I'm a 20-year-old who's obsessed with social media. Here’s what I happened when I tried to "detox".

About two months ago, I pitched the story you’re currently reading. 

In its first edition, I titled it: 'I'm a 20-year-old who's obsessed with social media. Here's how I reduced my screen time from 6 hours a day to 1 hour a day.'

My coworkers oohed and aahed, impressed by its premise. You see, not only am I a 20-year-old that’s obsessed with TikTok and Instagram, I also work in the media. 

I also recently - okay, six months ago - went through a breakup and have been relying on Instagram likes and replies for a steady stream of validation ever since.

... I’m listing excuses already, can you see where this is going?

Watch: The horoscopes and self-care. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

Anyway, we set a due date for my piece with plenty of time to get my screen time down, and I mostly put it to the back of my mind. 

Don’t get me wrong, I very quickly became aware of my consumption to an alarming extent. Each week, I’d diligently stick to my 'screen time limits' on day one, only to click 'ignore' by Tuesday.

"I’ve got plenty of time!" I’d tell myself. 

"And what if Jake Gyllenhaal responds to 'All too Well' and I miss it?"

Valid defences, but none confronted my perpetual need to check my notifications at least four times an hour.

Then last week, I was cruelly reminded of the challenge I set for myself with a looming deadline ahead, and after checking my screen time once again, I fell about in a heap at the tight grasp my phone holds on my attention.

The sad fact is, my social media addiction isn't benefitting me. It's wasting precious hours of my day, causing a ridiculous amount of FOMO, and often, hurting my confidence.

So, I wanted to release myself from it.


A ~not so impressive~ before and after. Image: Supplied.

After a few weeks of trying, I managed a reduction of about two and a half hours a day and that feels pretty impressive to me, even if it's not quite the "one hour a day" I'd planned for - but more on that later.

For now, allow me to share with you exactly how I got it down by two-and-a-half hours.

How did I do it?

The Forest App.

Allow me to introduce you to my MVP of 2021: The Forest App. 

I was first introduced to 'Forest' in 2018 while doing my end-of-school exams. 

Its premise is pretty simple. You set yourself a timer for however long you'd like to be away from your phone and "plant a tree".

It grows while you're away from your phone and at the end of your timer, if left uninterrupted, you'll have a fully grown virtual tree planted in your forest. 

If you leave the app for more than a few seconds, your tree dies, and a dead tree is planted in your forest.

It might sound silly, but this thing is addictive. Dead trees are not cool.

Image: Supplied.


Do not disturb.

The iPhone's newest update has a few new "do not disturb" options for all your needs, so whether you're sleeping, driving, or just looking for time away from your phone, you'll be covered. 

I am a particularly big fan of the 'focus' option which silences (and hides!) notifications from your lock screen.

Pop this bad boy on when you still need your phone nearby, but don't want to be distracted by social media. 

Time limits.

I was most reluctant to enforce screen time limits on my phone, but I suppose that's why I needed them so badly.

There are a whole bunch of time limit options if you have an iPhone like me. 

If you're a seasoned pro, maybe you can skip "app limits" and set a time limit for your whole device, but since I use my phone for work, I like to set app limits for my biggest time-suck offenders: TikTok and Instagram.

With a bit of trial and error, I allowed for 15 minutes on TikTok and 35 minutes on Instagram per day. 

When you pop on this feature, you'll get a notification when you have five minutes left on the app for the day, and then the device will automatically lock you out when you hit it.

Of course, you can override your own limit, but I found that sometimes being forcefully taken out of the app would be enough for me to switch off. 

There's also a 'one more minute' option if you need to finish what you were doing before committing to leaving the app.

Screen limits were painful, but necessary.


As often happens with social media, it's easy to get sucked into a never-ending scroll and with screen time limits, you quickly become aware of how much time you've spent on any given app.

Substitute. Always.

It's one thing to switch your phone off - but when you're spending seconds staring at a wall, with nothing else to do, it's pretty easy to pick it back up. 

So, I picked up a few substitutions to keep my hands (and mind!) busy. 

When watching TV or listening to a podcast, I picked up knitting. (Yes, that's how dire it is, I struggle to get through a movie without scrolling through social media).

In my downtime before bed, I got back into reading, and it was so fulfilling. 

Since then I've been going to sleep aided by smugness and a lack of blue light. Take this and run with it.

Leave it

On those very hard days, I took an age-old piece of advice: out of sight, out of mind. Yep, I left my phone in ridiculous places for extended periods of time. Think the top of the fridge or the middle of my hallway. 

How did this one work? Well, I'm lazy, and couldn't be bothered to get up and find my phone. It's really as simple as that.

What did it teach me?

It's funny.

Using social media 'mindfully' - if you could call it that - taught me a lot about myself. 

Most notably, reducing screen time was much easier when I was in a positive state of mind. 

On the days where I felt pretty down, like hungover Sunday afternoons, putting my phone down was comparable to pulling teeth. And that's frustrating because time on social media doesn't really help that situation.

Other days I'd make it to 10pm before I was told my half an hour on Instagram was up, and I'd put my phone away, smug with my restraint.

Those days were good. Really good. 

When I'm away from my phone I'm more productive, social, and happier.

So, on I go with an increased awareness of my habits, and the joy that comes with resisting. It's been tough, and it's certainly no "one hour a day" like my grandma might have, but I'm proud.

All that being said, for more from me, you can find me on Instagram @emma.gillman. I'll catch you in my allocated 35 minutes. 

Let us know your screen time in the comments below!

Feature Image: Supplied.