your relationship, but you’ll need to come up with a plan for your social media usage going forward.”

 In order to refrain from constant digital detoxes, Ackerman suggests setting up a healthier relationship with social media and to focus on using it mindfully. “Social media has a lot of potential pros, but we don’t reap those benefits when we scroll mindlessly. Be mindful and intentional about what you follow, the content you share and engage with, and how often you’re using it, and you’ll set yourself up for success.”

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