When’s the last time you took a break from social media?
Not too long ago now, my sister and I took a break from Instagram, deleting the app from our phones. We regularly take extended breaks, especially around the holiday period (Christmas & New Year).
Aside from Tumblr, Instagram is the only social media platform that I actively use. My Facebook account remains deactivated most of the time and I haven’t updated it in years. I accidentally deleted my Twitter account. Twice. And tbh, I just don’t have the time, energy or patience to start and grow a new account or keep up with multiple platforms at once.
Why did I take a break from Instagram?
When it comes to platforms like Youtube and Tumblr, I’m able to enjoy them without the additional pressure that comes with posting on Instagram to an audience of friends and family, all the people that I know.
I reach periods where I become so addicted to Instagram that I can barely go a single minute without compulsively opening the app, scrolling and stalking people. This is exactly what happened this time as well. The constant scrolling was making me absolutely miserable and out of touch with reality and myself.
Instagram used to be a pretty fun platform to be on, because it felt like there was no pressure to perform, everyone was just posting whatever random snap they felt like putting up. It felt more creatively driven as opposed to the image-obsessed whirlwind that it has become. I feel like the shift happened after Facebook bought the company and influencer culture became more prevalent. Incessant ads have also ruined the overall experience.
Are there still good parts of Instagram? For sure! They are just harder to find. I would love to discover completely new accounts that are completely different to the ones that I already follow, but the algorithm continues to drown me in the same post and account suggestions of Instagram models who all look exactly the same. It’s dull, repetitive and boring.
The influence of influencer culture has trickled down to everybody. Taking a step back makes me realise how strange it is that we all share our lives in such an exhibitionist way. Does it truly matter what products we use, which restaurants we go to or how we spend our mornings, etc, etc? I’m not saying that I’m above such patterns, I do it all the time, but there are many moments when I feel pretty silly doing it.
It’s such a complicated thing to confront, because I’ve made so many amazing friends through social media. I love how it allows me to discover and learn more about new things, countries that I’ve never been to, and to some extent, I do like keeping up with the people that I know. I love taking pictures and sharing them online, while curating a feed. I genuinely enjoy doing that. What spoils the experience is the added pressure that I feel when posting. It’s easy to compare yourself to everyone on an app like Instagram. The numbers aspect messes with my head big time. Nothing is more anxiety-inducing than seeing your follower count drop and rise on the daily, wondering why it does or it doesn’t, or why it isn’t as high as the other people that you know. The anxiety that comes with having low engagement rates and not knowing why when you try so hard is awful. Sometimes it feels like the algorithm purposely builds our confidence just to break it down, for fun, to keep us hooked on the app so that we can continue to come back and try harder next time, chasing illusive likes and comments that can’t even be explained by a set formula. Sometimes a picture does well and sometimes it just doesn’t.
I think if Instagram was more similar to VSCO or Tumblr where follower counts and likes weren’t visible to others except you, then I would enjoy Instagram a lot more. I also find it sad how there is more focus on looking perfect than being open, vulnerable, honest and creative in the way that we take pictures and what we take pictures of. Instead of taking pictures experimentally, everyone goes and repeats the same predictable formula that gets the most likes, hence all of our feeds looking exactly the same. No one wants to do something too differently and risk not getting as many likes. The algorithm doesn’t support or promote smaller creators or creative content at all, either, which is really sad.
I ricochet between wanting complete anonymity, to just not exist on the internet at all and wanting to post more because I like that it’s possible to connect with people outside of my small town. I like the inspiration that I get from others. I’ll admit that I’m addicted to the interactions that take place online, even if they are mostly superficial.
What also stands in the way of posting the way that I want to is fear of judgement from the people that I know in real life. There are posts I don’t put up or captions I don’t share, because I’m scared they could either offend people or put off potential future employers. There are pictures I hesitate to post for fear of losing followers who don’t like certain content. If I put up beach pictures, the people who follow me expecting to see pictures of my face get bored. If I post blogger-like content, the people who know me in real life think that it’s pretentious. I can’t tell you how mortifying it is to have people I know tell me that I post so much or that my life looks a certain way online. At that moment you can’t help but be hyper-aware of how you are being perceived or the suggestion that you don’t do anything else with your life My profile is such a small fraction of my life. Certain comments create the pressure to perform my online self in real life.
