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

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You know you shouldn’t do it so much but you can’t stop. You try to manage it. You make promises to walk away from it but it falls 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 addictive and damaging. I will be honest, 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 and I’ve picked up lots of recovery tools that can help with quitting or cutting down on social media too. 

For example, 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 (of which I have done several because again TOTAL ADDICT) for me 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. 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 done at that, so I went back when my target time was over but I do feel like it helped. 

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 and a mile away from the very necessary civil unrest meant nonstop helicopters and sirens. Couple this with the endless death scroll of Twitter, 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. While my all-time favorite social media obsession, Twitter 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 with no goal in mind other than one day at a time I wouldn’t be on Twitter. I had lost perspective with it. I unable to bring any humor or light to the platform so a total break felt needed. Twitter-free life was good and it also corresponded with me quitting all gay dating apps thus the peace of mind and decrease in anxiety was palatable. I walked anywhere between 7 and 10 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.

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 and 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 long done since I noticed that my relationship with it could be all-consuming. What this does it cut down my urge to look at my phone as well the endless binging and flashing which does 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. Somedays I won’t even go on Twitter at all which is progress for a tweet junkie like myself. Lastly, I’ll delete apps with no time limit or expectation but just because not having them on my phone will bring me a little peace even if that’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. I also heard, “progress not perfection” back then. This is helpful too. I can fall of the wagon or stay abstinent from social media but thanks to recovery from drugs and alcohol, I know that it’s possible. 

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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