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I took a 40-day detox from social media—here’s what I learned


kelsey patel social media detox Pin It
Photo: Kelsey Patel

In this first-person piece for Well+Good, Kelsey Patel, a multi-hyphenate healer, yogi, and entrepreneur—she owns Pure Barre Beverly Hills and co-owns activewear brand I AM VIBES—shares what happened when she unplugged from Facebook and Instagram and went (almost) analog for more than month. 

For a lot of different religions, there’s a time where you can do a detox in a spiritual way. Though I don’t go to church or anything, I try and observe the spiritual practice during Lent of giving something up for 40 days. And I always pick something that’s really hard for me so I can challenge myself to consciously connect with something greater.

As I thought about what would be particularly difficult this year, my brain immediately said “social media.” I laughed to myself, because it wouldn’t even be possible. It’s part of my job and important in my world. But then I realized that meant it’s what it had to be.

“I don’t always feel like writing back with exclamation points to people.”

Some people see me as a social media influencer and there can be a lot of pressure that comes with that. The thing is, some days it doesn’t feel like it’s in alignment with what my mental state needs. I don’t always feel like writing back with exclamation points to people.

So, I started the detox, vowing to stay off social apps like Facebook and Instagram for 40 days. And I noticed an unconscious pattern right away—namely, wanting to pick up my phone every few minutes, especially in the morning and at night. I had to really stop myself—and it was hard. Really hard. By day two, I deleted all of the apps to get rid of the temptation.

social media detox
Photo: Kelsey Patel

During my time off social media, I’d switch between thinking it’s amazing and I don’t ever want to get back on to “Oh man, I really want to post.” My mom and dad watch every one of my Instagram stories, so part of me missed being able to share that and connect with my community. I was afraid of becoming irrelevant in the wellness sector all because I wasn’t on social media.

I was also worried that I’d lose work. There were events I was attending that the organizers wanted to cancel when they learned I wouldn’t be posting on social.

People around me had a lot of reactions to it—which was all the more reason that I knew I needed to do this and stick with it.

Doing the social media detox had some clear benefits in real life. The first thing I noticed was that I was much more present when leading a retreat in Mexico over the course of the detox. While everyone was busy taking pictures, I was really taking in my surroundings rather than fixating on getting the right photo of the moment.

That’s not to say I wasn’t taking pictures—but I was taking them for myself and for memory’s sake versus whoever else would see it. It was interesting to look at it from a different perspective and think about what I would want to remember.

“It’s a cool thing to take advantage of the extra time you might have in a day when you’re not on social media.”

I ended up replacing social media with meditating twice a day for 20 minutes. I consciously chose a practice that would also connect me in a new way. I think it’s also a cool thing to take advantage of the extra time you might have in a day when you’re not on social media.

To be honest, I was a bit scared to get sucked back into the whole thing when the detox was over—which is why I’ve been trying to take it really slow. I want to use social media with intention. I’ve stopped following a lot of people because I realized I was following them out of a sense of obligation.

“I was a bit scared I’d get sucked back in when the detox was over…. I want to use social media with intention.”

Overall it made me realize that I have so much value as a human being, not as a social media platform. That was really important to me, since it’s what I teach and it’s my belief system that we, beyond any labels and any pictures, are worth so much simply as we are.

That’s something I’d partially forgotten through being consumed through the comparison and waiting that comes with social media—so the detox definitely brought me back to my center of value without needing any outside affirmations.

You could say I have lovingly released all the ties that come with being attached to my phone—from likes to comments and keeping up with appearances. It’s not because I don’t care about these human beings that follow me—it’s just that I realized that putting things out there for others was not in balance with me. And that is something that only I have the ability to change.

Social media certainly can skew reality—this spot-on satire will make you question everything you see on Instagram. But if you’re not ready for a full detox, here’s a simple trick for scaling back without totally ditching your phone.