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Starting (and Sticking to) a Social Media Cleanse

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCD chapter.

7 hours and 41 minutes. 6 hours and 26 minutes. 8 hours and 52 minutes.

Those are some of my reported daily screen times from previous weeks — and looking at those numbers doesn’t feel good. I have noticed unhealthy phone habits that subtly seep into my mundane activities throughout the day, whether it’s continuously checking if anyone has texted me to avoid reading a textbook or simply mindlessly scrolling through my phone. These little distractions affect my productivity, focus, and happiness. So, I finally decided to make a change that would (hopefully) promote a healthier lifestyle: I deleted the most heavily used social media apps from my phone. Bye-bye, Instagram and TikTok.

Phone with social media apps on screen
Photo by dole777 from Unsplash
With the start of a new school quarter (not a new year), I am committing myself to a social media cleanse. In order to be honest, I am setting small goals because progress, no matter how small, is still something to be proud of. I have never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions because the timeline of achieving a big change within a year can be daunting. One little mishap might discourage someone from continuing their pursuits, but I want to celebrate those mishaps because they are signs of personal growth and development. 

It’s been seven days since I started my digital detox journey. While I kept my profiles activated, I deleted the Instagram and TikTok apps from my phone so I could return to the social media world when I felt comfortable again. 

Adjusting to these changes on Day 1 was difficult, especially when I systematically opened Instagram first thing in the morning and TikTok at night before going to bed. There was some sort of void to my daily routine, so I downloaded the NPR app and placed it where Instagram used to be. The benefits of this substitution are two-fold, with the first being a greater inclination to read the news more often. The second advantage is that I kick off my days much earlier, as there is no excuse to lay in bed and scroll mindlessly. Throughout the day, I found myself reaching for my phone before remembering the digital detox. Though I have to admit, I logged into my Instagram via an Internet browser three times this day. However, it’s still marked as a victory in my book considering how much time I used to spend on the app. 

Day 2 brought immense happiness and productivity! Soon after waking up, I practiced the “Morning Ritual” from the book Daily Rituals: Positive Affirmations to Attract Love, Happiness and Peace by Phoebe Garnsworthy, which was a Christmas gift from my sister. This ritual, consisting of (1) refreshing yourself, (2) expressing gratitude, (3) practicing deep breathing, (4) inviting clarity, (5) exercising, and (6) writing down your goals, set a productive tone for the day. Without the additional distractions of social media tempting my focus, I successfully finished my 6-item to-do list, maintained my workout regimen, and spent time with my family! It felt refreshing and liberating to step outside the confines of my phone. 

Day 3, 4, and 5 tested my will to continue with the social media cleanse. My fingers missed the habitual scrolling motion so prevalent in the previous week. I felt bored and wanted a reason to procrastinate, which led to the constant checking of my phone for text messages from friends and family. These days were not filled with the same satisfaction of Day 2, but rather restlessness. In acknowledging that there would be good days and “bad” days, I ultimately focused on the bigger picture: at the end of this cleanse, I would feel less of a dependence on my devices and practice habits that promote happiness and productivity. 

Day 6 and 7 have been significantly easier, and I find myself spending more time doing activities or work that is meaningful to me. My screen time has decreased to 2 hours, 29 minutes and 2 hours, 36 minutes, respectively. It feels great knowing that I fill my days with activities that are good for my emotional, physical, and mental health. 

Arguably, my favorite part of the detox is the extra time you have to do different activities (the increased productivity is a strong contender)! The possibilities are endless and can be tailored to what you have been wanting or needing to do. So far, I have… 

  • gone on a hike with my sister and explored a new area
  • indulged in Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” 
  • caught up with an old friend over a phone call
  • finished more chores around the house
  • journaled more consistently
  • taken a relaxing bath or two

woman meditating on mountain
Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim from Unsplash
My long-term goal is going the entire quarter without social media to re-establish a healthy and productive relationship with those platforms, but I’m taking this journey one day at a time because the small victories should be celebrated. If you have ever felt nervous or scared to make big changes — no matter what those changes are — I invite you to join me in pursuing a healthier and happier lifestyle!   

Jacqueline Ling is fourth-year student at UC Davis, majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology with a minor in Professional Writing. She is also a laboratory assistant for a DNA sequencing facility on campus, and hopes to enter a career in the sciences or journalism after graduation. In her spare time, she enjoys making Spotify playlists, taking photos with her friends, and trying new foods.
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