How to take a break from social media and why it's so important, according to mental health experts

How to take a break from social media and why it's so important, according to mental health experts
Taking even a short break from social media may help improve your health.10'000 Hours/Getty Images
  • It's important to take breaks from social media because studies show that spending too much time scrolling can increase feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • To take a break from social media, you should turn off notifications, set time limits, and prioritize your own self-care with other activities you enjoy.
  • There is no set amount of time you need to stay off social media for — taking a break that lasts for hours, days, or weeks can all be beneficial to your health and happiness.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Alisa Ruby Bash, PsyD, LMFT, in Malibu, California.

Have you ever wanted to take a break from your phone, but find it difficult to resist the urge to constantly check social media? Around the world, about 3.96 billion people use social media, spending an average of 144 minutes on it every day.

Because these social networking sites are known to lure you in and keep you addicted, it's imperative to learn how to take a break from social media. Here are a few common signs and strategies for taking a refreshing social media break.

Why it's important to take a break from social media

From a health perspective, social media is a double-edged sword, says Neha Chaudhary, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
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"On one hand, it helps us stay connected to each other and combat loneliness, which could be good for our health since studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness can negatively impact health," Chaudhary says. "On the other hand, social media is often associated with cyberbullying, social comparison, and other phenomena that can be detrimental to our health and wellbeing."

To ensure that social media has a positive impact on your health, it's important to be conscious of how you're using it. That means knowing when to take a break and direct your attention elsewhere.

Remember that social media is a sedentary behavior. Even though you may be talking to friends, social media limits your capacity for face-to-face interactions and makes you spend less time out in the real world and more time on your phone or computer. In addition, social media may cause feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression if you find yourself comparing other people's lives to yours.
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"As far as mental health, [social media] can affect our self-esteem and lead to us comparing ourselves to edited photos and lives that appear perfect," says Katara McCarty, creator of EXHALE, a well-being app for Black and Indigenous Women of Color. "If we are sitting on social media for extended hours, we aren't taking the time to take care of our bodies and enjoy life outside of social media."

Signs you should take a break from social media

There are a few key signs that may indicate it's time for you to take a social media break, including: It's not fun anymore. Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are meant to be a fun and enjoyable way to connect with family and friends. If you find that it's no longer a source of joy and connection in your life, it may be a sign to take a break.
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You're comparing yourself to others. "If you are feeling like you aren't good enough, pretty enough, or successful enough while consuming what's in your news feed, you should consider taking a break," says McCarty. "If you find that you feel worse about yourself after you're on social media, then it's not a resource that is adding to your emotional well-being."

You're doomscrolling. Doomscrolling occurs when you find yourself mindlessly, and continuously, scrolling through social media sites. You may doomscroll because you feel the need to constantly know everything that's happening in the world— from news to trending topics. You may not even realize you're doing it until a huge lapse of time has passed and you're still sitting in the same position on your phone or computer.

It's the last thing you see at night. Looking at your phone before bed may be disrupting your sleep because it keeps your mind active and awake. The blue light from your cell phone suppresses melatonin, which is a hormone responsible for controlling sleep. Since blue light is an artificial color that imitates daylight, your body will think it's daytime and keep you energized, thus resisting the urge to wind down for sleep.
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It transitions from a nice-to-have activity to a need-to-have activity. "This is a helpful rule of thumb for deciding to take a break," says Chaudhary. "If you're occasionally using it to stay connected or otherwise enhance your life, that's a nice-to-have. But, if you're using it as an unhealthy way to cope with underlying anxiety or feeling yourself becoming distressed if you haven't checked it in a while, those may be signs that you need a break."

How to take a break from social media

Even if you recognize that you should take a break from social media to improve your health, it can be difficult to do. For many, scrolling through social media can be an addictive stimulus, and it will take some real willpower to break the habit.

"If you want to effectively take a break, you'll have to be intentional about it," says Chaudhary. "It can help if you pull in a friend or family member to keep you accountable."
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Here are five helpful tips to help you take a break from social media — and stick to it.

Turn off your notifications from platforms. When you get a notification for a "like" or "comment" on a post, it results in a "positive social stimulus and dopamine influx." This stimulus, also associated with drug use, will result in a release of dopamine. This positive dopamine rush can cause addictive feelings and may make it hard to avoid social media. The constant beeping and buzzing may also make you more likely to check your phone. Turning off notifications can help you actually stick to your social media break.

Prioritize self-care. It can be especially helpful to replace your social media use with other mood-boosting activities that don't require your phone. When you get that urge to check your phone and start scrolling, try one of these other healthy options instead:
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  • Set up time to hang out with friends in person
  • Go for a walk, hike, or bike ride
  • Cook your favorite meal
  • Journal for 15 minutes

Allot time to use social media. Chaudhary recommends identifying what content leaves you feeling better and which makes you feel worse. "From there, you can create plans to limit the things that make you feel bad," says Chaudhary. "A lot of the time, it's placing limits on how much you use based on what the tipping point is from enjoyable to anxiety-provoking or some other negative feeling. That tipping point is going to be different for everyone."

Put your phone across the room at night so that you can't scroll before bed. This can help you avoid the urge to start scrolling if you can't fall asleep. Chances are it will also allow you to get better sleep, which can improve your health and combat other negative side effects of excessive social media use, such as loneliness or depression. Use social media-limiting apps. If you have an iPhone, you can track your screentime for different apps and even set time limits for certain social media platforms. "My iPhone shows me the percentage of my usage compared to the week before, so I try to get that percentage down a bit each week," says McCarty.
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Insider's takeaway

Overall, there are several manageable strategies you can use to take a break from social media. Spending too much time on your phone can contribute to low self-esteem, loneliness, and depression. Putting your phone down may help in alleviating some of these feelings.

"It's healthy to take a break from social media to give time for emotional well-being practices," says McCarty. "It's good for us to break up our day with mental and emotional breaks to regroup and center ourselves."

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