If you have a visual blog or business, you most likely have an Instagram account where you share your creative endeavors. The two have become essentially synonymous with one another. But what I noticed happening to most who use Instagram, is the app becoming a consistent source of positive and/or negative feedback, driving us to compulsive behavior. And I mean all, day every day compulsive.
After all, posting an image of either ourselves or something that represents us, be it a place, food, object, child, whatever, is a direct extension of who we view ourselves to be. The moment we hit publish, we wait to see who thinks we are worthy of their likes and comments, hungry for authentication and approval. It has become a continuous source of novelty and approval, which the brain - my brain craved.
I found myself checking what happened over night the moment I woke up, engaging all day long and checking in just once more before bed. Seeing the likes was a total high, and the comments, a sign of approval that I was somehow on the right track. But was I? I’ve heard it described that having social media is like having a slot machine in our pockets. After all, there’s no guarantee we will get likes or comments on anything we post - it’s all a gamble. A very addicting one.
Instagram is a very carefully crafted app, which directly feeds into our most basic need to be seen (actual photo) and validated (likes/comments). But I didn’t see just how much I had become addicted to those until I made the decision to step away from it for a month.
A few things came up during that time for me. The first was noticing the habit I’d gotten into of posting a story nearly every time I did anything. And I mean anything. Cooking something? Story. See a pretty flower? Story. Rain drops on leaves? Definitely story. You see where I’m going with this. I saw myself doing it but justified my actions as normal because, well…everyone is doing it. My phone had become an extension of me..
Though once I stepped back long enough, I realized it was hardly normal. Common sure, but most certainly not normal. Spending that much time on a phone app blurred reality’s lines because I’d stopped being present in my life, constantly thinking about what I would be posting next. And not just that but I found I used it as a cure for boredom, insecurity, doubt, anxiety, stress, sadness, dissatisfaction, etc.
But a shift happened once I stepped outside myself long enough to realize how truly absent I had been with my children, always seeming to chase the next shot. Physically present but mentally absent. I was tightly wrapped up in an artificial world that kept calling to me, consuming me, asking me to give and take in more content. It was an eyeopening and frightening moment.
The second thing that came up, was a feeling of unbound freedom. But I did have to go through a challenging two weeks, a detoxing of sorts. Once I overcame the initial absence and need to be constantly validated, I felt free…really free. I’ve never been more connected to the present moment and that in itself was worth giving up likes, validation and everything else the app provides for millions of us.
I allowed myself to be with whatever feelings came up, be it boredom, sadness, joy and so forth. I didn’t feel the need to distract myself and pick up the phone numerous times an hour for a quick dopamine hit. I was able to appreciate beauty and detail without the nagging voice reminding me to snap it so I could throw it up on social for all to see. The experience was mine and mine alone and that was okay. No affirmation, no validation, no filters. I took photos of everything I wanted to simply for the pleasure of it, not for Instagram, not for acceptance.
I also realized how much energy I was expanding by constantly worrying and thinking about the next thing I would post and making my feed look just “so”. While creative and fun and seemingly easy, it became anything but that for me. Being on there, brought out a perfectionist side of me which I didn’t like. It also became a chore and more than a chore, it became a source of stress, comparison and when not posting, feeling like I had somehow had failed for not keeping up.
The last and probably most fascinating discovery was seeing how my brain had started operating when I was connected to my phone all day long - incapable of focusing on tasks long enough without needing a distraction, without needing to check what was going on in that world. The overwhelming amount of input I was taking it daily was almost too much to handle yet I kept doing it. But once I stepped away from the incessant consumption of information, I found myself able to work for longer periods of time, read, think create and just be with myself in my life.
I feel we’ve entered uncharted territory and study after study reveals that social media, particularly Instagram, is highly addictive, and despite its original intended use (social engagement), can make us feel the opposite and have a slew of negative consequences.
So for me as the weeks wore on, it became increasingly clear that my time on Instagram has come to an end, particularly after an enlightening conversation with someone dear to me. It’s the unpopular thing to do and many may not understand, but it is the only way to regain control of my life and stop falling prey to the mind-bending, brain changing power of Instagram.
If you’re struggling with social media and find yourself incapable of stepping away, I would highly encourage a break…a long break - at least one month. After all it takes 21 days to break a habit and I must say, this was absolutely true for me and I now see things with renewed clarity. Things I would have never been able to without a break. Once you’ve had some space and can stick with the initial discomfort, you will quickly realize how refreshing it is to live in the present moment and give your brain a chance to be bored and invent things to do. A return to being human.