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Need a Social Media Reset? Here’s How

By Jené Luciani
Reviewed by Rebecca Thurston, Ph.D.
November 27, 2023

Social media can be a great place to reconnect with people you love, chat with friends and family you rarely see, and post photos of your beautiful new puppy. But it can also be a place where you compare your life to others (unfavorably) and start feeling bad about yourself, or get pulled into political arguments that leave you feeling depleted and removed from your “real” life.

This is the position 45-year-old Amy Pages, of West Palm Beach, Florida, found herself in a few years ago. “[I’d] get validation from [social media] and create imaginary friendships,” she says. Although some of the friends she may have known in real life, the depth was missing, since they so rarely met up outside of Facebook. “[I felt I] was living in a virtual, made-up world.”

Eventually, she says, she felt like she didn’t actually have any real, authentic friendships. And that started to make her insecure.

These feelings of insecurity are common among people who spend a lot of time on social media, says Robi Ludwig, Psy.D., a New York City–based psychotherapist. While social media can be a place of connection, many of those connections can feel less authentic than ones held in real life, Ludwig says.

How Much Is Too Much?

Social media may feel like a fun way to spend some free time initially. For people with busy lives, it is especially alluring.

The trouble can be when it becomes too much and falls into the “distraction” category. Amelia Waters, in her late 30s, of Albany, New York, realized this was becoming a problem for her during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. “I’d been going through my Facebook feed, and suddenly hours had gone by,” she says. “I’d go to bed at 9 and start watching videos on TikTok, and the next thing I knew, it was 1 in the morning!”

Waters decided to take better control of her use of social media by setting limits, through both artificial means (using blocking apps) and sheer willpower.

Unfortunately, not everyone is able to just undertake that kind of social media detox. For some, the pull of social media can become so strong that it starts affecting your mental health and becomes an unhealthy obsession.

“If you become anxious when you can’t check your social media and you become desperate to check your phone to reduce that anxiety, it may be time for a break,” Ludwig says.

7 Tips for Better Social Media Balance

If this is you, you’re not alone. Many women in midlife struggle to keep a balanced relationship with social media. Here are seven ways we’ve found to (partially) step away from social media, keeping it in your life without letting it get out of control.

1. Figure Out Your Why

“Try to figure out the feeling or reason for the constant checking,” Ludwig says. “Is it anxiety, or a fear of missing out?”

For example, Amy was looking for validation from others. She says she wanted to “look good, be praised by others, and escape the hardships of life.”

All of that is fine, says Ludwig. Unless it’s the only way that’s happening.

Amy isn’t a client of Ludwig’s, but Ludwig says she encourages clients like Amy to seek feelings of validation in other ways. “Give yourself the challenge to not act on those feelings but instead to work through them [offline].”

Make a plan with a friend to meet up for coffee “in real life.” Take a walk with a neighbor. Call a friend on the phone or Zoom, Ludwig says. The idea here is to do something social and validating that isn’t on social media.

2. Rise and Shine (Not Scroll)

Marisa Caprera, a 43-year old mom of four in Schenectady, New York, found that she was waking up and scrolling immediately every morning. “My whole morning would be off because I started it with scrolling.”

She started sleeping in a sports bra and tank top to force herself to work out first thing instead—only then was she able to move into a healthier relationship with social media. She still uses it during the day, but only after she has done the things (like working out and getting her kids off to school) that make her feel most productive.

Ludwig gives her clients similar advice. “Give yourself 15 minutes in the morning before you reach for any devices,” she says. She encourages clients to even put their phone in another room and use an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake up.

3. Set Real Limits

For Amelia, social media was making it hard to wind down at night. “I started putting my phone on nighttime mode and listening to a meditation that turns itself off after 40 minutes,” she says. For her, it was the perfect way to get more sleep and tune out the online “noise.”

Angela Beddoe, a 57-year-old magazine publisher in Saratoga, New York, says setting limits was tough for her, as well. “When I realized I was spending too much time on social media, I decided to only check [my social media pages] two times per day for 10 minutes at a time. I also don’t enable notifications.” For her, having to actively go into the app and retrieve the day’s information makes her far less likely to get distracted.

4. Find Apps That Can Help

During the day, it can become especially challenging to step away from social media.

“As a professional social media manager, I take advantage of programs that help me schedule posts in advance,” Amelia says. “I also allow myself just 15 minutes during the day to scroll Instagram, and 15 minutes for Facebook.”

You can also set a time limit on your apps—or even on your phone itself. For example, iPhones allow you to disable after a certain time in the evening so you’ll be less tempted to spend all night scrolling.

5. Check In with Yourself

If a sudden change in screen time is something you simply can’t stick to, San Diego–based psychologist Reena B. Patel, L.E.P., B.C.B.A., suggests a more gradual change. “Use your smartphone to check the number of hours you are on your device and specific apps, and then each week, see if you can reduce that time by five minutes, gradually increasing the time each week,” she says.

Eventually you’ll find the sweet spot where you can check in and see what’s up while also feeling connected to the real world.

6. Remind Yourself It’s Just Entertainment

It’s common to fall into the trap of using social media as a self-esteem builder, when in many instances, counting clicks, snaps, and likes can end up having the opposite effect.

“Remind yourself it’s there to enjoy,” Ludwig says. “If you find that it’s making you feel bad, ask what these posts represent to you, and find other ways to build your self-esteem.”

She suggests exercise or time with a loved one on the couch, or even a creative pursuit, like knitting or crocheting. Anything that brings a quieter sense of validation and fulfillment can be effective. Then, you can come back to social media when you need it less.

7. Go on a Social Media Detox

A “digital detox,” or a short period of time, such as two or three days, where you abstain from social media altogether, can sometimes be the only way to kick the habit for good, Ludwig says.

“Make sure to include fun activities that require in-person connections” during that time that you step away from social media, says Ludwig, who explains that in-person connections can be deeper, richer, and more fulfilling, much like the difference between a quick snack and a full meal.

Patel suggests creating a “digital detox box,” where your device goes out of your reach when you eat dinner, spend time with family, or hang out with friends.

Make It Stick

There’s no right way to change your social media habits, in midlife or otherwise, and it will require a modicum of willpower, but if you follow some of these tips and do the work toward recognizing what social media means to you, you can turn limited social media sessions into a new habit.

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