There is often conflict between my online self and my real self. Because people can’t separate the two, I feel like it warps people’s perceptions of me completely. People expect me to obsessively photograph every single thing that I see when I’m with them and are surprised when I don’t. People think that I always travel, when in reality, when I travel is the only time that I feel compelled to take and share pictures. Doesn’t mean that it’s all I do. I take a bunch of pictures on a single trip and I post them throughout the year. I can understand how that can be confusing for someone who doesn’t know that they’re seeing pictures from one day and not several separate occasions. I also feel like people don’t take me seriously at all because of Instagram.
I’m a writer. I want to be a journalist one day and have already gained work experience in media-related jobs. I’m an editor. I’m a student. My Instagram self doesn’t fully encompass the entirety of my being. Following a person online doesn’t mean that you actually know them by extension. And following your friends online doesn’t count as properly keeping in touch with them, fyi.
I won’t lie, I get confused between the person I project online and who I am on a day-to-day basis, sometimes. It’s important to be able to recognise that you are not who you project online. Even if you post genuine snippets of your life. Those two are not one and the same. I sometimes look at my own profile and fail to understand how I can be so sad a lot of the time when my life looks problem-free. And that happens when you look at half the picture. Life’s not-so-great moments offer perspective. That’s not to say that you should go and post a picture of yourself crying every time that you do just to prove how imperfect life is, but rather to remember this truth for yourself. There are unique issues that come with over-sharing as well. You can’t commodify every single part of your life with likes, views and comments and hope to remain sane. Call a friend, talk to a family member. Schedule an appointment with your therapist if you have one!
If you’re a social media user, I can’t recommend taking an extended break (we’re talking 21 to 30 days), enough. The third day is when I normally start to experience a massive mental shift. The world immediately slows down and feels less loud. You aren’t being drowned in a sea of information and other people’s opinions on matters you haven’t taken the time to research or think about for yourself. You gain more time to yourself. Instagram wreaks havoc on my attention span and my ability to focus. It mentally tires me out to the point that it’s near impossible to do things like read books or self-reflect. I gain all of that back when I step away from the app. The world feels a lot more real again.
Taking time away from social media gave me the time, space and ability to be more in touch with myself. I have a deeper connection to understanding who I am as a person and what I actually want out of life thanks to not being distracted by a friend’s new job update or vacation pictures.
Another thing that I noticed is that I’m far less irritable. Idk what it is about Instagram that makes me so agitated, but it does. Pretty scary to think about.
Taking an extended break isn’t an easy thing to do when you’re addicted. There are so many times during breaks that I feel so bored, sad and lonely without social media. I feel the urge to scroll because it helps me escape my thoughts. To be able to sit with yourself and your own thoughts is a powerful thing to do, a skill worth harnessing and something not possible when you’re plugged into the internet. I realised that I’d been spending more time on what my feed looked like than on investing in the actual material quality of my life. Taking pictures while out should be an afterthought, not the main event. It was also so nice to only have myself to worry about. Nothing sucks more than constantly seeing how well everyone you were in highschool with is doing while your life feels like a failure story in comparison.
Another thing that I notice when away from Instagram is that there is less of a sense of urgency to do certain things, go to certain places and buy certain clothes. Instagram always makes you feel like you’re missing out or falling behind on something. New restaurant? Better be the first to go there. New clothing account? Better put money aside for new outfits. Maybe I’m the only one whose mind works like this but it’s so silly. It sounds even worse when I say out loud.
I don’t have a healthy relationship with the internet. I joined Facebook because of peer pressure, and now, even though I joined Instagram on my own accord, it gives me ridiculous amounts of anxiety because of my lack of boundaries with the app.
Love her or hate her, Essena O’Neill was on to something when she left social media in order to remedy her poor mental health. People just weren’t ready for that message at the time. Countless people have made similar videos about leaving social media, in recent years and weren’t crucified but praised for it.
I don’t have too much of a takeaway for you except to carefully examine the way that you use social media. If you manage to maintain a healthy balance with it, then you’re doing amazing. If it takes up too much of your time when it isn’t even your source of income, you need to take a step back and maybe even consider severing ties with it for good. I’m still trying to navigate my own relationship with social media.
One day, I want to go completely technology free. I think having phone-free, laptop-free, internet-free days are a great way to start. Somewhere, an older millennial is probably laughing at how ridiculous this all sounds. It is ridiculous, I’ll admit, to be controlled by the internet.
What is your relationship with social media like? Are you a rare unicorn who lives without it completely? 🦄 I’d love to know!