three steps to a healthier outlook on instagram

 Photo by  Stil  via Unsplash

Photo by Stil via Unsplash

It's amazing how much time, energy, and mental space I devote to Instagram on a daily basis.  It's embarrassing, it's unhealthy, it's really not that important, and yet, I'm still hooked.  If I know all this...why can't I do what seems best and put it down?  Is it simply a lack of discipline?  Do I need to go on a tech cleanse, take the 21-day habit-forming challenge, or just suck it up and go cold turkey?

Maybe.  But first I want to just talk it out, and share some of the ways I've found that have helped me in the past to become less attached.  I want to look at the reasons I find myself so attached to this app -- perhaps you'll find you can relate to some of them.

But first, a little disclaimer.

For those of us who have a tendency to forget this, Instagram is an app.  It is not life.  It hasn't even been around for more than a second, relatively speaking.  The bottom line is -- this entire discussion has to exist on the level of Instagram's importance in proportion to life.  At the same time, I think it's worth talking about because it is a highly relevant topic + it has the capacity to take a larger role in life than perhaps is healthy.  Just know that when I address this as if it is serious, that has everything to do with the seriousness of our emotional wellbeing + use of time, not the seriousness of Instagram itself.  

I'd also like to add that I still maintain a very strict boundary when it comes to being on Instagram -- or on my phone in general -- when around other people.  This is one time that for me, it is really important not to have my face buried in my phone.  (Ironically, if you are my husband, this rule somehow does not apply??  Sorry, babe.)  I personally want to learn to be a little harder on myself in the time when I am on my own, too -- but that doesn't mean you need to.  These are my personal convictions, and it's so important that you arrive at your own rather than thinking you need to apply mine.  Okay?!  Okay.  Let's get into it.

Here's the thing.  I love Instagram.

Part of the reason I can't seem to pull myself away is because I genuinely love this platform.  I know -- it's a little embarrassing.  But to be perfectly honest, Instagram was one of the chief reasons I ever became interested in owning a smart phone, if you can believe it.  And at the time it was just about the photos.  I still love Instagram for the beautiful images, but now it's also about the stories, and furthermore, the individuals telling them.  Not only has it become one of my favorite ways to stay inspired, it's allowed me to really connect with other women pursuing a creative career, in some cases even in person!

So you could say that I view Instagram as a virtual community that I carry with me, which is every bit as cheesy as it sounds and there's no point in trying to deny it.  So, perhaps the thing that keeps me glued to this community is that I have FOMO (which stands for "fear of missing out", if you've somehow been missing that one for the last ten years...but hey, no judgement.  Incase you need or want to read up on it, check out this article from Man Repeller from a few years back).  Not only is FOMO real, not only do I think I have it towards Instagram, I think it also indicates the reason why I sometimes hate Instagram.


I think it's because on those days or weeks or months that go by (looking right at you, winter) when I feel like I have nothing to offer, I feel much less like a valid contributor to the community that I so love, which puts me in the dark place of relying on Instagram to make me feel validated in what I'm doing.  If you've never experienced this phenomenon,  I don't recommend you start now.  Also, I'd be very surprised.

You see, Instagram is designed to make us feel and increasingly desire a sense of gratification -- usually the instantaneous kind.  I definitely find it reassuring to know that people like the things I'm taking time and energy to share.  But if I rely on this feedback to stimulate my creativity, or worse, inform my identity on some level...that's when I start to hate Instagram.  Because it can't carry that weight.

It's possible that I'm too emotionally attached.

At the end of the day, when I allow myself to be dragged from one end of the spectrum to the other -- from love to hate -- it's probably because I'm letting Instagram get too close to my emotions.  And hey, it's not the worst thing that could happen, nor is it a problem without a solution. 

Whenever I notice myself having these really strong feelings towards Instagram, I realize that I need to put some boundaries back in place that have crumbled, for one reason or another.  It isn't always easy to do this, especially if you get to that place where you find yourself using Instagram as a crutch to bolster your sense of self on a less-than-awesome day.  Here are some simple things that have worked for me in the past to get back into a healthier place emotionally with Instagram:

1. Take a break.

Just quietly sit it out a few rounds.  If you run an account that requires you to post daily, maybe then it would be appropriate to share that you are taking a break, so you're not leaving people hanging.  It's not the end of the world to not post, and it's probably just what you need anyway.  If thoughts of "consistency is key" start to waft through your head, remember this:  no one is paying as close attention to you as you are, which is actually really good news; it means you can take a break + not worry about disappointing anyone.

2. Ask yourself about your motives.

"Am I in a good place to post this?"  or, "Do I really need to be scrolling through my feed again right now?  Only three of these pictures are new!"  Sometimes, just a simple check-in will do!  If you've found yourself in a place of interacting unhealthily with Instagram, just take a minute to ask yourself why you are opening the app in the first place.  I know it doesn't sound like much, but it really goes a long way just to be a little bit more mindful of your motives.  If you want to bring yourself back to a healthy place, then you won't want to let yourself check to see who has unfollowed you in the last ten minutes.

3. Temporarily delete the app from your phone.

This isn't something I've ever done, but I know some of my friends have if they feel like they can't prevent themselves from going in mindlessly, or constantly.  It's a great idea because it just eliminates the temptation altogether.  

I know I haven't even said anything about comparison, or cries for help, which are (just to name two) some pretty serious issues that happen across all social media platforms, not just this one.  I'm coming from this angle of being too emotionally attached because it's the one I deal with most often, but I don't want to ignore these other issues.  I think the thing that applies universally though is to remember not to rely on social media for emotional or personal validation!  That's not it's intended use.  

This topic is sort of a slippery slope, in part because it's changing the way we interact so drastically + so quickly.  As I've said, it can feel a little trite to give it so much attention + discussion time, but I do think it strikes chords in other areas (like emotional health) that we need to pay attention to.