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What I learned from my month-long social media detox

I started last December by doing something I never thought I'd do... I took a social media detox and took the whole month off Instagram! 😱 Social media has always been a bit of a battle for me. I love social media as a place to cultivate friendships - and it's helped me organically grow my business through the last decade.

And I can't even put into words how much I love the space and the community I've been cultivating over on my Instagram for the last few years! But as I watched the snow fall here in Manchester at the end of November, I realised how much stress Instagram - and social media in general - had been causing me.

I've had wild thoughts over the last year about quitting Instagram and social media altogether! Seeing how incredible online business owners like Michelle & Aimee of Secret Owl Society quit Instagram and Facebook as social channels has sparked ideas that I want to explore for myself.

Between all the health issues I've been navigating over the last year (see here & here for a bit of insight) plus all the side effects of new meds from my doctors - running a business alongside chronic illness has been tough. Adding to that, it felt like a constant slog to "have" to show up online, and I had unknowingly started to pile a lot of pressure on myself. There was also a constant undercurrent of noise and it started to feel like “too much”. Conflicting messages of "end the year strong - there’s only 6 weeks left!” or “end the year as slowly as you need to - there’s no rush!” and every other message in between... it all got a bit too loud, noisy, and too much for my highly sensitive self to deal with.

So I decided that I didn't have to do it anymore. And I took a social media detox and took (almost) all of December away from Instagram.

I made a couple of small exceptions. I had a couple of friends I wanted to check in on, particularly one who was going through a tough time with a hospital procedure. But other than that, I tried to take the time away from the platform and I didn’t post anything new on my feed or stories for the whole month.

My worries about quitting Instagram for the month

When I first started thinking about quitting Instagram for the whole month, I didn’t really give it much thought - until a few days in. But in all honesty, those were wild thoughts that had no place in my brain. Over the last decade, I've worked hard to grow my business and now I'm in a very privileged position where I don’t rely on social media to generate income in my business.

Social media has never really been a selling platform for me - particularly so in the case of Instagram - and I have a steady stream of regular, ongoing clients that I support with design & tech services each month. So taking a month - or even longer! - off social media likely wasn’t going to affect my business income at all.

All these worries showed me that my relationship with social media was not in a healthy position at all. I felt like you had to constantly "show up" on the platform to be “remembered”.

As it was - I needn’t have worried about either of these things. I came back to several DMs from people simply reaching out with Qs or to check in. Even when the time came in January to come “back” into the fold, I gently, quietly worked my way in and only posted after a few quiet days. Now, it’s like I never left! But what has changed is the way I approach it - more on that in a little bit.

Tools I used (and still use!) to break the habit of social media

The one thing that struck me when I started my Instagram detox was how habitual it had become to open a new tab on my computer and immediately navigate to the instagram.com or facebook.com websites! It horrified me how easily and natural this felt, and so I started to research some tools that I could use to help me break the habit.

Freedom.to

The brilliant tool freedom.to is an app that you can install on your computer (Mac, Windows and ChromeOS are supported) or your phone (both Android and iOS are supported). I installed it, set up a few lists to block specific apps and websites - namely news & social media, the two things that caused me a lot of anxiety - and set it going!

I couldn’t get it working perfectly on my phone, unfortunately. Enabling it on my main devices helped me to ease out of that habit as I was physically blocked from accessing the websites.

Forest

The Forest app is a stroke of genius from the developers! The idea is that you can set a time - usually 25 minutes, inspired no doubt by the Pomodoro technique, which I already love to work with - and in that time, a tree will grow in your virtual forest! If you’ve spent any amount of time on this site you’ll know that my brand messaging is inspired by my love of plants and nature, so I LOVED this app.

The app also blocks you from leaving your Forest app, or your tree will die! It's great motivation for someone like me to finish things when the process feels fun. If you need to use your phone for work (like I usually do in some form due to business Voxer & WhatsApp messages) you can turn this setting off. I’ve found that even though I’ve switched off that setting, I still don’t use my phone outside of work tasks when my Forest app is running as it feels too much like cheating!

As a bonus, the Forest app has partnered with a real tree-planting organisation called “Trees for the Future”. That means that when you spend any of your virtual coins that you earn on growing your virtual forest, they donate to their partnered charity and create planting orders!

