How to give up social media for Lent (without ruining your social life)

Logging off until Easter? Follow these tips to make sure your social media detox is a success

We all know by now that whatever great things social media might have brought into our lives – new friends, hobbies, entertainment, even a greater appreciation of our lives – it’s also the source of a whole heap of stress, anxiety and attention issues, not to mention premature ageing, relationship problems, sleepless nights… and er, cancer? War? Probably.

So with another opportunity for self-denial arriving this Wednesday, will you be one of the brave masses giving up social media for Lent?

‘It’s the most freeing thing I’ve done in years,’ says therapist Nancy Siragusa, who embarked on a social media detox in January. ‘I definitely advocate giving up for a while. No addiction is good for the mind, so psychologically going cold turkey helps free yourself from that need – the need to scroll, the need to nosey, the need to share.’

But what about the need to reply to that message about that thing, or the need to show your dinner to several hundred strangers? How do you extract yourself from the social media universe without it having a negative effect on your offline life?

Here are a few golden rules…


Think about why you’re doing it

Maybe you want to de-clutter your mind, and free up your hands. Maybe the constant barrage of other people’s thoughts and achievements is making you feel insecure, or perhaps you just find it really hard to get anything done. Maybe you think ducking out of social media for 40 days will show you who your real friends are, or help you shake off a few duds.

But whatever the reason, have it clear in your mind before you start. This is partly because it’s good to have a clear, achievable goal in sight whenever you try a new challenge, but mainly because you’re going to have to recite it every time you explain to a friend why you didn’t read their last five snarky DMs.


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Delete your apps

Your brain might have walked away, but your fingers will keep dragging you back – unless you delete all those social apps. Don’t just move them to the last page of your home screen or bury them in a folder, actually delete them. Pour a stiff drink first, or have a biscuit afterwards.

Whether you also want to deactivate your accounts or not is a personal choice (depending largely on how much you like or hate the idea of being totally un-trackdownable), but if you choose to keep them running you’ll need to turn off all email notifications and any desktop pop-ups too. Hang on in there, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you stop caring about your auntie’s hairdresser’s cat’s new outfit.


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Get your calendar in order

Before the big switch-off, take the time to trawl through Facebook and note down any upcoming birthdays or events you might miss while you’re gone, so you can contact them via other means instead. That way you can’t use, ‘Oh but I MUST wish whatserface a happy birthday or I’ll look rude!’ as an excuse to break your vow and have a subsequent two hour binge on another person’s ‘holiday beach photoshoot’.

Don’t note down every tiny thing though, or it’ll defeat the point. Just gather the key info – births, marriages, possible deaths – in your digital knapsack and be on your merry way.


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Prep your friends

Going off-grid might be a calming, life-affirming experience for you, but it’ll be less so for the friend hanging on the other end of their inbox waiting to hear if you’re actually coming to their dinner/paintballing/hen party, and who will eventually worry you’ve died.

Minimise your chances of concerned loved ones or emergency services arriving on your doorstep by giving people advance warning that you won’t be logging on for six weeks, and an alternative way to get in touch with you – be it phone, email, carrier pigeon or just the old 19th century method of ‘turn up and see if they’re home.’

However if you’re keen to go the whole of Lent in a bubble of blissful peace and quiet, make that clear too, so that they don’t just shift their gossip from your Twitter feed to your inbox.


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But don’t keep on telling everyone

It’s a cruel but sad truth of social media that unless you’re literally Beyonce, or an MP involved in some kind of huge public sex scandal, nobody will ever notice you’ve gone. However hilarious and interesting you may be, there will be eleventy hundred equally hilarious and interesting people to fill up the little void left in everyone’s feeds.

In fact it’s often better that nobody notices, because the alternative is discovering you’re so incessant and grating the rest of the time that when you clear off for a week, everyone feels as though their tinnitus has been suddenly cured.

So while there’s no harm telling your followers (once) that you’re going away, popping back every day or two to tweet ‘Hey everyone, I’ve left Twitter for a bit! Don’t worry! Seriously, I’M FINE!’ only serves to make you look like the Shia LaBeouf of self-improvement. And means no one will give two toots when you’re resurrected on Easter Sunday, either.


