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When (and How) To Take a Social Media Break

Identify your triggers, set ground rules for your break and start practicing mindfulness

Person doing yoga outside, with oversized smartphone turned off in backround

One minute you’re happy and content, thinking life is going pretty well. You have a few minutes to spare, so you open Instagram and start scrolling…


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First, you spot a friend’s post about landing her dream job. Then, a ranting political meme from a neighbor. Oh, and a video of that guy from college on an amazing tropical vacation.

The next thing you know, you’re second-guessing your career, feeling riled up about politics and lamenting all the vacations you can’t take.

If your time on social media has become an emotional roller coaster of comparison, perfectionism and unwelcome opinions, it might be time to take a break. But how do you get off the ride?

Psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD, discusses signs it might be time to step back and how you can make it stick.

9 signs that you need a social media break

If you often find yourself thinking, Whoa, where did the time go?! or can’t remember why you first opened the app to begin with, you’re probably spending too much time online. But if you’re looking for a definitive number of minutes to spend on social media, you won’t find it here.

“It’s not necessarily about the amount of time you’re spending on social media, but rather the negative effect it may be having on you,” Dr. Borland clarifies.

Here are some tips to clue you in to the fact that it may be time to take a break.

  1. You’re mindlessly checking the apps. “You’re not in the moment, and you’ve gone on autopilot, like your thumbs have a mind of their own,” Dr. Borland illustrates. If you tend to end up on social media without even realizing it, you’re likely too absorbed.
  2. You’re always online. Little sessions add up. One study found that people interact with their smartphones a whopping 2,617 times a day! If you can’t get an objective read on your habits, ask your spouse or a friend to weigh in.
  3. You can’t stop comparing. You know social media is a highlight reel, but it’s so easy to start feeling bad about yourself anyway. “When you negatively compare yourself to what you see online, you can start feeling like your own life is lacking,” Dr. Borland notes.
  4. You have FOMO. Social media can bring on the fear of missing out, aka FOMO, making you feel like everyone is doing something cool and exciting but you. “People often say that it makes them feel like there’s some wonderful thing going on that they’re missing out on,” Dr. Borland says.
  5. You feel insecure. All that FOMO can make you feel like you’re not good enough. “Even into adulthood, people tell me it reminds them of being 13 and not being invited to a friend's sleepover,” he continues. “It can really tap into deeper feelings of insecurity.”
  6. You’re annoyed by everything you see online. If social media has you rolling your eyes every time you log in, it’s time to log off.
  7. You feel isolated from real life. Sure, it’s called social media, but it can actually make you feel more alone. “Instead of having a cup of coffee with a friend, you’re communicating by DM,” Dr. Borland says. “When you lack direct human connection, you can start to feel isolated.”
  8. Your life doesn’t feel authentic. Ever feel like you can’t enjoy what you’re doing without posting about it first? Maybe you’re constantly photographing meals before you eat or you can’t make it through a party without posting. “The pressure to perform can overtake any real enjoyment of using social media,” Dr. Borland states.
  9. And finally… It’s just not fun anymore. This overarching sign encompasses all of the others. Does social media bring you joy or drag you down? If it’s the latter, it’s time to step back.


Benefits of taking a break from social media

Too much time spent on social media can bring FOMO, but taking a break can bring JOMO, or the joy of missing out. Here’s what you may be able to gain from time off:

  • More time: When you’re not spending countless hours scrolling, you can spend all of that time doing … well, whatever you want. Pick up a hobby. Get some extra sleep. The possibilities are endless!
  • Newfound clarity: Breaking a habit can help you take a more objective look at how it made you feel. “You start to think about how you’re spending your time and who you’re communicating with, versus false or surface-level interactions,” Dr. Borland says.
  • Deeper gratitude: Going offline can shift your perspective to feel more grateful for what you have, rather than lamenting what you don’t. “Instead of thinking, I can't believe she’s on vacation again and I’m stuck at home, you’re better able to focus on the good things in your own life,” Dr. Borland says.
  • Higher self-esteem: Social media can be a slippery slope for anxiety and low self-esteem, and it’s been shown to impact some people’s body image. Logging off, even for a few days, may help you start to feel better about yourself.
  • Better mood: One study found that decreasing social media time leads to increased mental health and well-being. Participants even reported decreased depression and loneliness.

