3 Reasons to Detach From Social Media (& a Few Not To)

Between the #DoItForTheInsta trend and throwing it back every Thursday, it’s no secret that we spend a great deal of time on social media. But how much is too much? We talked to experts and collegiettes about the pros and cons of unplugging, to help you figure out if you should deactivate those accounts for good.

Why you should disconnect

Social media can be distracting

Spending time browsing your newsfeed can distract you from getting that paper written—shocking, we know. “Because they’re tailored to our interests and there’s always something new that will interest us, it can be hard to focus on things we have to do that are not that immediately fascinating,” says Joanne Cantor, Ph.D., the Outreach Director of the Center for Communication Research at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

It’s happened to all of us—we sit down to work on an assignment, check our Facebook and, before we know it, it’s 2 a.m. and we have yet to open a Word doc. But are social media the problem, or would we just find other ways to procrastinate without them? For Lindy Olive, a senior at Auburn University, the answer is clear. “I have personally deactivated my Twitter and Facebook a number of times,” Lindy says. “I believe I have more productive and positive days when I am not on social media. I don't feel the need to have my phone glued to my hand and refresh the page over and over again.”

Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology, agrees that our social media habit deters us from dealing with more important things. “It can be very time-consuming, and pull students off of essential work or even the time needed to avail themselves of other opportunities,” Dr. Ramani says. So next time you don’t feel like doing your homework, go for a walk or talk to a friend—you will feel much more rewarded and ready to take on whatever school threw your way this time.

They can’t replace a real interaction

Why do we use social media when we’re hanging out with our friends? None of us truly have an answer, yet we know intuitively that we should really put our phones down for the length of that fro-yo date. “Social media can sometimes interfere with face-to-face interactions,” Cantor says. “You either don’t seek them out, or you keep looking down at your iPhone while having a face-to-face interaction, which really diminishes the connection.”

So, what happens if we compromise the quality of our interactions? Simply put, we miss out on many of the benefits that come with having a meaningful conversation. “Face-to-face interactions have benefits that electronic connections can’t have,” Cantor explains. For instance, a friend’s smile can actually make us feel better. As for body language and shows of affection (like hugs), which obviously don’t come through on social media, they enrich our relationships in a way that staring at a computer (or smartphone or tablet—we see you) never will. And in the long run? “Research shows that a few close relationships are much more likely to lead to happiness than many superficial relationships,” Cantor adds.

Obviously, social media aren’t all about below-average interactions; there’s also the stalking. For Dr. Ramani, “it is like ‘artificial sweetener’—it is not a meaningful substitute for the real thing. It allows a manufactured look into only a sliver of the life of others, and does not give us the deep, holistic, and authentic connection that is needed (rather than just a superficial one).”

Ingrid Marquardt, a senior at Boston College, definitely reaped the benefits of disconnecting when she went on a service trip to Appalachia. “We weren't allowed to/[were] highly encouraged to not use our social media,” Ingrid says. “I ended up getting to know the people in my group a million times better—we're still close to this day! I don't know if I can attribute how close everyone got to the [lack of phones] on its own, but it was a contributing factor.”

But unfortunately, Facebook-stalking and substituting online conversations for physical ones are not the only ways that social networks can harm our relationships. “Finally, it has turned all of us into a ‘brand,’” Dr. Ramani says. “Social media often results in people commodifying themselves—trying to sell their point of view, lifestyle, whatever—it is a very one-way method of communication and lacks the reciprocity and mutuality that close relationships require.” When does the list end?

They are full of negativity

By now, you’ve probably heard about how social media can hurt your mental health. You might have experienced it yourself—when your Instagram picture doesn’t hit 11 likes fast enough or you see pictures of your ex with a new girl. Lindy certainly did. “I deleted [my accounts] just because I realized how much junk and negativity is poured out from social media,” she says. “If you haven't deactivated your accounts before, you should give it a try. It brings awareness to how much time you spend on social media and how much it can actually affect your life.”

Lindy is right; the consequences are very real. “There are also phenomena like FOMO and social comparison which can often result in decrements in self-esteem, anxiety, and self-doubt,” Dr. Ramani says. So not only can you waste a ton of time and compromise your friendships, but you can also end up feeling much worse about yourself after working your way through all of that girl from camp’s pictures one too many times.

How to do it

So we just scared you a little bit, and you want to give disconnecting a try. But how do you go about it? For Cantor, “how difficult it is certainly depends on the person and how she uses it. The more ingrained the habit, the harder it should be to break.”

So if it’s going to be that difficult, is it even worth it? Elissa Sanci, a senior at the University of New Haven, thinks so. “Last summer, I went a week without using Instagram,” Elissa says. “Overall, I found the experience to be really great. It was hard at first, but worth it in the end.”

