Create a more balanced, rewarding social media presence — and improved mental health — by making your accounts work for you.

This isn’t another article telling you to throw your phone in the ocean and turn off your WiFi for a month. By now, social technology is so integrated in most everyone’s life that we’ve all heard of a digital detox to reset the unhealthy side effects of constant connection. And more power to you if you’ve tried one yourself. But a digital detox isn’t the only way to develop healthier online habits. 

For lots of people, scrolling and posting ends up feeling like a time suck that often makes you feel stressed, anxious, or bad about yourself. Realistically, though, most people aren’t going to quit social media forever — many of us need it for our jobs (hi!). However, it’s possible to seek a more balanced, rewarding social media experience that doesn’t involve shutting it all down. Here’s how to make your social media accounts work for you, not the other way around.

Rethink Why You Follow

Chances are, your Instagram or Twitter timelines are cluttered with ghosts of impulse-follows past. There are people you thought you should follow but now ignore, people you now regret following because they post way too much, random internet personalities who made one funny joke a year ago, or random acquaintances who you compare yourself to more than you’d like to admit. A majority of us see social media as a place to rack up followers and follow lists with abandon, but there’s no rule that says you need to see everything they post. Whittling down your feed to a handful of friends and accounts that genuinely make you laugh or post interesting content can make all the difference. Try this: every time you find yourself down a social media rabbit hole, hit the mute or unfollow button on 10 accounts that you either ignored or felt bad about — it’ll become a self-fulfilling prophecy, cutting down your scrolling time with very little effort. After all, you won’t feel the urge to refresh nearly as often if you’re not always getting updates from 1,000-plus accounts.

Woman on Phone in Bed Digital Detox

Curate Wisely

The internet is infinite — there is tons of eye-opening, creative, funny stuff on there. But, so often, it feels like a firehose of content that’s impossible to keep up with, let alone feel inspired by. One way to fix it? Pay attention to what’s truly enriching your feed and make it your mission to follow only the good stuff. 

The first step is being real with yourself about what you actually like — if it’s cute animals, stupid memes, or inspirational quotes you want to see, let yourself enjoy it in the limited time you let yourself scroll. If you’re just trying to keep up with the news or make sure you’re not missing out on that article everyone’s talking about, maybe you’re really looking for a newsletter that curates what the internet is talking about a few days a week — you don’t need to know about everything the minute it happens. The second step is to embrace the specific ways that social media can be enriching. For all its flaws, it’s a great place to learn about anything you want, find supportive communities of people who share your interests, and hold yourself accountable to be more creative through daily prompts and ideas. It can also be a good space to keep up with people you admire — like those who are successful in your field or who make art that you love — in a way that doesn’t make you feel awful. The key is to make a mental note about why you’re following them and to stick with accounts whose posts veer away from aspirational and toward sharing the nuts-and-bolts of their craft or potential opportunities.

Woman on Phone on Couch Digital Detox

Be More Passive

Social media is supposed to be social, but, if you’re not careful, it can start looking like an unhealthy friendship. Do you feel obligated to reply to every comment on your posts? Do you feel nervous about missing out if you haven’t posted or interacted a lot for a few days? Do you agonize over the exact wording of your posts? Do you feel like most of what you talk about in conversation with others, you’ve already shared on Stories? This type of obsessive attention wouldn’t be healthy in a real friendship, but curating a personal brand, being connected all day, and always having something to say or share feels like normal online behavior. And it can be equally harmful in warping your worldview as there are known negative effects on self-esteem that come from constantly comparing yourself to others. Sometimes, simply stepping back from being active on social media can reveal how much brain space it’s taking up and help you gain the perspective you need to curb your time spent online.

Woman on Phone at Desk Digital Detox

Take It Elsewhere

There are plenty of ways social media can be useful in it’s own way. It can be a catalyst for another more satisfying experience — one that’s less quippy than what you’d find on the internet or takes it to the real world. For instance, if you find yourself scrolling through outraged tweets about legislation you oppose, you’d probably feel a lot better if you channeled your emotions into motivation to call your representatives. If you find yourself following an awful lot of feeds offering quick, aesthetically pleasing slideshows about social justice issues, you could check out some books to further educate yourself on those topics. If you’re just zoning out and refreshing automatically to see something new, you’d likely feel better if you got some fresh air or found a relaxing hobby. And if you find yourself on an endless Instagram Stories binge to see what your friends are up to, consider giving them a five-minute call instead. It may also be helpful to note when you feel your self-esteem dip or you feel unsatisfied after reading your feed; if you’re feeling uninformed, boring, or lonely, we’re willing to bet there’s a solution that lies outside 280 characters.

Woman Holding Cup Mug Looking at Cat Digital Detox Concept

…Maybe Do a Little Detox

Okay, fine. Even with a perfect feed, it’s still really important to minimize the amount of time you spend scrolling. But, if we’re being honest, most of us use social platforms to keep up with the news or distract ourselves. So make it a habit to corral your social media use on a daily basis to keep it from derailing you at random: maybe a check-in with your morning coffee and then again after work. As soon as you find yourself compulsively clicking on your social apps or going to bed feeling terrible because of something you saw on Instagram, don’t even question it: delete the apps! Having to go to a computer to check on social — even just for a week — will give you some much-appreciated insight into how much time it takes up in your life. And most importantly, work on changing your attitude toward the goal itself: you’re not cutting down on social media, you’re freeing up hours of time to enjoy a new activity or be gloriously bored — either way, you’ll have more appreciation (and better boundaries) for the time you do spend on the internet when you do return.

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