Taking week-long breaks from social media helps combat my loneliness

The loneliest time of my life was in April 2020. It was the start of lockdown and I was living alone, largely confined to my flat. I knew many other people in the same position and everyone was trying desperately to escape the loneliness, using social media, video calls and apps to try and connect.

I decided to do the opposite. In the depths of my loneliness, I deleted all of my social media. Even WhatsApp.

Everyone thought I was mad. My friends urged me not to. My family was worried. In such a lonely period, surely that would make me feel worse than ever? But I had a feeling that somehow, counter-intuitively, coming off my socials would ease the loneliness. Without Instagram to scroll down, and with no knowledge of how other people were living their lives, I might be able to find some peace in my solitude.

The beginning was hard – I kept reaching for my phone only to remember there was nothing to scroll through. I’d crave red notifications telling me that people wanted to speak to me. I missed knowing how my friends were. But after a day or two, that faded, and I stopped thinking about my phone. Instead, I thought about myself.

I did things I really wanted to do, whether it was reading, baking, walking or Marie Kondo-ing my home. I sat in silence, I took long baths, and noticed that the gaping hole of loneliness was starting to fill up. I was still doing similar things to always, but without my phone helping me compare myself to others, I felt calmer. And without the expectation of receiving messages, I started to enjoy the quietness.

It’s why I’m not surprised to see the results of a new study from the University of Bath that showed the positive mental health effects of taking a week-long social media break. Researchers asked participants who used social media every day (for an average of eight hours a week) to stop using all social media for a week. They found they saw significant improvements in wellbeing, depression and anxiety compared to the group who continued as normal.

Week-long social media breaks could be recommended in the future to help people manage their mental health. It’s something that feels particularly pertinent now, in this Mental Health Awareness Week where the theme is loneliness – something that affects one in four of us. 

There are many ways to try to combat loneliness, from connecting with friends to trying to meet new people to reconnecting with ourselves, but a week-long social media break could also be a simple but effective tool.

After I took my first week-long social media break in that difficult lockdown, I began making it a regular self-help habit. Whenever I notice that I’m starting to feel anxious or lonely (the two often go hand in hand for me), I decide it’s time to go offline. I don’t always manage to delete WhatsApp, but I do remove Instagram, Twitter and Facebook from my phone. Instantly, I notice a difference. The anxiety fades, the loneliness lessens and I feel so much calmer.

By removing myself from these networks – albeit temporarily – I start to connect more with my real life. Without even trying, I find myself living more in the present. When I’m on a walk, I’m really on that walk, noticing the nature around me and smiling at strangers. When I’m watching a movie, I’m not mindlessly scrolling on my phone at the same time – I’m fully present for every part of the movie, and when it finishes, I actually feel relaxed. And when I’m with my friends, I’m not distracted by my phone vibrating.


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