If you want to try out Forest, get 500 virtual coins by using my referral code: MXH5SWSG

Screen Time & App Limits

A feature available on iOS, I turned off screen time a while ago because it used to make me feel more guilty for using my phone, which - when chronically ill & disabled, particularly during a word that starts with “pand” and ends with “emic” - is often one of the only outlets I have into the outside world.

But during my break from Instagram, I decided to introduce screen time back in. I think so often we can very easily slip back into bad habits without even meaning to. I’m using screen time not to make myself feel guilty - sometimes, I am doing productive things on my phone for my business, such as photo editing, designing (yep, even on my phone!) and other creative tasks! I like that I can be reminded of the time limits I’ve set, which reminds me of how I want to spend my time.

I think that has been one of the biggest lessons for me in this whole experiment - it’s taught me how much more intentional I want to be with my time. As someone that lives with daily chronic fatigue (both due to chronic illness and medications to help me with said illnesses) I have very real limits on my time. Not only that, but I also have limits on how much time I can spend on very specific things too. Restricting my app limits for social media and games means that I can make sure the time I do want to spend on doing those things is purposely shorter and harder to fall into bad habits with.

Did I actually end up breaking my social media habit?

Yes, I did! 🥳 For a good couple of weeks, I still had that habit of picking up my phone and opening Instagram first. I also hopped on a couple of times to see if there was anything I’d truly missed... But using the combination of Forest & Freedom really helped me to see the things I was missing outside of social media and helped me to re-prioritise on the goals and habits that truly matter to me.

I’ve got to be honest with you here, and at one point I did end up replacing one bad habit with another - but because of the limits I’d placed on myself, I was able to notice and take steps to combat it straight away. Instead of defaulting to social media, I started playing more games on my phone. 🙃 I love video games and they truly are a way I like to switch off from the business of life at the end of my workdays - my current favourite is Elder Scrolls Online! But by replacing social media with my phone-based games, I realised is that it wasn’t just social media that I wanted to take a break from - it was my PHONE, the little mini computer I could hold in my hand.

Once I realised this, it made it even easier to implement changes to ensure I have a proper break from the mindless scrolling (or tapping, in the case of the games) of doom.

Some of the better habits I’ve introduced include:

  • implementing a more intentional morning & evening routine, to help me spend more time doing things other than mindlessly scrolling,
  • aiming to be more present with every task I’m doing - from watching the new series of Queer Eye, to working on a design for a client,
  • no longer starting to instinctively pick up my phone to open social media or games,
  • finding that I am better able to focus on deep work phases, and -
  • getting more done in a shorter amount of time, because my brain is no longer switching context every few minutes.

Why I'm not quitting social media for good... yet.

My experiment with taking a whole month off social media showed me that it wasn’t just social media that I had an issue with. Instead, it was more about how much time I was spending on social media mindlessly, when I could spend that time much more intentionally.

Putting new routines into place, I’ve found that I’m still continuing to spend less time on social media even as I’ve eased back into it in the last few weeks.

I’ve noticed that there are specific things that bring me a lot of anxiety when it comes to social media, and my next task is to explore what it could look like to make social media even less of a focus in my business. (perhaps by quitting a couple of platforms, instead of quitting altogether?)

What this time has given me is the opportunity to create more daily rituals that support me and help both my mental and physical health. I’ve created morning and evening routines that I’m actually sticking to, where I’ve focused on bringing in healthier habits like reading (both fiction and non-fiction), slow movement (for the days I can’t physically cope with a full workout), and meditation.

I have no idea what the future really holds for me and my business with social media. What I do know is how grateful I am that I took the month-long break when I did. And in such a technology-obsessed world that we live in now, I’m grateful that I’ve found a way to start taking steps to make it work more for me.

I’d love to know - is social media something you find difficult in your business, or that you have a love-hate relationship with? Pop me a message on Instagram (I know, how meta!) - I’d love to chat more about this with people who “get it”!

Side note! There may be affiliate links in this blog post - if you click on any of them & make a purchase I may receive a small commission. Don't worry though - I only recommend things I actively use & love, and you'll never pay more for doing it this way.

Rachel Shillcock is the founder of Beyond Ink. She's an award-winning designer and photographer, a published logo designer and author, and a speaker. Rachel is also the owner of Rachilli, a creative studio dedicated to helping create more authentic brands for creative brands & businesses ready to grow deeper roots with their audience & build their business in a more aligned way.

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