In a day and age where everything’s gone digital, social media has become one of society’s biggest influences. But with it, picture-perfect portrayals of everyday life have become the norm, and contributed to epidemic levels of self-doubt. If you’ve become caught up in the comparison game (or scrolling has simply become a time-suck), consider taking a social media break in 2020 to reset your psyche and spend some introspective time on you.

Believe it or not, even widely admired influencers struggle with insecurities. “There was a period of time where I would see other influencers I follow sharing constantly, and I would […] feel like I was falling behind,” Mia Colona, a marketing consultant and Instagram influencer with nearly 30,000 followers, candidly shares with The Zoe Report. “But I had to let go of that mindset because it wasn’t productive or healthy. Comparison really is the thief of joy!”

Yola Robert, an influencer with over 41,000 followers and host of the I Suck At Life podcast, agrees. “It may feel as if you are only as talented or credible as the number of followers you have, but the digital world is not a direct reflection of reality,” she says. “The important thing is to engage on social with purpose. It means nothing to have one million followers if you can’t have some sort of positive impact. I have seen people with ginormous followings not being able to make rent, just to put things into perspective.”

Convinced it’s time to pry your fingers from your phone? Ahead, mental health experts, coaches, and an Instagram influencer unpack the darker side of social media and share tips for doing your own digital detox — just in time for the new year.

Two Major Reasons To Consider A Social Media Break

One of the dangerous things about mindlessly scrolling is that it seems harmless at first glance. But experts say that over time, it can really take its toll. Charlene Rymsha, a burnout recovery coach, tells The Zoe Report how it’s become detrimental to productivity. “Social media easily creates and elevates the habit of multitasking,” she explains. “Not only is multitasking a myth — our brains are not actually multitasking, but rather very quickly toggling between tasks — it also creates a disorganized brain pattern. It is not uncommon to be at work, with all of your devices, alerts on, and to be scrolling multiple media sites, commenting, posting, messaging … all the while getting your actual work done, too.”

Maintaining this pace, she says, can lead to long-term consequences. “The stress of multitasking leads to lack of mental clarity, lowered ability to focus, and overall exhaustion of the body and mind.” In other words, it can contribute to burnout.

Then, of course, is the comparison game: You scroll through your feed and see the achievements of peers, influencers, and even celebs, only to be left feeling unaccomplished and unfulfilled. To that, Jennifer Brick, a career success coach, points out that using various networks bombards users from all sides. “Whether it’s feeling inadequate because of the beautiful, designer clothing-filled images on Instagram or the notifications about the promotions and new jobs your professional contacts are getting on LinkedIn, too many people are comparing themselves to others,” she says.

Sound familiar? It may be time to break the cycle.

How Social Media Affects Your Brain

So, why is it so hard to stay off your feed?

Dr. Sue Varma, a psychiatrist who consults on anxiety, depression, and work-life balance issues in a private practice and on major news outlets, shares a sobering truth: Social media is actually addictive. “Dopamine, the pleasure and reward chemical in the brain that spikes during sex, cocaine, chocolate intake and bungee jumping, also spikes each time we get a message, notification, or like,” she explains.

Furthermore, part of its appeal is rooted in our DNA. “We are hardwired for social communication, specifically being accepted and winning the approval of others whom we like and admire. When we get the recognition, we are on top of the world,” she says. However, there is a dark side. “When our posts don’t do well, we are in the slumps; a small feeling of rejection and abandonment.”

Is it really any wonder we can’t stop scrolling?

Signs It May Be Time To Switch Off (At Least For A Little Bit)

  • You realize you’ve been scrolling for hours on end. “I got a notification that over Christmas, my screen time was up 77 percent,” admits Colona. “I knew that was mostly from vegging out on the couch at my parents’ house, mindlessly scrolling Instagram while watching Netflix. Definitely an indicator that it was time to take a break and spend more time being present with family and friends IRL.”
  • Checking your feed leaves you feeling down. Does seeing others’ accomplishments leave you feeling the FOMO? In addition to slowing down on screen time, consider doing some digital spring cleaning. “I’m a huge fan of purging accounts that don’t make you feel good,” says Brick.
  • You’re using social media as a means of escape. “Begin to notice your thoughts and feelings when you reach for your phone or other device to check social media,” suggests Rymsha. “Are you recalling painful memories or being bombarded by negative self-talk? Are you feeling bored, sad, annoyed, frustrated, lonely, etc.?” If the answer is “yes,” consider try indulging in some offline forms of self-care, instead.
  • You’ve begun obsessing. “When you find yourself starting to obsess over the number of likes, followers, comments, story views etc., or posting/creating content makes you feel anxious, it’s time to unplug and reset.”
  • You’re burning out. “When I start feeling burnt out and uninspired, I know it’s time to take a break,” says Colona.

Pro Tips For Taking A Social Media Break

Dr. Varma mentions that taking a break from your networks entails more than logging off. “A social media detox is also about taking a dopamine detox,” she says. It may be difficult, but it’ll benefit you in the long run. “Anything that provides us with big wins at a fast pace can be dangerous,” she adds.

Needless to say, putting your accounts on hold may be easier said than done, so start off with a plan to tackle the challenge.

  • Set your goal. “First, figure out what your detox goal is: Do you want to be removed from social media altogether, step away from a specific social network that you realized you don’t have a healthy relationship with, or limit your time?” asks Brick. “If you want to get off a network (or all of them), commit and go cold turkey and deactivate your profile.” It’s also helpful to put an end date on your social time-out (try it for a week to start). Setting small milestones may make it feel more manageable.
  • Limit access. “If your goal is to minimize your time, there are a few things you can do,” Brick continues. “You can remove the app from your phone so you only have access through your browser or desktop. Deactivating notifications and using the ‘do not disturb’ setting can be very helpful in removing temptation.”
  • Clarify your intentions. Moving forward, Brick recommends setting some new goals. “[Decide] what relationship do you want to have IRL and on social, and create a system,” she says. “For example, if you want a daily detox, put your phone away after a certain time, or keep it in your bag when you’re out with friends.”
  • Build in breaks. Moving forward post-detox, be sure built in breaks to limit your usage. “I focus on setting boundaries that may seem small but actually go a long way for me,” says Colona. “For example, ‘When I wake up in the morning this week, I’m not checking Instagram or responding to emails until XYZ time.” Robert has a similar approach. “When I am on a detox, I also keep my phone in the living room when I go to bed so I don’t reach for it first thing in the morning.”
  • Get an accountability partner. “If it’s your first time detoxing, it would be helpful to find someone to hold you accountable and is open to discussing your feelings about your detox,” adds Robert. “I know it sounds cheesy, but detoxing can be hard as social media is very addicting!”

A final note about social media: Colona reminds that it’s not all bad, and it may be shifting for the better. “I think there is a positive shift happening in social media,” she says, mentioning that, as opposed to idealized images, audiences have begun gravitating toward posts that are more relatable. “In the New Year, I plan to get back to why I wanted to work in this space in the first place: Sharing authentic moments and things that inspire me creatively. The truth is, no one’s life is perfect, and it shouldn’t be portrayed that way on the internet. I think the tide has turned and we’re all connecting with things that are more real —myself included.”