Tips For Cleaning Up Your Social Media If You Can't Commit To A Full Detox

Social media has paved the way for several benefits that people of the past never could have imagined. Now, we can keep up with family and friends in real time, launch businesses and find fame from the comfort of our bedrooms, and foster new relationships without even leaving the house. But while all that may be true, social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter aren't without their downsides.

"Although there are important benefits, social media can also provide platforms for bullying and exclusion, unrealistic expectations about body image and sources of popularity, normalization of risk-taking behaviors, and can be detrimental to mental health," professor of medical psychology in the Departments of Psychiatry and Sociomedical Sciences Claude Mellins revealed (via Columbia University Irving Medical Center).

As a result, many people who feel the negative effects of social media turn to detoxes. According to Health News, removing social media from your life for a period of time can improve your productivity and self-esteem while reducing anxiety. But as social media can be so intertwined in real life, giving it up cold turkey isn't always that easy. If you'd like to pull back from your platforms without necessarily deleting them, simply cleaning up your social media might be the refresher you need. By taking steps on the platforms to protect yourself from negativity and overconsumption, you can reap similar benefits associated with a full detox. 

Don't be afraid to unfollow

Several of the largest pitfalls of social media use, including comparison, bullying, and marginalization, aren't directly the cause of the platforms themselves, but the way that people use them. The answer, then, may be identifying which accounts are problematic and eliminating them. Depending on what platform you're using, this might involve unfollowing them or deleting them as a friend.

"If you find you are regularly comparing yourself and it's causing you any anxiety or depression, then it's OK to unfollow someone. It's OK to stop looking," digital health coach Tamika Simpson, MPH, IBCLC, PMH-C, told Byrdie. "It's also ok to take a break from social media for a while. We don't need to be constantly informed about what other people are doing, especially if it negatively impacts us. We can walk away for a while and come back when we feel up to it."

You might be reluctant to unfollow someone who hasn't purposefully hurt you, but remember that social media can be a rough place, and you need to prioritize your feelings over other people's. That said, every situation is different, and unfollowing problematic accounts may add to your stress if it leads to real-life consequences. Speaking to Bustle, licensed psychologist Dr. Holly Schiff revealed that some people may be offended when you unfollow them because it's "a deliberate act" that seems more aggressive than "losing touch with people," which "happens naturally."

Mute away

On Instagram, you can mute someone's story and posts to stop coming up in your feed, and you can also mute their messages so you aren't notified when they try to slide into your inbox. In some situations, this is easier than unfollowing, as the other person won't know you've muted them. 

Simply click on the person's account to go to their page, and then click the arrow next to the button that says "following." Beneath "unfollow" and "restrict," there will be an option to "mute." When you click this, you can still see this account's profile if you search for it, but it won't come up automatically in your feed. This is really helpful for those accounts that contain footage that makes you feel bad, whether it promotes body shaming or tempts you to compare yourself.

Android Police explains that you can also (basically) mute people on Facebook. Simply click on the three dots besides a person's post and choose either "snooze" or "unfollow" from the dropdown menu. Note that unfollowing on Facebook isn't the same as unfollowing on Instagram, as the person you've unfollowed won't know. The Facebook equivalent of Instagram unfollowing would be removing someone as your friend.

You can mute on Twitter by clicking the three dots on someone's profile and selecting "mute" from the dropdown menu. It won't stop you from following them, but you won't receive notifications from their tweets unless they mention or reply to you.

Follow people that make you happy

If you don't want to spring clean your social media by removing accounts that make it a less pleasant experience, you can focus on adding accounts that boost your happiness. Try to identify the most common things you see on social media that leave you feeling not so great, and then actively look for accounts that post content which counteracts that.

For example, if you often end up with low self-esteem or compromised body image after scrolling for a while, it might be a good idea to follow body positivity accounts that regularly post about self-love. Seek out accounts like Alissa Rumsey, a weight-inclusive dietician who promotes body positivity and posts content dismantling toxic diet culture. Or if you can't stand the stream of negativity and fear-mongering that can take place on social media, look for accounts that only post feel-good content. The account @babyanmals is a great example of a page where you can find endless endorphin-boosting baby animal reels and pictures, and no negativity!

While social media can be a cesspool of offensive accounts and opinions, it's also a great way to connect with the kind of people you're looking for. Platforms like Twitter and Instagram are particularly useful for finding a community of people that can make you feel less alone and more understood, so don't be afraid to go looking for them.

Delete just one or two accounts

Most experts define a social media detox as the total removal of social media from your life, for a set period of time (via Declutter the Mind). However, if you're only looking to clean up your social media, you could try only eliminating one or two platforms that you're normally active on. Even temporarily disabling one account can give you more time to be present and productive, and keep you away from negative content.

To choose which accounts you'll get rid of and which you'll keep, you'll have to weigh up the pros and cons of each, and take a few other things into consideration. Think about which platform you spend the most time on, and which will be the hardest to give up. Also think about which one is generally the most problematic. You might want to keep a journal of how you feel after using each one for a week or so to give you an idea. Additionally, go over the consequences of temporarily removing each one. For example, if Facebook is your primary way of connecting with family members who support you, it might not be a good idea to cut that out of your life.

Alternatively, you could try disabling all of them at different times. You might find that you like life better without a certain platform taking up your energy, or you might realize that you miss the benefits of some platforms over others.

Remove old posts that are no longer relevant

In many ways, your social media accounts represent you. If you've got old posts from years ago that don't reflect who you are anymore, or maybe show a side of you that you're not comfortable sharing, go ahead and delete them. It will probably feel like a weight off your shoulders!

In an interview with Vice, tech expert Katie Linendoll explained that deleting old tweets is particularly useful if you might have said anything in the past that doesn't align with your values now: "Were you not having maybe your brightest college years, for example — do you know you said something not that smart when you were younger and not as wise on social media? Now's the time to do a cleanup."

While this is primarily to protect your reputation, cleaning up your profile can help you to view yourself in a more positive light. A 2019 poll found that two thirds of British people felt embarrassed by their social media presence, and though drunken behavior was the largest cause behind the widespread regret, it suggests that our social media activity can lead to a sense of pride or shame, per iNews.

You don't need to delete everything, but take some time to look through your account activity. If there's anything that you aren't happy with or may be causing you shame or stress, go ahead and remove it.

Move your conversations

Social media absolutely can be a source of positivity and joy, but it's still best consumed in moderation. HelpGuide explains that several studies have found that excessive social media use is unhealthy. Among other side effects, it can lead to heightened levels of depression and anxiety. Even if you don't want to delete your social media accounts altogether, it may be helpful to reduce the time you're spending on there. And if part of your social media usage is spent talking to people, you might want to consider moving those conversations over to more traditional platforms.

Have you ever had simultaneous conversations with the same person over various apps? You might be texting them, having a conversation on Messenger, and sending each other Snapchats at the same time. Try instead having the bulk of those conversations away from social media, such as by text or over the phone, or even better, in person.

It won't always be possible, as some people are exclusively connected by social media. But when you can move a conversation elsewhere, doing so will mean that you're on social media for a little less time. As No Side Bar notes, this can lead to a rise in self-esteem, productivity, and perspective.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.