Illustration by René Lapoutre

Is quitting good for you?

Social media detox

Illustration by René Lapoutre
Social media is making young people unhappy, research shows. But is deleting your TikTok and Instagram profiles really the answer? Students who’ve been offline for years discuss the pros and cons of a digital detox. ‘You have to find those kicks within yourself.’
3 June om 14:32 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 5 June 2024
om 12:28 uur.
June 3 at 14:32 PM.
Last modified on June 5, 2024
at 12:28 PM.
Avatar photo

Door Enrique Aguilar Urrutia

3 June om 14:32 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 5 June 2024
om 12:28 uur.
Avatar photo

By Enrique Aguilar Urrutia

June 3 at 14:32 PM.
Last modified on June 5, 2024
at 12:28 PM.
Avatar photo

Enrique Aguilar Urrutia

One night, he decided to just do it. Get rid of Facebook. Do away with Instagram and all the rest. And so he went online and deleted it all. By the following morning, his online persona had disappeared. 

Psychology student Chris quit all of his social media five years ago. The reason? Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman’s podcast on social media’s negative impact on brain chemistry. The podcast often invites listeners to consider abandoning their social media.

He didn’t go cold turkey right away, though. ‘I tried the detox and I quit for a month’, he says. ‘But when I went back, I was bored by it.’ That was when he made his choice. 

Last January, Dutch research company Newcom’s annual social media survey showed that people between the age of 16 and 28 are unhappiest with social media, even though they use them the most. So it’s no surprise that some turn away from Instagram and TikTok altogether. However, that also means you may miss out on things. 

Is a social media detox for you? UKrant asked students who went before you about the benefits and disadvantages.  

The pros of quitting:

  1. It improves your mental health

Ale Siebert, another psychology student, left all social media behind three years ago. It improved her mental health, she says. ‘I found that being a bit bored is fine, because it allows you to rest. Social media can make you feel like you are chilling, when in reality your brain is constantly thinking while seeing all these videos and texts.’

Social media feels like you are chilling, when your brain is constantly thinking

At first, she missed the small serotonin kicks that all those funny and happy videos she watched provided. ‘I’d get nervous or restless, because I felt like I should be doing something. When you quit, you have to find those kicks within yourself.’ 

She did persevere, though. ‘Sometimes sitting with nothing can actually be quite nice’, she realised. ‘Quitting gave me quietness, rest, and peace.’

Psychology student Alessia also recognised she needed a break, but she chose a different method: she limited her social media apps to her iPad. ‘I feel a lot more grounded in reality’, she says. ‘I feel more able to live my life to the fullest, which is kind of cheesy, but it’s also true.’

  1. You don’t compare yourself to others as much

For Chris, one of the biggest benefits is that he doesn’t compare himself to others as much anymore. ‘On social media you see other people’s best moments, showing you how great their life is’, he says. ‘You see the most beautiful people all the time. Instagram almost felt oversexualised. For me it led to unrealistic beauty standards on the one hand, but also a pressure to get there.’

International relations student Taylor agrees. She left social media behind three years ago, and she doesn’t regret it: ‘When you are a young girl, having body issues is the norm. So I would compare my body to other people’s in almost every aspect. I decided I didn’t want to deal with that anymore.’

Social media also made her feel like she was missing out. All these incredible experiences online were just not for her. Not yet, anyway. ‘I felt sad about my own life and so I simply decided to not be in a space where I was seeing things like that.’

Psychology student Ferdinand quit four years ago. ‘When I went back to see what I was missing, I realised how much my perception of other people had been dependent on the number of followers they had, or how their profile looked. I decided to not go back again.’

  1. You get to focus on important things

As soon as a lecture gets a bit complicated or boring, the first instinct for students is to grab their phone. ‘I would start scrolling, and then my attention was gone’, Ale says. ‘Even when I was just waiting for a bus for ten minutes I would scroll. It made me feel so unfocused all the time.’ 

When I went back for a while, I just saw really boring stuff

Chris realised that all the interesting stuff he thought he was missing really wasn’t there. ‘When I went back to social media for a while, I just saw really boring stuff, mostly from influencers, whom I didn’t follow anymore. I was looking for something exciting, but with every click the expectation died and I felt only disappointment.’

Alessia, too, found out that she hadn’t missed out on much. ‘I was kind of excited to go back after quitting, but saw there really isn’t that much to catch up on’, she says. ‘I felt a bit empty after scrolling and thought: wow, I’m wasting my time here while I could go follow my interests.’

  1. You find out who your real friends are

Taylor went through the pandemic after leaving Snapchat and realised: this is how you find out who your true friends are. ‘And I’m so grateful for that. I am grateful towards the ones that still reached out to me and hung out with me despite the fact that I didn’t communicate with them in their preferred method.’

Maths student Lieke, who deleted her social media five years ago and got rid of her smartphone two years later, says it also gives you lots more to talk about: ‘When I see my friends, they can tell me everything about their holiday, and I will be very interested. Before, I would have already seen it on social media.’

Social media isn’t all bad, though. Moving away from them certainly has its disadvantages.

The cons of quitting: 

  1. You miss out on contact with friends

One good thing about social media is the way it allows you to stay in contact with friends far away. And those who quit, also miss out on that. ‘I do miss seeing where my people are’, says Taylor. ‘I’ve met a lot of people while I lived in Spain who I’m not sure I’ll ever see again. Without social media you are disconnected.’

I’ve met a lot of people who I’m not sure I’ll ever see again

Lieke also feels less included in some types of groups. ‘In my previous job, they had a Snapchat group and would talk about things there and I wouldn’t know about it. Also, I know little of trends.’

Alessia sometimes struggles with the fact that when she’s hanging with friends, they will all be on their phones at some point. ‘Then I will just sit there and wonder: what do I do?’ 

  1. You can’t easily connect to new people

Social media also makes it easy to connect to new people. Especially as Instagram sits nicely in between giving someone your phone number – very personal – and walking away from them, never to see them again. ‘If people ask me for my Instagram and we really hit it off, I’ll give them my phone number’, Taylor says. ‘But when I meet them randomly at the clubs or something and say I don’t have one, I’ll likely never talk to them again.’

‘Giving your Instagram gives you more flexibility to decide how you will communicate’, Ferdinand agrees. ‘Your phone number forces you to immediately start texting.’ 

  1. There actually is good valuable content online

‘I sometimes found really inspiring things on Instagram’, Chris remembers. ‘Regarding fitness for example, there are some nice posts about new exercises. That’s the kind of content that I still miss.’

Many businesses or events are managed almost purely through Instagram, as well, Ferdinand notes: ‘If you are going to festivals, they always direct you to their Instagram for tickets and info.’