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Confront your FOMO and FODO

Of course, you might want to give up social media for Lent just to prove that you can, or win some kind of bet, with no life-improving ambitions whatsoever. That’s cool.

But if you’re taking on the challenge in the hope of coming out the other end a happier, calmer or more productive person, you should probably address some of the reasons social media started eating your life up in the first place. FOMO and FODO aren’t adorable creatures from The Hobbit – they’re two of the banes of our modern existence. Fear of Missing Out is the reason you keep scrolling long after you’ve lost interest in your schoolmates’ babies, while Fear of Disappointing Others is to blame every time you stand in the rain outside the tube station for 20 minutes frantically replying to someone on Twitter who you’ve never met and don’t even like much.

There’s no better time than a social media detox to confront FOMO and FODO head-on, and banish them from your life. ‘Try to understand there’s a difference between wanting to stay connected and needing to,’ advises Nancy. ‘It’s the difference between FOMO and LTBI – fear of missing out vs liking to be connected. Do you want a life motivated by fear, or one motivated by desire?’

‘Next time you get FOMO, try to think “Yes, I might be missing out on someone else’s joke/cooking/photo – but when I’m engaging with others all the time, what of my OWN life am I missing out on?”‘

So you know that flaky friend who never remembers to reply to anything, but everybody still loves them and the world goes on turning? Channel that flaky friend. Learn from them. Stop complaining about their flakiness, and instead think about how much calmer and happier the inside of their head must be.


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Use that extra time wisely

Studies have shown that the average user spends 2-3 hours a day on social media. And while we know that yeah, in practice we’re racking up a lot of those hours while doing other things so it’s not exactly a bonus chunk of day we’re reclaiming, we also know deep down that in the time we’ve spent having ‘one last scroll before bed’ over the past eight years, we could probably have studied for a master’s degree or built our own house.

So to stave off boredom and ensure you don’t just waste all that extra time watching Jamie Dornan fan videos on YouTube (or whatever), have a few pre-prepared ideas on how you’d like to spend it. Maybe you’re not going to learn Japanese or embroider a quilt in five and a half weeks, but you could read a whole heap of books, go on some brisk walks or finally mend the holes in your favourite jumper. Or make a Jamie Dornan fan video. The sky is the limit!


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Capture things – just in different ways

Twitter and Instagram can be a creative outlet as well as a mental drain, and a social media blackout doesn’t mean you can’t still capture thoughts and experiences to revisit later on. If you’re of an artistic bent, get a sketchbook. Collect mementoes from day trips. Try carrying a notebook round to jot down every funny observation you’d normally have tweeted, and maybe you’ll have written a book by April.

Of course, if you’re a compulsive Instagrammer then taking a total break from photos could actually be beneficial – but if that’s too much of a stretch, try instigating a ‘one photo’ rule. Give yourself a single snap to capture a scene or a moment, then put your phone down and enjoy the rest of the experience without a screen in the way. Your photos might not be as perfect, but you’ll appreciate them more.


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Share things – just in different ways

There’s no point swearing off social media if you’re just going to end up lonely and bored. So while a bit of empty headspace is nice, you should probably make an effort to see people in real life too. Rather than just going to the pub, think of nice things to do – art exhibitions, plays, sporting events, evening classes – and plan a few friendship dates to give yourself something to look forward to.

This will also have the bonus effect of making all your friends think of you as fun, cultured and interesting, rather than just a generic blue egg where a person once was. You just need to fight the urge to plaster your lovely day all over the internet afterwards, obviously.


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Take it one day at a time

Lent is a good amount of time at a good time of the year to try a personal challenge, which probably explains why it’s still popular with people who haven’t set foot in a church since Year 5 Harvest Festival. But it’s not magic, and it’s not your only chance to succeed. If you crack within three hours and Instagram last night’s pancake, just try again tomorrow. And the next day. Maybe you’ll cut down bit by bit until you eventually escape social media’s clutches around mid-2016.

After all, moderation can be a tougher cookie to crack than all-out abstinence. ‘Social media can still be good for us, but the most important thing is not to miss out on your real life. Your digital life is part of that, but too often we let it be all of that,’ says Nancy.

‘If all else fails, there’s always tomorrow to catch up. Strive for a balance and you’ll be free.’


Lauren Bravo