Sam Holstein

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3 Unpleasant Withdrawal Symptoms You Can Get When You Quit Social Media

Whenever you quit an addiction, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. We equate withdrawal symptoms with quitting physiological drug addictions, but withdrawal symptoms exist for behavioral addictions as well. People can get withdrawal symptoms from quitting shopping, gambling, stealing… and from quitting social media as well.

That being said, I’ve never seen articles discussing the possible withdrawal symptoms people can experience when cutting back on or quitting their social media use. We who cut back on or quit social media use are eager to talk about the benefits of quitting, but we don’t mention the withdrawal symptoms and the struggle of quitting that it takes to get those benefits.

That’s a problem in and of itself. If you aren’t aware that cutting back on or quitting social media use can cause withdrawal symptoms, you’re likely to mistake those withdrawal symptoms for legitimate problems you “need” social media to treat. Social media causes the problems you think you need it to cure.

Let’s peel back the stigma of social media dependency. Here are 3 withdrawal symptoms you may suffer when you quit using social media.

#1: Feeling Lonely and Unloved

When I quit social media, one of the things that upset me the most in the first few days and weeks was a profound feeling of loneliness and being unloved. I was 23 years old and all my young friends relied on social media to keep in touch.

When I unplugged from the ever-flowing digital river, my animal brain interpreted the absence of “likes” and “comments” as evidence that I was being kicked out of my social tribe. Then my emotions went wild. I would lay in bed and stare at the ceiling and wonder if I would have any friends after this.

One of the biggest benefits of quitting social media is being free from all the mental clutter on social media, but at first, that freedom doesn’t feel like freedom. It feels like isolation.

If you’re quitting social media or taking a break and you feel lonely and unloved, it is not true. You are loved. Your animal brain is simply adjusting to a new social landscape that doesn’t include views, likes, or comments. And trust me, once your brain makes the adjustment, you’ll be a lot happier. We didn’t evolve to seek likes and comments.

I dealt with these feelings of isolation by reaching out to people. I texted faraway friends I hadn’t contacted in years and made actual plans with friends I previously just exchanged social media posts with. In a short period of time, my relationships got a lot deeper and more satisfying, and it was directly because I quit social media.

#2: Feeling Twitchy and Anxious

One of the parts of social media use you never think about is the reflexive motion of pulling out your phone (or typing in a website URL) to scroll and see what’s new. Your brain quickly forms a strong association between that physical motion and the psychological reward of the feed.

When you take away the feed, you still have the urge to do that physical motion. And when you pull out your phone only for there to be no feed to check, you will feel anxious and frustrated.

When I used social media, I checked my phone around 30 or 40 times a day. In the first few days after I quit, that skyrocketed to hundreds. I would literally pull my phone out of my pocket ten times a minute sometimes to look at the screen, stare at it in frustration, and shove it angrily back in my pocket.

I dealt with this frustration by distracting myself. I called up all my friends and made plans to hang out with them. I played games on my phone as long as my little heart wanted. I knew so long as I didn’t give in, the habit would eventually break.

And that’s what happened. One day, pretty suddenly, I stopped checking my phone altogether. Now I’ll spend all day with my friends without checking my phone once. There is nothing sweeter than uninterrupted quality time with friends. It’s been years and I’m still thankful for every day I pushed through.

If you’re quitting social media, the twitch will frustrate you. Download Duolingo or another educational phone game and play that whenever you find yourself holding your phone. Distract yourself by doing something else. You only need to do it for a few weeks. Then the twitch will be gone for good.

#3: Feeling Bored as Hell

Quitting social media puts a lot of free time back in your hands. The average person uses social media 2.5 hours a day for a total of 17.5 hours a week. Some of that time you reclaim will be used to get better sleep, spend more time preparing food, and catch up on work. But those things won’t take up 17.5 hours. Eventually, you’ll find yourself sitting on your couch at home with not a thing in the world you want to do.

For me, this withdrawal symptom was the longest and most difficult to deal with. I would stare at the ceiling for hours at a time in a state of crushing boredom. Nothing sounded fun. I didn’t want to read or play video games or exercise or cook or spend time with my parents or clean or write or anything. I’ve never been as bored as I was when I quit social media.

The most intense boredom came in the first few weeks. I learned to start playing educational phone games and reading on the Kindle app when my boredom was crushing. That took the edge off.

After a few weeks of that, I had a rush of motivation. Suddenly, anything felt possible. I started going to the gym 3 times a week and cooking myself a bodybuilder’s diet. I put on 15% of my body mass in muscle over the next few months. I started writing on Medium like crazy.

You probably won’t decide to become a casual bodybuilder, but if you push through a few weeks or months of boredom, you will find yourself having a rush of motivation too. Once you free yourself from all the anxiety and self-judgment that social media causes and your brain adjusts to not having social media as a way to cope with boredom, your priorities will reorganize themselves. All you have to do is push through.

In Conclusion

I think a lot of people take social media breaks or experiment with the idea of quitting, but then they experience withdrawal symptoms and mistake them for legitimate reasons not to quit.

  • They experience loneliness or a feeling of being unloved and think “social media helps me connect with friends.”
  • They experience anxiousness and think “social media helps me unwind.”
  • They experience boredom and think “social media gives me interesting and inspirational content.”

Social media can be useful at times. Social media groups have helped many people. But for many people, it’s a behavioral addiction that causes the very problems it claims to help cure.

Take the time to question your social media use. Do a 30-day digital detox or disable notifications for your social media feeds. Pay attention to whether these withdrawal feelings come up for you. If they do, it may be time for you to change your relationship to social media.