How to take a social media break

You’ve decided it’s time for a social media detox … now what? The goal, Dr. Borland says, should be to learn to approach your time online with awareness and intention. This is called mindfulness, and it’s all about staying focused on the present moment.

“It’s the idea of trying to be as emotionally present as possible,” he explains, “and getting in the practice of saying to yourself, I'm going into this with intent.”

These tips will help you go offline — and return (if you want) with more thoughtfulness and restraint. 

Examine your habits and triggers

The ancient philosopher Socrates said the best way to achieve true wisdom is to “know thyself.” Though he couldn’t have envisioned today’s tech, Socrates’ advice is still sage.

“Try to recognize when you’re most vulnerable or susceptible to using social media,” Dr. Borland advises. “Maybe you spend your entire lunch break on TikTok, or you start doomscrolling before bed.”

Pay attention to your emotional responses as you use social media, too. Do you feel, tense, angry, annoyed? When do those reactions occur? Are they inspired by certain types of content or actions?

Maybe you’re checking how many “likes” your photos get or delving too deep into the comments section. Maybe you feel less-than when you watch beauty-related content, or when you check in on your high school frenemy with the super-impressive job.

Whatever the case, start making mental (or even physical) notes about your social media use. To start, you don’t have to do anything; just observe your habits and keep track of them. Get to know thyself, as old Socrates would say.


Set your own parameters

There are no set rules to taking time off social media. You get to define how long your break is and what it includes. But Dr. Borland says a good starting point is trying to respond to your triggers and habits.

Let’s go back to the TikTok-at-lunch example. You could start imposing a specific time limit, like that you can check the app for the last 15 minutes of your lunch break — right before you go back to work, so you don’t have time to endlessly scroll.

There are other options, too, depending on what you feel like you need. Maybe you’re trying to scale back for the long haul or maybe you’re just looking for a time-limited detox to help you reset a little. You might want to:

  • Remove one or all of the apps from your phone.
  • Stay off social media for a set period of time, like a week or a month.
  • Pare down your social media use to a certain number of minutes every day.

“Experiment with what works best for you,” Dr. Borland recommends. You’re in charge.

Share your intentions

When you take a break, you can announce it online first (like if you think people might worry about your absence) or simply step away. Whatever you decide, you might find it helpful to share your plan with a loved one.

“A big part of that is, first of all, admitting it to yourself,” Dr. Borland says. “Then, by admitting it to a friend, it becomes that much more real. You’re owning up to the fact that you’re spending too much time online.”

Some people even have a trusted friend change their social media passwords so they can’t get back online mid-break. But Dr. Borland says that in the end, you have to be willing to change your habits yourself: “Ultimately, it has to be on you.”

Implement some guardrails

If you choose not to delete the apps but want some extra help reducing your social media use, you can bring in backup:

  • Turn on “do not disturb” mode.
  • Turn off all app notifications.
  • Set a timer for how long you can be on social media.
  • Download an app to limit social media use.


That’s right: You can use technology to help you impose limits on technology. “These tools can help you prove to yourself that you can begin to scale back,” Dr. Borland states.

Pay attention to your body

Being aware of your bodily feelings and sensations is a major aspect of mindfulness. During your break, try to notice the way you feel, both emotionally and physically. Are you jittery, anxious, amped-up? Maybe you’re fidgeting or bouncing your knee or tensing your shoulders up near your ears.

“Take a moment and pause,” Dr. Borland advises. “Check in with yourself and say, I’m having a reaction. What is my body telling me? What is going on right now?

When you pause to consider it, you may realize that you’re itching to check TikTok. Or post a photo to Instagram. Or engage in a debate on X. Or whatever other aspect of social media it is that you so desperately crave.

