Two months ago, I signed out of Instagram on all of my devices and deleted the app from my phone. Except for one very brief relapse, I haven’t gone back, and I’m not sure that I ever will.
I was an early adopter of Instagram. It launched in late 2010, and I created my now private personal account in the Spring of 2011. In the beginning, I used it to experiment with photo filters on my phone and not much else. That feed was and is laughably bad. For the first several years of my Instagram experience, I posted sporadically and followed mostly artists and jewelry makers (two of my long time hobbies).
In 2018, I took my interior design business full-time after leaving my university teaching position. I began to look at Instagram as a marketing tool as well as a place to source inspiration from other designers and architects. For around a year, I used the app more intentionally and actively researched how to gain traction, taking classes from well-known influencers, gathering hashtags, and growing a very small following.
There was a time that I loved scrolling through Instagram for inspiration of all varieties. I have hundreds of photos saved to my account that I reference for my client projects, personal style, recipes, fitness, parenting, politics, books, and more. Like many users, I started to gravitate more towards consuming stories as the Instagram algorithm tweaks made the feed less enticing.
When it became harder to reach users and gain followers organically through posting photos to the feed, I started to lose interest in the app as a marketing tool for my business.
First it was finding the perfect photo filters to curate an aesthetically beautiful and cohesive profile feed. Then it was spending hours of research to create just the right blend of hashtags, no less than 30 and unique to every post. Then it was no more than eleven hashtags (and as of today hashtags aren’t even relevant any more). The feed became less of a priority as users, like myself, shifted towards the more casual stories. But, then Instagram made reels the end all be all, and that was my personal breaking point for using it as a marketing tool.
Depending on how you look at it, I’m an old millennial or young Gen X-er, a child of the Oregon Trail Generation. I love technology. I taught myself HTML and built my first websites in high school. But, as a 40+ mom of a preschool boy running an interior design business, I don’t have time to screw around with all the constant rule changes. I don’t have time to make cheesy videos of myself and nor do I want to. That was never going to happen.
Still I persisted in using the app primarily as a viewer, posting to stories here and there. But, around the start of the pandemic and increasingly over the last year, I felt more and more uncomfortable every time I logged in.
I have a career that blends both my right-brain creative side and my left-brain analytical side. I was an artist at one point in my life and aspire to practice art and call myself an artist again one day. Instagram was a bonanza of visual stimulation, and I would spend hours going down rabbit holes, clicking from one profile to another feasting on photo after photo of perfect interiors, perfect personal style, perfect art, perfect bodies, you name it.
My job also requires blocks of focused concentration in order to be creative or to focus on numbers. The more I scrolled the more I struggled with my attention span and ability to focus for long periods of time (maybe why I neglected this blog for so long). I’d find myself clicking and scrolling for a few minutes to take a break but rarely getting anything done. I had trouble watching a show without staring at my phone. There was no way I could commit to a movie. I was addicted to constantly consuming content.
But that was only the first major downside and one I might have been able to live with.
I’m an introvert, an empath, and a pretty private person. Like many people, I suffer from anxiety that, at best, can be distracting and at worst feels physically painful. I noticed that when I would log on and start clicking through stories or scrolling through the feed, little flickers of anxiety would begin in my chest. At low levels, I describe it as a crackling feeling. At high levels, I like to appropriate Meredith Grey’s description of herself as “dark and twisty.”
When this first began happening while using Instagram, I tried to ignore it, but eventually I started thinking about it. How did Instagram really make me feel? In the end, the answer was simple.
Not creative enough.
Not stylish enough.
Not attractive enough.
Not fit enough.
Not organized enough.
Not worldly enough.
Not educated enough.
Not well read enough.
Not perfect enough.
Not enough of a designer.
Not enough of an artist.
And the worst…Not enough of a mom.
For my son’s last birthday, during the height of Omicron, we had a small family celebration with Paw Patrol plates and party favors and a homemade cake. He loved it, and we all had a great time for mid November during a global pandemic surge. Later that week, I was clicking through Instagram stories and saw a series from another designer who also celebrated her kid’s birthday that same weekend. Except she had a balloon arch and a custom name sign and a candy bar (not the Hershey’s kind) and extravagant floral arrangements with a professional photo shoot documenting her kids perfect matching outfits (My son hasn’t worn anything but sweatpants and t-shirts since last September). I instantly felt like I should have made more of an effort and that maybe I was a bad mom for not trying harder. Kind of like I failed as a mom.
