What if I told you that one of your appendages was conspiring against you? What if I told you that the object that has become your constant companion is slowly and steadily deteriorating the quality of your life? What if I told you that rectangular device that sits snugly in your pocket was the greatest thief of your joy? You might accuse me of being dramatic if I told you that the object I am referring to is your smartphone. Heck, if I didn’t know what I know now, I would accuse myself of being dramatic. However, the point of this is not to convince everyone who owns one to throw their smartphone away. I know this would be unrealistic and unhelpful advice. My smartphone is a useful tool that I would never get rid of (until the next big technological advancement comes along). I hope I can help you re-evaluate how you use your device, giving way to a more mindful and productive life. 

Many people – not all, but I would confidently assume the majority – spend the bulk of their screen time (perhaps apart from work-related endeavors) on social media apps such as TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. There is a lot of good stuff to be found on these platforms, and I am not anti-social media by any means. I am, however, a skeptic, and I have several important reasons for remaining as such, along with my experiment in abstaining from these apps. 

As part of a graduate school assignment, I was tasked with the job of giving up a “vice” for the entirety of the 15-week semester. As someone who was already somewhat of a skeptic at the time, I decided I would delete all of the social media apps on my phone and abstain from using the platforms for the assignment. I was excited and prepared to learn from the experience, but I don’t think I was prepared to have my entire outlook on smartphones alter as much as it did. 

Social Media and Mindfulness:

I made an astounding observation during my first week of social media abstinence. I found myself at various times throughout the day opening up my iPhone, and immediately scrolling down to use the “spotlight” feature (which displays the most commonly used apps on one’s phone) where I would normally find Instagram or Facebook and click without thinking. It wasn’t until I didn’t see either of these apps that I realized what I was doing and remembered the experiment. This caused me to wonder, How many times have I absentmindedly opened an app and started scrolling without consciously realizing what I was doing? This was a real eye-opener. The power these devices and apps have on us is more serious than we may think. The ability to control my behavior without my awareness was a wake-up call. 

Once I realized what I was doing, I began to take notice of my mental state just before automatically opening up my phone to scroll. What I found was that every time I engaged in this automatic behavior, I was experiencing some type of negatively perceived emotion or mental state. When there was nothing to do at my part-time job and I felt bored → checked my phone. When I started to feel anxious about an impending deadline → checked my phone. Something made me sad → check my phone. I felt tired from a long evening class → check my phone. Since I couldn’t open Instagram or TikTok during these times, I even began compulsively checking the weather app, my email, or my favorite pastime, stalking my friends and family on “Find My Friends.” However, there are only so many times throughout the day that you can confirm that the forecast is still indeed partly cloudy before asking yourself What am I doing here? The answer is that I was using these dopamine-inducing apps as a means to escape my less favorable emotions, the same way a person with a substance use disorder uses alcohol or drugs to numb themselves to reality. As a result, I was inhibiting my ability to be mindful.

In his book Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport labels this concept “Solitude Deprivation,” or, “a state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your thoughts and free from input from other minds” (2019). This is exactly what was happening to me. Even when I was alone, I was never truly fully alone with my thoughts and emotions because I wasn’t allowing myself to be. Instead, I was turning to social media apps to squash all the unwanted thoughts and feelings. However, what we know about addiction (and feelings in general), is that this isn’t effective because it doesn’t cause the negative feelings to go away; it simply keeps them at bay and causes them to build until we are so full of negative emotion that we explode. Or, like an old psychology professor once told me, “[When it comes to emotions,] you can either pay now or pay later, but with interest.” 

During the first couple weeks of this experiment, my anxiety was higher than it had been in a while. I called this my “withdrawal” symptom. This is no surprise considering how much I was using the apps before the experiment to numb my anxiety, instead of recognizing it, sitting with it, and doing something to effectively release my emotions. Additionally, checking the weather app didn’t provide quite the same dopamine hit as the highly stimulating/entertaining videos on TikTok or the notifications of likes/comments on Instagram. 

Social Media and Focus: 

Further, into my experiment, I noticed that I became increasingly productive when it came to schoolwork. I attribute this to two main reasons. The first was that my attention span was not as compromised as it had been when I was spending upwards of two hours each day scrolling post after post after post, without even being consciously aware of what I was consuming. There is something to be said about the way our entertainment on social media apps has evolved (or devolved depending on how one might look at it) to 15-second attention-grabbing videos and how this affects our ability to hold our attention for longer periods. We live in an unprecedented time of overstimulation everywhere we go, which wreaks havoc not only on our abilities to be mindful and achieve solitude but on our attention spans as well. Secondly, I found myself getting my work done in a more timely manner as my working periods were no longer interrupted by my need to constantly check Instagram or Facebook for a notification, which then led to mindless scrolling, followed by a substantial effort needed to focus my mind back on the task at hand. When subconsciously scrolling through social media feeds, it can begin to feel like we are transported to a vortex where time does not exist, and suddenly hours have gone by without our awareness. Getting this extra time back allowed me to devote more time to hobbies I enjoy, like reading, and self-care exercises that nourish me, such as exercise, journaling, meditation, and connecting with loved ones. 


The idea of having bonus time to connect with loved ones leads me to my next point. One might expect that I felt more disconnected from others while I was outside of the social media realm. I will admit, there were times when I wanted to see what others were up to or share a big life event. However, I found myself feeling more connected to the people in my life who matter most because it forced me to be intentional in reaching out to them via a phone call or text. As stated previously, the extra time also allowed me to devote more time to my relationships. The only people whose lives I was truly missing out on were that person I haven’t talked to since 4th grade or that other person who was from my hometown but we never actually talked to one another, which–no offense to either person–did not feel like something I was “missing out” on. 