“It all comes down to mindfulness training,” Dr. Borland emphasizes. “Don’t be hard on yourself for it, but accept the fact that that’s what’s going on right now.”

Try a deep breathing exercise

You’ve noticed yourself feeling amped-up sans social media … but what can you do about it? Breathwork techniques can help calm you down and move your body into a more relaxed, stress-free state.

“The great thing about deep breathing is that it forces us to focus on that one inhale and that one exhale,” Dr. Borland says. “It helps us stop and reset.”

He also suggests changing your environment, however briefly, so you’re not sitting around feeling antsy about the apps. Step outside and breathe fresh air. Listen to your favorite song. Pet your cat. Just find some small way to distract and re-ground yourself.

Figure out what to do with your free time

Now that you have all this time back … what will you do with it?

“It’s important to have something to replace the time you usually spend on social media,” Dr. Borland advises, “and it may require a little bit of brainstorming to figure out what that will be.”

It’s time to explore some hobbies! Read a book, become a home chef, try something you loved as a kid that you’d forgotten all about. Make plans to catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a while (and leave your phone in your pocket).

Figure out something else you can turn to when you’re hit with the urge to scroll — and practice living life without needing to turn it into content.

What to do after a social media break

You’re back online, and now you’re trying to figure out how to uphold and honor the lessons you learned from your break. But how? Dr. Borland shares a few final tips for turning that feeling of disconnectedness into a lasting habit.

Create a new routine

To keep social media use to a minimum, you’ll have to make changes to your routines. Go back to those initial habits and triggers: What shifts can you make in your daily life?

“You want to figure out how to create a new routine that will help you break certain unhealthy habits,” Dr. Borland says. Consider:

  • Start your day with a podcast instead of jumping online. Read a book before bed instead of mindlessly scrolling.
  • Rather than leaving your phone on your desk during the workday, resist temptation by stashing it in your purse or a drawer.
  • Implement a set time of day when you can make videos and edit photos, instead of doing it on the fly when you’re out with friends and loved ones. This helps you stay present in the moment while still allowing time for content creation.
  • Keep your phone in another room while you get ready for bed.


Curate your feed

Have you heard the term “hate follow”? It’s when you follow accounts that make you feel bad, whether that’s angry, judgmental, annoyed or jealous. Sometimes, it’s on purpose — but sometimes, you don’t realize you’re doing it.

Take inventory of the accounts you follow and weed out anything that doesn’t sit right with you. If a certain account or type of content makes you feel bad about yourself or otherwise raises your hackles, don’t hesitate to unfollow or mute.

“If someone makes your blood pressure rise or always makes you roll your eyes, ask yourself: What’s the point of following them? Why am I here?” Dr. Borland says. “You want to surround yourself with positive people and accounts.”

That doesn’t mean turning to toxic positivity. It just means surrounding yourself, via your social media feeds, with accounts that make you feel good and excited about life — accounts that add something positive, not annoyance and stress.

Protect your energy

To maintain your newfound perspective on social media and the role it plays in your life, continually ask yourself how you want to use up your energy — yep, just like you’re a video game character with limited lives.

“Each of us has a certain amount of energy for each day, and if we waste it on certain things that don’t matter as much to us, then we have less of it to devote to the important things in our lives,” Dr. Borland explains.

Next time you find yourself hunched over your phone or poised to engage in battle in the comment section, ask yourself: Is this what matters to me? What else could I be doing with my limited and precious energy? And then step away accordingly.

Celebrate small steps

Think about your efforts to spend less time on social media as you would think about a new workout regimen or adopting healthier eating habits: You can’t expect to be perfect at it right away, especially because social media can become addictive.

“In any situation like that, it’s about small steps,” Dr. Borland reassures. “It’s about celebrating small wins, which add up and give you the motivation to continue.”

One study found that it takes about three weeks to start noticing the advantages of limited social media time. Give it time, and expect some bumps in the road and backsliding now and then. But don’t let them deter you from your goals. You’ve got this!

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