Can Deleting Social Media Help Anxiety?

June 27, 2024

Written by Colter Bloxom, LPC

Colter is a licensed psychotherapist and the owner and founder of Thrive Therapy. He specializes in the treatment of anxiety, OCD, pornography addiction, identity issues, and more.

Can Deleting Social Media Help Anxiety?

Social media and anxiety have a deep, interwoven connection that we’re still trying to understand. What we do know is that problematic social media use can make anxiety and overall mental health worse. If you live with anxiety or another mental health condition, you might find yourself scrolling social media and feeling terrible – but you just can’t seem to stop. 

You feel anxious when you’re on social media, but you feel just as anxious when you’re away from it. You don’t know what to do.

But is deleting all of your social media platforms the answer? Can deleting social media help anxiety? Research shows that it’s possible – read on to learn more.

Why does social media cause anxiety?

The research is clear that there is a strong link between anxiety and social media use; people who experience problematic social media use – I’ll explain exactly what that means later – are more likely to live with anxiety and have poor mental health. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean that social media use directly causes anxiety. For example, it’s possible that people who already live with anxiety (and other mental health issues) are more prone to having unhealthy social media habits. But there’s definitely a connection there that we can’t deny.

Some reasons why being on social media might cause a spike in your anxiety include:


FOMO, or the Fear of Missing Out, can start to affect us all when we use social media. It may seem like social media is the main place to connect with your peers. Anything that you “need” to know about gets posted online. 

You might find yourself constantly looking at your phone, scanning for updates. When you see something posted that you weren’t included in, you feel like you’re missing out on something important.

Platform creators want you to feel FOMO, because this feeling is what keeps you glued to your screen, afraid to miss out on a single notification. Unfortunately, this feeling of FOMO can cause anxiety.

Social comparisons

Social media can also cause you to compare yourself to others. As the saying goes, “Don’t compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides” – but it’s easier said than done to actually follow this advice. 

Even though you know, logically, that everyone only tends to post the highlight reels of their lives, or that many photos on social media are filtered and edited, it can still make you feel bad about yourself to see this type of content.

Research shows that social media can negatively affect self-esteem, likely because it’s so hard not to compare yourself to others online. The low self-esteem caused by social media can develop into anxiety disorders and feeling like you’re never measuring up.

Virtual addictions

Many people develop a virtual addiction to social media and their phones. This is, at least in part, because of the way social media platforms are designed to affect our brains. 

Every time you get a like, comment, or DM, your brain gets a hit of dopamine. This trains your brain to look toward social media for that dopamine reinforcement, which can develop into an addiction – much like how drug and alcohol addiction works.

When you develop an addiction to social media, you might feel anxiety both when you’re on social media and when you’re away from it. Whenever you have free time, you might feel the urge to scroll, and feel anxious if you’re not able to. 

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, over 40% of teens say that leaving their phones at home makes them feel anxious – which is reflective of the hold that social media has on us.

Can deleting social media help with anxiety?

Research shows that deleting social media and breaking up with your phone can be beneficial for some people with anxiety. This depends a lot on the relationship that you have with social media, but many people find that taking a break – even a short one – helps them to get away from the social comparisons and refocus on their mental well-being. 

In one study, people who abstained from social media for just 7 days experienced higher mental well-being and social connectedness. 

But a review of over 2500 studies on social media interventions (restricting social media use) found mixed results that deleting social media apps can improve mental health – although they did find some evidence that limiting your social media use can lessen depression. 

So will deleting social media help with anxiety? Like most things, it depends. 

If you’re a young person who’s developed a social media addiction, and find yourself scrolling even when it makes you feel bad about yourself, then a social media break could probably be helpful for you. If you live in an isolated area and you need to access social media to keep in touch with loved ones, then deleting it might even be harmful.

Consider your unique situation and what social media brings to (and takes away from) your life. You can always try deleting social media and monitor your anxiety levels to see how it works for you. 

If you live with anxiety, some of the benefits of deleting social media could be:

  • Better sleep, which has been shown to improve anxiety
  • Refocusing on in-person social connections
  • Time to practice mindfulness, exercise, and other healthy habits
  • Lower stress levels from the lack of notifications
  • More time for leisure activities and hobbies that you enjoy
  • Less exposure to negative, upsetting, or socially-comparative content
  • More presence and gratitude in your daily life

Keep in mind that you might feel an initial spike in your anxiety after deleting your apps, especially if you’ve developed an addiction. Be mindful of this feeling, and talk about it with a loved one or therapist to work through it.

How to use social media in a healthy way

What’s interesting is that social media can also have some benefits for mental health. For example, people often use social media to form new social relationships, connect with others who share their interests, and seek out destigmatizing, judgment-free mental health content.

It may not be social media itself that’s the problem — it’s how we use it. Most studies show that problematic social media use is what causes anxiety and other mental health problems. 

Problematic social media use can look like:

  • Spending so much time on social media that you’re neglecting your “real life” and relationships
  • Using social media to compare yourself to others
  • Constantly scrolling through things that make you feel bad
  • Thinking about social media when you’re not on your phone (like having an experience and immediately thinking about how you’ll post about it)
  • Finding yourself on social media even when you don’t want to be on it

If you see yourself in any of these signs, then it may be time to take a break from social media. If that sounds too scary, then you can focus on changing the way you use social media. 

Here’s how you can use social media in a healthier way.

Set time limits

One of the key features of problematic social media usage is spending an excessive amount of time scrolling, which can lead to addiction and worse anxiety. Even if you don’t cut social media out completely, consider limiting the time you spend on it. 

For example, maybe you can stay off of social media for the first 2 hours after getting out of bed in the morning and before going to sleep at night.

Curate your feed

The great thing about social media is that you have complete control over who you follow, and even some control over your algorithm. 

Unfollow (and even consider blocking) all accounts that make you feel bad about yourself. Instead, interact with accounts that make you feel good – that spread positive messages or simply make you laugh – to train your algorithm. 

Be mindful

It can help to practice mindfulness when using social media. So often, we instinctively reach for our phones when we feel anxious or just bored. By practicing mindfulness, you can allow yourself to simply be without the need to distract yourself. 

If you feel anxious, choose an activity that you know will be helpful. If that’s scrolling social media, that’s okay! The important thing is to make an intentional decision to use social media rather than doing it by instinct when it may not be what you need at that moment.

Keep in mind it’s not real

Understand that what you see online isn’t always the truth. Especially on image-based social media platforms (like Instagram or TikTok), you’re going to find lots of content that’s simply not reflective of reality – like filtered images and videos that portray a “perfect” life. This isn’t real. 

Focus on your real-life social connections, and try not to compare your (very real) life to what you see online.

Get mental health support for anxiety

If anxiety has gotten so severe that it’s getting in the way of your day-to-day life, then deleting social media may not be enough. It can help, but you deserve to live a life where you’re thriving, not only surviving. Mental health treatment can help you get to the root of your anxiety, learn new skills, and build a happier, more fulfilling life.

At Thrive, we offer individual therapy, group therapy (including our 8-week Alleviate Anxiety group), and innovative intensive outpatient programs that are designed for mental health struggles like anxiety. Start by getting in touch with our team. We can’t wait to hear from you.

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