How to Cut Out Social Media Toxicity

Hate-follows should be the first thing to go.

It’s 2 a.m. and you can’t sleep. You crawled into bed after a day of lectures, errands and three missed calls from your mother, probably calling to remind you to schedule your six-month dental cleaning because that is clearly your top priority. Instead of shutting your eyes and grabbing some well-deserved rest, you open Instagram and tell yourself you’ll get caught up on the highlights you missed throughout the day.

After 30 minutes, you’ve wander into pictures of your friend’s cousin who vacationed in Guam, and there goes another 45 minutes telling yourself you’ll get there one day. And deeper and deeper into the void you fall until it’s 4:42 a.m. and you finally pass out, phone still in hand.

Social media is like a glass of red wine; one is great for the antioxidants but too many and you’re puking up sirloin and mashed potatoes the next morning, reminiscing about the “wild time” you had. I’ve got news for you: the steak was a cheap cut; you were the only one having fun; and, you’re actually doing more harm than good to your body by now.

The same can be said for using Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. A little social media usage can be an effective way to communicate, stay connected and engage in interactive media, but too much and you can spiral out of control.

Social media can consume all your time if you’re not careful. A good ol’ fashioned detox is great for resetting the clock and reevaluating your needs. Here are three steps to starting your social media detox.

1. Unfollow, Unfriend and Unlike

Remember when you were in high school and your friends started a folk revival band “We’ve Got the Folk” and asked you to like their Facebook page? Turns out, they never played a show or bothered to finish their website, but to this day they remain “liked” on your timeline.

Clean out your “liked” pages and unlike any outdated references, entertainment or products you don’t care about anymore. It may take a while to sift through the movies, bands, books and clothing companies, but I promise you’ll feel better without Pacific Sunwear, Bioré Skincare and Noodles & Co. notifications clogging your feed.

When you scroll through your timeline, who do you want to see? Do you want pictures of your cousin’s adorable newborn and snapshots of the Wisconsin cabin that your boyfriend’s parents are renovating, or the catty girls who tormented you in high school and the boys who thought you were “never good enough”? You should interact with the people who mean the most to you and hold a significant place in your life. Take ownership of your feed and unfriend anyone you don’t care about — to put it bluntly. That’s the truth.

If you’re having trouble with deciding who to keep as a friend on social media, use my convenient two ‘n’ two rule. The first “two” signifies years. Have I seen this person in the last two years at a planned event, reunion, lunch or birthday party? The second “two” signifies months. Have I had a conversation with this person in the last two months? As I go through my feed, I force myself to think about the last time I talked to that person. If I can’t remember, and I don’t miss them, I unfriend them. If I can’t remember, but I do miss them, I send them a message or shoot them a call.

Unfriending and unliking can be a taxing process. In a way, it’s like saying goodbye to a part of yourself. You’re not harsh or mean for cutting out certain people. Cutting out the clutter is an empowering experience. Take control of your time and reclaim your experience.

2. Schedule Time for Social Media

The average person spends over two-and-a-half hours on social media per day, according to the 2018 Nielsen Total Audience Report. That’s the equivalent to watching “Apocalypse Now” or “Schindler’s List” and the entirety of the respective bonus features.

I’m a firm believer in list making and a strong supporter of color coordination. I make daily, weekly and monthly to-do lists with the most important, immediate deadlines in red and the less critical tasks in yellow or green. Hours slip away in the slew of bills that need paying, errands that need running and resumes that need updating. In other words, there’s a good chance that if a task isn’t scheduled, it won’t be completed.

When I feel overwhelmed with a task or incur writer’s block, which has happened several times throughout this post, I immediately reach for my phone and pull up Instagram. It’s an involuntary reaction at this point. I treat social media like an escape when the task in front of me is challenging or I’m having trouble focusing. The problem is, I don’t build time for social media into my daily schedule, so I find myself craving it like I crave Cheez-It Duos when it’s that time of the month.

I don’t buy 15 boxes of Cheez-Its despite my obsessive craving for anything baked and cheddar-flavored; I buy one box and make it last for the week. The same is true with social media; scheduling time for scrolling and surfing can prevent binges and will keep your cravings at bay.

Don’t deprive yourself and cut Instagram cold turkey. If you do, you’re more likely to crash and binge. Designate a chunk of time or small portions of time throughout the day for social media use. Building social media into your daily schedule helps you stay on top of your to-do list and curb the urge to mindlessly scroll for hours.

3. Spend Time Thinking About Your Social Media Goals

Visualizing your goals is important for keeping you on track with the new way you interact with social media. Ask yourself what your goal or purpose is for having a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Are you an aspiring influencer or brand ambassador looking to communicate a brand and build a following? Are you promoting your professional portfolio of work through interactive posts? Or are you simply there to connect with friends and watch funny videos?

Most people have social media accounts because it’s the norm; everyone has one. They don’t stop to think “why” or set any goals for their social media experience. Goals can be engaging. For example, you aim to share your latest article with your followers and have meaningful discussions with on its topics. But goals can also be disengaging. Take, for instance, wanting to stay up to-date on the latest AGT contestants and Ellen Tube.

If you reevaluate your needs and discover you simply don’t have goals for social media, consider taking a break. Deactivate your accounts and delete the apps on your phone for some time unplugged. A social media hiatus allows you to reconnect with friends and family in a truly genuine, unfiltered way.

Set goals. Write them down. Post them on your fridge or keep them in your planner. I know it sounds silly, but it’s proven that writing down your goals makes you 1.4 times more likely to stick with them and complete them.

Just like a personal trainer would scrutinize you for missing a workout, I’m going to call B.S. if you think you’re too cool for some solid goal visualization. Social media is now a natural part of your everyday life, from how you talk to friends and meet new people to how you apply for jobs. It’s a fantastic network of people, adventures and hilarious memes, but it’s also dangerous for those who haven’t familiarized themselves with the tips and tricks on how to not get sucked into the ethers.

There are many unhealthy ways to interact with social media, but there are also numerous benefits to practicing responsible social media use. By avoiding the trap of continuous scrolling and reminding yourself of your goals, you’ll see social media in an entirely new light and be free to interact with friends in an entirely new, empowered way.

Or just delete everything and backpack through Europe. Whatever works.

Tatianna Salisbury, Northern Illinois University

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Tatianna Salisbury

Northern Illinois University

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