Put things in perspective

For Jadaia Wyatt, a sophomore at Old Dominion University, realizing that detaching from social media isn’t the end of the world after all really helped her put things in perspective. “As hard as it seems to us [tech-savvy] teens, it was actually VERY refreshing for me,” Jadaia says. “Over the course of that weekend, I learned that it's okay to not have to tell the world your every move or keep up with everything Kim K. is doing. I finally took some time to do the things I enjoy and was completely fine with not checking my Snapchat or Twitter.”

So if you take time to notice what you actually do on social media, you might realize that they are not as indispensable as you think—and it will be that much easier to take some time off.

Ask your friends for help

If you want to disconnect temporarily but don’t trust yourself to stick with it, try this awesome trick from Kasia Jaworski, a recent Villanova University graduate. “I didn't fully deactivate my Facebook, but during finals one year, I had my friend change my password and delete the app off my phone,” Kasia says. Why didn’t we think of that?

Set limits for yourself

Dr. Ramani believes that we spend way too much time online and says that “people should study in Wi-Fi-free zones, disable their accounts during crunch times, and be sure they strive to real face time instead of pseudo-time via likes and retweets.”

Obviously you don’t need to drop off the face of the (virtual) Earth, but considerably reducing your social media use might be just the change you need. “I am naïve if I think people will unplug entirely, especially young people, so setting limits may be more realistic,” Dr. Ramani admits. This might involve “having only set times you check it, disabling it from your phone, making deliberate efforts to spend real time with people. And having digital detox periods of 24 to 72 hours or longer.” Whatever works for you!

For Cantor, finding the right balance is key. “I’m not sure I would recommend detaching totally, but I would recommend making sure that time on social media is sufficiently limited so that it doesn’t interfere with work, study, or interpersonal relationships,” she says.

Choose which accounts to deactivate

Sometimes the problem can be a certain platform, not social media as a whole. “Last summer I deactivated my Twitter account for three months and then reactivated it again when I joined the Her Campus team,” says Kasey Overgaard, a senior and campus correspondent for HC at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. “After my time off of Twitter I actually saw a huge difference. I rarely ever use it or look at it anymore, and I feel a lot less disconnected from the world and people around me.”

Although Kasey had a great experience breaking away from Twitter, the same didn’t work nearly as well with other platforms. “I recently tried to quit Facebook and Instagram for a while, but have failed miserably so far,” Kasey says. “The week that I did succeed at avoiding my Facebook and Instagram I didn't feel much of a difference, but a week isn't a very long time. I kind of feel like since I don't use Facebook and Instagram that much, it's not a big deal or problem.” So figure out which channels are hindering you from being your best self, and try deactivating just those ones. Results guaranteed!

Go cold turkey

So you just read all of that, and you still want to disconnect all the way. If you think it’s best for you, you should absolutely do it! For Lindy, “quitting cold turkey works very well for social media. You'll eventually forget about it and feel sorry for everyone walking around with their phones glued to their hands. It's kind of liberating that way, really.”

She makes it sound so simple, but is it really? Apparently, it is! “The only thing I really had a problem with was just getting out of the habit of typing the word Facebook in the address bar when I got on the computer,” Lindy explains. “After you deactivate the account, erase social media websites from your browser history or obviously delete the app. That way when you try to type it in and it doesn't immediately appear, you'll have a quick reminder that you deactivated it. When [the URL and your login information] are already saved in your browser history, it makes the habit hard to quit because it's so easy to get back on.”

Basically, if you’re serious about disconnecting, you need to get rid of anything that will make it more difficult for you, and you’ll be good to go!

The benefits of social media

Of course, social media aren’t all bad. “There are too many benefits to list,” Cantor says. “Social media help us stay in touch with people who are too far away to see personally and/or too busy to interrupt. And we can get much more up-to-date information about people, places, things, movements that we’re interested in. There can be emotional benefits of feeling connected to friends and family, and cognitive benefits of hearing about issues that concern you.”

If you’re thinking of deactivating your accounts, Kasia suggests that you either do it permanently or not at all, because reactivating can be stressful, but she also sees plenty of advantages to social media. “[Deactivating] was good because it helped me focus during exams more, but I was BOMBARDED with notifications when I went back on,” Kasia says. “I personally like having social media to keep in touch with people and see what they're up to. So when I didn't have it and then got back on, I felt like I had missed a lot, considering some of my high school friends and I exclusively interact on these sites.” So if you’re not online 24/7, staying active on Facebook and Instagram can be a welcome addition to your life, much more than a problem.

When it comes to laying off social media, there is no right answer. If you decide to disconnect, it will be much easier than you think with these tips! But if you don’t feel the need to get rid of that Twitter profile or Snapchat account... we'll just put it this way: moderation is key!