I can’t even count the number of times I’ve felt this way in regards to my work. There are so many talented designers constantly posting amazing work to Instagram. It was hard not to fall into a comparison trap every time I logged on.
Then it dawned on me that this was the point. Instagram’s sole purpose, I realized, was to make me feel bad about myself, ideally so I would click and buy something, and at a minimum so I would stay longer searching elusively for satisfaction that never came. And, often I did. I’ll admit that I found some really great products via Instagram ads and influencers. I discovered some accounts that I really enjoyed. But, in the end that little extra bit of convenience and entertainment couldn’t outweigh feeling bad about some aspect of my life all the time because I don’t measure up to this insane level of perfection the app is pumping out on a constant basis.
We’ve all read about how Instagram is negatively affecting the health of teenage girls, but I’m here to say that it’s having the same effect on middle aged moms. At least one, anyway. And, I’m not alone. One of my favorite bloggers Jess Ann Kirby announced her intention to leave Instagram in late 2021. She vocalized much of what I had been feeling for a long time even though I am not an influencer, and do not make money from Instagram.
How do I feel after a two-month Instagram detox?
I feel like the constant reel of negative self-talk in my brain has dissipated, and when I feel a negative thought pop up, I can squash it pretty quickly. I haven’t impulse ordered any beauty products or kitchen gadgets on Sunday morning. And, the dark and twisty moments are few and far between.
I’m more present with my son and my husband. I have time to actually think. I don’t automatically pick up my phone at stop lights. And, I can sit through a movie. I recommend CODA if you haven’t seen it yet.
Most importantly, I don’t live my life looking for moments to photograph or video and post on the app. I just live and experience moments without a constant search for content. I can walk my dogs and enjoy the beauty of a red bud tree in full bloom without whipping out my phone to snap a photo for my stories. I can take my son on an outing and simply be with him without worrying about if I took any cute photos to upload later. I can eat at a restaurant without photographing my food or the menu.
Will I ever go back to Instagram?
There are some things I do miss about the app. I had some friends and family I followed that aren’t on Facebook, so I don’t see their photos or get their life updates anymore. I had followed some educational accounts like Sharon Says So, and I miss their ways of communicating current events. I’ve also curtailed my consumption of news in general and removed myself from Twitter, which has positively impacted my general happiness and mood. I wish I could read the news without entering a downward cycle of despair, but I can’t. And, after a few rough mornings after consuming particularly gruesome stories from the Ukraine involving children, I stopped reading and watching most news.
For right now, I have no plans to return to Instagram in any capacity. If we decide we need to post for our new-ish design firm, I’ll advocate for using a scheduler or hiring an outside marketing firm. My mental health isn’t worth using it personally as a marketing tool.
I would advise you to really sit with how you feel while you’re using Instagram and how you feel when you stop. Try taking a break for a day or two and then a week or longer. I don’t know how we were all duped into believing that this app was something we needed for our lives, and our businesses, but I’m glad I found a way past it.
How to Quit Instagram
If you’re thinking about quitting Instagram, start by taking a break. First, log out of the app on your phone and all of your devices. This is key. There are a lot of links in blog posts and articles to Instagram profiles and posts. I relapsed because I had forgotten to log out on my iPad, clicked a link, and found myself sucked back in almost immediately. Then delete the app from all of your mobile devices.
If you find yourself logging into Instagram from your browser for a quick peek, you can deactivate your Instagram account without deleting it.
Instagram is wildly addictive. Try to make it through at least a week. If you find yourself wanting to login in, ask yourself why? I found it was because I was bored, and that boredom was easily fixed by getting up and moving around, playing some music, texting a friend, or paging through a book. After a week, see if you can go a month or more. Check in with yourself frequently to see how you feel and if you’ve seen any improvements in your anxiety and ability to be present and focus.
You may find that after a detox you can go back to it, and it doesn’t have the same power over you. I’m not quite there yet, and I like my Instagram-free life too much right now to give it another chance right now. Maybe I’ll feel differently in a few months, but for right now, I’m looking forward to a social media free summer.