13 Things That Could Happen When You Quit Social Media
Social media is glorious fun and a colossal time-suck, not to mention pretty darn addictive. Here's what happens when you pull the plug, even for a short hiatus.
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Why you might want to consider quitting social media
Social media is riddled with contradictions. It can be fun but also infuriating. It can make you feel less alone, but also trigger feelings of isolation and inadequacy. And can we talk about the trolls? If you’re spending a lot of time on social media, or on your phone in general, it can be hard to imagine life without it. However, there are plenty of reasons to consider taking a break from endless scrolling. If you’re ready to take the plunge, here are some things to expect when you take a break from social media.
You’ll get more work done, and you’ll do it faster
When you don’t have to worry about your devices buzzing left and right, you could find your productivity levels shooting through the roof. “The thing about social media is that it constantly interrupts us,” says Joanne Cantor, PhD, professor emerita of communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of the book Conquer CyberOverload. “When we stop ourselves to check social media, again and again, it really becomes another form of multitasking, and multitasking makes whatever you do take longer, and you do it in an inferior way.” In fact, the American Psychological Association estimates that trying to juggle multiple tasks at once—such as clicking back and forth between Facebook and an important project—may reduce your productive time by as much as 40 percent. That’s a high price to pay for a few likes and comments.
You’ll get your creative juices flowing
If you find yourself stuck in a creative block, it might have something to do with your social media habits. Cantor says the key to an imaginative mind is taking breaks every now and then while you work with something other than social media. “Having that social media in the background and calling to you and asking you things interferes with your creativity,” Cantor says. By giving up social media entirely, you rid yourself of these nagging notifications and allow your creativity to flourish.
You might feel anxious at first
While the effects of quitting social media are generally positive in the long run, your immediate reaction may be one of stress and anxiety. These feelings are caused by a neurobiological withdrawal from the sense of being constantly connected. “If you’re using social media addictively, which some people are, you have elevated levels of dopamine, so when you stop doing that, there is some withdrawal,” says David Greenfield, PhD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. Luckily, these feelings usually do not persist beyond the first few days of quitting social media, so you should be able to enjoy the positive effects soon enough.
You’ll feel less stressed
Because social media has become so easy to access anywhere and at any time, we often feel compelled to pay attention 24/7 to what is taking place on our newsfeeds and timelines. According to Greenfield, this impulse to be constantly aware of what’s going on online leads to an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone. This heightened stress can bring along a whole slew of unfavorable effects on the brain, such as reduced memory and an increased chance of depression. Staying away from social media makes you less prone to such a high level of cortisol, leaving you calmer and more focused. Find out more about the weird ways social media affects your brain.
You’ll feel more self-assured
When we post on social media, we tend to share only the happy, exciting parts of our lives that we want others to see. This may seem harmless, but when we’re seeing only people at their best, it’s easy to feel like we’re falling behind by comparison. This tendency to negatively compare ourselves to those who we believe are superior is what psychologists call upward social comparison. “Let’s say you’re struggling to have a baby,” says Mai-Ly Nguyen Steers, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer at the University of Houston. “Normally, people wouldn’t come up to you and say, ‘Well look at how amazing my baby is!’ or something like that. Whereas, it kind of feels like that on social media, because we’re posting to such a large audience.” A study by Steers and her colleagues found that people who used Facebook more frequently experienced higher levels of this social comparison, which was linked to more frequent symptoms of depression among the users. Quitting Facebook and other online accounts can help block much of this social comparison, and you’ll end up feeling much happier and more confident. And not comparing yourself to others is one way to achieve body acceptance.