Gratitude and Joy:

Lastly, in addition to the ability to be more mindful throughout my day, getting off of the social media apps allowed me to be more introspective and evaluate my own life, focusing on what brings me joy and what my goals are. This led to more gratitude and appreciation for my own life, my thoughts, abilities, and traits, and the relationships in my life. I found myself simply wanting less and appreciating more. From the “things you need to buy on Amazon” videos to the “day in my life” vlogs, it can be easy to buy into the idea that our lives will be better, shinier, prettier, if we had what they have, whether it be materialistic or otherwise. They say “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When we’re constantly exposed to people’s highlight reels, it can lead us down the path of questioning our own life’s value and even our self-worth, posing questions like, “Why can’t I look like that?” or “Why doesn’t my partner do that?” Before abstaining from social media, I used to constantly worry that I was not going out enough, not dressing up enough, not creating enough, doing enough, reading enough, or being enough. I was left with a feeling of insecurity every time I saw someone’s seemingly perfect life. 


Now that I’ve converted you to team analog (just kidding–I still watch my fair share of Tiktok videos, I just have boundaries with my smartphone that I didn’t have before), what can you do to give yourself more focus, mindfulness, and joy in a world full of pings, dings, and doom scrolling? 

My first advice is to try a “social media detox.” My suggestion is to do this for at least 30 days since this is the amount of time that it supposedly takes to form/break a habit and take notice (Gardner and Rebar, 2019). How do you feel? How is your focus? How do you find yourself spending your time instead? Take this precious time to unpack what’s been bubbling beneath the surface –keep reading for tips on what to do if the emotions start to feel overwhelming – and explore what activities bring you joy. 

Next, once those 30 days (or however long you decide you’d like to abstain) are over, you get to decide which apps you want to re-engage with. Of those apps, be intentional about how you spend your time on them and each time ask yourself, Am I using this app to avoid something I’m feeling inside? Or to avoid completing a task I am procrastinating? Create rules and boundaries for your social media usage. For example, I have found it useful to delete all social media apps during the work week and redownload them for limited use over the weekend, or when I feel like posting/engaging. If this doesn’t work for you, set time limits in your phone settings. That way, you will be notified when you exceed your time limit and the app will automatically close. If you find yourself perpetually ignoring these reminders, that may be a sign that it’s time to delete the app for a while or at the very least re-evaluate your usage. 

As far as the underlying problems that exist as part of being a human, whether we engage in social media or not, such as anxiety, stress, sadness, tiredness, pain, boredom, anger, and many other mental health obstacles, here are my suggestions: 

  • Dedicate purposeful time to solitude
      • Eat a meal in silence or take the dog for a walk without your earbuds
      • Notice the feelings that come up and sit with them for a second
      • If the emotions overwhelm you, do something to take care of yourself
      • If you have kids, I know this can be tricky. But schedule some time while kids are asleep, occupied, or while you’re away from them. The more that we can be intentional about creating solitude time, the more likely we are to follow through. 
  • Journal about how you’re feeling 
      • Reflect on your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and the behaviors of others 
      • If you do better with prompts, there are tons of journals out there with helpful guided prompts e.g. The Five Minute Journal 
  • Go to therapy
      • Not sure why you’re feeling anxious, depressed, angry, etc.?  Therapy is a great place to start. Therapists are experts at helping us navigate our difficult emotions. They can help us better understand where these feelings might come from as well as provide us with tools to help us regulate our emotions. 
  • Connect with loved-ones
      • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talking out your feelings with someone you trust can help tremendously. You’re not a burden to the ones who love you. It’s a gift to us when our loved ones share their vulnerable stories and feelings with us. 
      • Be intentional about fostering connections with people you love, whether it’s spending quality time with your partner, scheduling phone calls with friends or family, or planning a trip to visit them. 
  • Start a gratitude practice 
      • Write down or think about 3 things/people/places you’re grateful for each day, no matter how seemingly big or small they may seem, e.g. The cinnamon in my coffee, my dog’s snoring, and my partner’s support.  
      • Just the act of searching for things to be grateful for has been shown to significantly improve our well-being (Emmons et al., 2019). Once we start looking for things to be grateful for, we begin to rewire our brains toward positivity instead of focusing on what we’re lacking.
      • Move your body – walking, running, swimming, pilates, stretching, resistance training, yoga, etc. are all wonderful ways to improve our well-being. Certain types of exercise have been proven to help treat symptoms of anxiety and depression (Bennie et al., 2019). 
  • Engage in deep breathing and/or meditation

Meditation practices that focus on deep breathing and bringing awareness to our bodies help us to be more mindful throughout our day. This can help us to be more attuned to what we are feeling, both physically and emotionally.  Meditation has also been proven to enhance focus (Norris et al., 2018). 




Bennie, J. A., Teychenne, M. J., De Cocker, K., & Biddle, S. J. (2019). Associations between 

aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise with depressive symptom severity among 

17,839 US adults. Preventive medicine, 121, 121-127.

Emmons, R. A., Froh, J., & Rose, R. (2019). Gratitude.

Gardner, B., & Rebar, A. L. (2019). Habit formation and behavior change. In Oxford research 

encyclopedia of psychology.

Newport, C. (2019). Digital minimalism: Choosing a focused life in a noisy world.

 Norris, C. J., Creem, D., Hendler, R., & Kober, H. (2018). Brief Mindfulness Meditation 

Improves Attention in Novices: Evidence From ERPs and Moderation by Neuroticism. 

Frontiers in human neuroscience, 12, 315.


Written By Maddie Krause, LCMHC-A


All through August we are highlighting resources around Embracing Your Singleness. If you or a loved one need professional support, our counselors at Mathews Counseling are available for appointments. Request to book today!




Recommended Posts