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How to Cut Down on Social Media When You’re Not So Great at Moderation

Sean Paul Mahoney talks about how they did a digital detox. They give great tips for how to ease into using less social media or how to abstain completely.

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You know you shouldn’t do it so much, but you can’t stop. You try to manage it. Your promises to walk away from it fall apart in moments of weakness. It’s a never-ending cycle, but this time it’s not drugs or alcohol. It’s social media.

Seems like everyone is talking about how bad it is for you right now. It’s like the new cigarettes. From that documentary on Netflix to study after study, we keep hearing how social media is addicting and damaging. Truthfully, I’ve laughed it off for a long time. Sure, I knew my own nonstop obsessing over likes and retweets was not normal. But compared to snorting drugs, it wasn’t that bad, right? Well, it was and had been for me for a while.

If I’m honest, I’ve been on and off the social media wagon for years. Much like drugs, hitting a bottom with social media is filled with anxiety, dread, depression and an inability to stop. But how do people like me, people prone to addiction, quit or cut down on social media? Luckily, in my non-writer profession, I work with people with substance use disorders here in Portland, Oregon. I’ve picked up lots of recovery tools that can help with quitting or cutting down on social media too. 

Tapering off of social media for a digital detox.

First is the tool of detox. A far cry from the horrific weaning off drugs and alcohol, a digital detox has helped me reset and realign. The last time I did it back in January, I deleted apps off my phone. But not all at once. Think of it as a taper. First Facebook, then Instagram and so on. Once a couple of days of edginess wore off, I felt less distracted and more present. An integral part of any social media detox for me (of which I have done several because again TOTAL ADDICT) is limiting screen time for at least 30 days. For the first thirty minutes of the day and the last thirty minutes, I don’t look at my phone. This helps me wake and go to bed in a calmer, less “OH MY GOD THE WORLD IS ENDING!!!” space.

It’s hard initially, but the effects are almost immediate. Once the sites are off my phone, my brain starts to breathe a little easier and I start to sleep better. My last detox, I substituted my social media apps for meditation apps, and that helped, too. I also left my personal phone turned off for several hours of the day when I was at work. This helped me resist the pull to check it constantly. My detox ran smoothly without any slips. Granted, I’m a human, and an addicted one at that, so I went back when my target time was over. But I do feel like it helped. 

Going cold turkey.

The next thing is total abstinence. While not for everybody, sometimes a complete break from social media is unavoidable. In June, my anxiety was at an all-time high. Living in downtown Portland a mile away from the very necessary civil unrest meant nonstop helicopters and sirens. Couple this with the endless death scroll of Twitter, and I was a wreck. For my sanity, I left Twitter. I deleted it off my phone, didn’t check it on my laptop, and didn’t even click on news stories with tweets. Twitter was my all-time favorite social media obsession. But it had become toxic for me and was actually causing me discomfort. Cutting it out completely was necessary.

This differed from a detox because I quit cold turkey. I had no goal in mind other than one day at a time I wouldn’t be on Twitter. My sense of perspective with it was lost. I was unable to bring any humor or light to the platform, so a total break felt needed. Twitter-free life was good! It also corresponded with me quitting all gay dating apps. The peace of mind and decrease in anxiety was palpable. I walked seven to ten miles a day over the summer, which became a healthy replacement. I have since gone back to Twitter, but with boundaries and with the confidence that I get do without it if I need to.

Harm reduction by limiting my social media use.

As you might have picked up on, I’ve never fully quit Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram 100 percent. In addition to using them for work, I kind of like the dumb things! This brings me to my last tip from my work world: harm reduction. The harm reduction philosophy with social media, for me, looks like using it in ways that are healthier. Turning off social media notifications, for example, is something I’ve done since I noticed that my relationship with it could be all-consuming. This cuts down on my urge to look at my phone, as well the endless binging and flashing which do nothing but inflame the aforementioned anxiety. My battery lasts longer, too, when it’s not burdened with notifications every two minutes.

Not posting every day or limiting how much I post, like one would limiting the amount they drink, has been helpful for me as well. This gives me more time away from my phone and lets me be present even if just for a few additional minutes. Some days, I don’t even go on Twitter at all. This is progress for a tweet junkie like myself. Lastly, I delete apps with no time limit or expectation. Not having them on my phone will bring me a little peace, even if it’s only for a few hours. 

When I got sober in 2009, the best thing anyone told me was “Just do right now.” This concept gives me permission to focus on the moment at hand. And if said moment is better without social media, fantastic. Will it be like this forever? I don’t know, nor do I need to. I can worry about my often shocking amount of screen time tomorrow. “Progress not perfection,” is another phrase I heard back then. This is helpful too. I might fall of the wagon or stay abstinent from social media. Thanks to recovery from drugs and alcohol, I know that it’s possible. 

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Sean Paul Mahoney is the author of the new collection of essays Now That You’ve Stopped Dying and the co-host of the LGBTQ recovery podcast Queer Mental Condition. He also works as a recovery mentor and peer support specialist in Portland, Oregon.

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