You’ll get more sleep
You take a quick minute to check one notification on Instagram before bed when suddenly you realize you’ve been browsing, liking, and commenting long past your bedtime. Sound familiar? Greenfield says this has become a common habit for many people at night, often spending one to two hours scrolling through social media in bed. “Think about it: If you’re doing that every day, that’s 15 hours a week you spend just doing social media,” Greenfield says. “That’s not like going out to dinner with a friend, that’s just looking at somebody play with their new hamster and then commenting on it.” When you quit social media, you free yourself of this extra priority—and buy yourself the powerful health boost of a good night’s rest. If you need a cool-down activity in the p.m., skip the screens and try something more relaxing and less time-consuming, like reading a book or planning tomorrow’s agenda.
You’ll strengthen your face-to-face relationships
Sure, social media can be an excellent way to stay in touch with old friends or family from out of town, but cutting ties with the Internet can work wonders for your tangible friendships. Face-to-face interpersonal relationships are generally much stronger than those conducted solely online, and taking a breather from your social media accounts forces you to focus on these real-world interactions. “Pulling back on social media and spending more time on face-to-face interactions really helps your relationships, and relationships are really one of the most important factors in wellbeing and mental health,” Cantor says. (Social media obsession also has this downside.)
You’re less likely to get bored
Who hasn’t pulled out their phone while waiting in line at the grocery store, thinking a check of your phone could help alleviate the tedium? But researchers at Kent State who studied 41 college students found the opposite effect. “Amazingly, boredom increased over the 30-minute bout of social media use,” says Andrew Lepp, PhD, an associate professor at Kent State University who specializes in the psychology of social media usage. If you’re not mindlessly scrolling through your feeds, you might choose a more mentally engaging activity to banish your boredom, like working on a crossword or reading a book.
You’ll sit less
Sitting all day can be as dangerous for your health as smoking, scientists say. And after a long day at work, we are increasingly using our free time to check social media—from a seated position. “People will say, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize I was sitting an extra 90 minutes each day because of Facebook,’ ” Lepp says. Staying away from social media frees up your time for healthier activities. Just don’t replace scrolling with playing video games or binging on Netflix. Learn the 1ways to have a healthier relationship with social media.
You’ll learn more about yourself
Once you stop scrolling through other people’s opinions, you will likely find out more about what motivates you, not them. “When people remove themselves from social media, they lose that temptation to garner attention and superficial feedback from other people by posting where they went to dinner or where they went on vacation,” says Tom Kersting, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist, and family counselor and author of Disconnected: How to Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids. “That need to be relevant in the eyes of others will lose its grip, leading to the discovery of one’s self.”
Your decision-making skills will improve
Many people’s beliefs and values are influenced by what they read on social media. According to a study from Pew Research, half of Facebook users get their news from just from the site. “A lot of the decisions people are making isn’t about thinking, it’s a collective consciousness,” Kersting says. Remove yourself from social media and you’ll learn how to think more and make decisions and choices independently.
You’ll argue less
It’s much easier to type a scathing remark when you’re hiding behind a screen than hurling an insult when you’re in the same room as someone. But when you stop using social media, you’re taking yourself out of the fray and you’ll be less emotionally charged. “So you don’t have to carry around with you all day what you’re pissed off about that someone posted,” Kersting says.
You’ll develop more emotional intelligence
Ditching social media may not only make you a nicer person, but it could also help you develop your emotional intelligence, a valuable skill in the workplace. But it does require that you, yes, interact with other human beings. “When we’re on a computer screen for hours a day, then we’re removing the possibility of having face-to-face interaction and we’re reducing our emotional intelligence,” Kersting says. Lifting your head from the screen and having real conversations can increase the quality of your relationships and help you develop this critical skill.
- Joanne Cantor, PhD, professor emerita of communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of the book Conquer CyberOverload
- American Psychological Association: "Multitasking: Switching costs"
- David Greenfield, PhD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction
- Mai-Ly Nguyen Steers, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer at the University of Houston
- Andrew Lepp, PhD, an associate professor at Kent State University who specializes in the psychology of social media usage
- Tom Kersting, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist and family counselor and author of Disconnected: How to Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids
- Pew Research Center: "Half of Facebook news users get news from that social media site alone; other audiences rely on multiple sites"