One month ago, I took a conscious decision and I gave up Instagram. I didn’t delete the app but I didn’t open it up on my phone for a whole month. The alerts kept pinging up every time something interesting was posted but I resisted and didn’t take a look.
How would this make me feel? Could I survive without it and have I gone straight back to it?
These are all valid questions that I’m going to provide answers for.
The most important question that I haven’t asked though, is this.
What made me want to give up Instagram in the first place?
The answer to this starts just a little over a month ago…
A Little Over a Month Ago…
Instagram had become a large part of my life. Like most people, I was using it daily and sometimes for hours a day, using Instagram was a way to promote my business and build a network of fellow professionals.
To build a network, you have to spend some serious time going through the news feed and interacting with people.
I was also using Instagram to help build my business by attracting new customers. I have done many courses on the importance of building a following on social media and especially the relatively new kid on the block. Instagram.
To do this, I was having to post at least three times per day, which I was starting to find difficult. Sure, I can post three pictures and some text every day for a couple of days. Trying to make that last for longer was difficult for a number of reasons.
I was running out of content (stuff) to put on. Unfortunately, I don’t get to go skydiving every day and there are only so many photos of my clients or of me walking the dog that people want to see. I could just send out motivational quotes I guess but I wanted my content to be fresh, authentic and actually from me. Not just copied and pasted from a Google search.
Like other fitness professionals I could have posted videos of me working out, a topless selfie in front of a gym mirror or pouting with a smoothie whilst wearing my Ray-Bans. No one wants to see that though. I wasn’t confident enough to go swimming let alone splash myself across social media.
I’m 38, not 18.
Getting Me Down
It’s fantastic that in the past couple of years it has been ok to say that sometimes you aren’t feeling right in yourself. That you are what we call in our house, “feeling blue”.
It’s vital that this work continues, for everyone’s sake as the current feeling of openness to share feelings does and will save lives.
A month or so ago, I was going through a “blue stage” and I know that sitting staring at others on Instagram was a massive part of that.
Although I was using Instagram primarily to further my business, I found I incredibly easy to lose an hour scrolling through my news feed.
What I saw there just backed up existing insecurities that I was feeling at the time.
My business could be growing more quickly: I was seeing hundreds of other fitness professionals (some local, others not) smashing their goals. Their classes were packed to the rafters and all of their clients were happier than mine.
I was at home working on my business: Everyone seemed to have the best social life and experiencing an amazing time with their massive groups of friends.
We haven’t had a foreign holiday for five years: I lost count of the amount of holiday snaps I had to endure. From walking down white golden sands to watching the sunset over the Dolomites with a glass of bubbly in hand.
I had lost my mojo with training and gained a couple of pounds: All I could see were my peers prancing around in front of mirrors with their tops off. Pah!
It took me a while but after I had been feeling “blue” for a week or so, I put two and two together and came up with Instagram. I found that I could correlate my feelings and inadequacies with having spent a lot of time either, getting content together for Instagram or buy being hoodwinked into spending hours on there.
Deep down I also knew that others using Instagram couldn’t be this happy all of the time. I knew that they were putting the best versions of their lives forward for others to see. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t as good as everyone else.
Time for a change.
At that point I decided that although my business could suffer, I would forgo the pleasures of Instagram for a while…
In this recent study, named #StatusOfMind, the Royal Society For Public Health (RSPH) looked at the effects that various social media platforms were having on the mental health of young people.
They quickly found that social media was more addictive than the effect of cigarettes and alcohol and that in my age range, 35-44, 70% regularly use social media.
The RSPH also went on to report 4 positive effects of social media and 5 negatives.
No one can doubt that social media does have its benefits and the report lays these out.
- Access to other people’s health experiences and expert health information – We can listen to or watch how other deal with conditions similar to our own.
- Emotional support and community building – Building groups that share similar problems allows their members to support each other through difficult times.
- Self-expression and self-identity – Social media allows people the chance to express themselves in ways they feel they couldn’t in person.
- Making, maintaining and building upon relationships – The platforms allow people to have friends they could never make in person.
As always there’s the flip side and the report goes on to set these out as well.
- Anxiety and depression – “The unrealistic expectations set by social media may leave people with feelings of self-consciousness, low self-esteem and the pursuit of perfectionism which can manifest as anxiety disorders.”
- Lack of Sleep – Poor mental health can lead to lack of sleep and visa versa. The over use of social media at bedtime also cuts down on the time available for sleep.
- Body Image – “9 in 10 girls say they are unhappy with their body” 10 million new photos are uploaded to Facebook every hour, leading people to continually compare themselves to others.
- Cyberbullying – The term “Troll” has become much more than a tale from the Billy Goat’s Gruff in the past few years. Bullies can post whatever they want anonymously without fear of being caught.
- Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) – We are endlessly bombarded with the best parts of others lives causing us to feel like we are missing out.
Using 14 questions (check out the study here) the study looked at several criteria and ranked the 5 main social media platforms from best to worst for our mental health. Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram.
YouTube ranked the best for our mental health, and the most negative?
You guessed it, Instagram.
How I Found My Instagram Free Month
It was tough, at first. I found myself just hitting the app icon when I was looking for something to do. Before I could stop myself, I had already scrolled down a few photos. As soon as I was consciously in control of my brain, I would halt and close the app, silently berating myself for being so weak.
After a week or so though, the draw of Instagram, that unconscious pull, started to wear off and I found that I wasn’t so interested in the lives of others. I mean I could still keep up to date on Facebook, but I personally don’t find Facebook as damaging as I don’t find it so intense. There are far more funny videos of cats for starters.
Around this time, I found my “blue” feelings starting to lift and I felt a lot happier with my lot in life. Even though the seasons had changed and it was raining a whole lot more, it didn’t bother me so much.
I also started to talk to my family and make long-term business plans, something that I didn’t feel I was able to do before.
A month later and I don’t miss Instagram one little bit.
It’s there on my home screen but I don’t feel that pull to make me tap the icon and start the app.
I heard something on the radio that really made me think about social media and mental health. “The easier it is to speak to someone in Australia, the harder it becomes to get to know your neighbours.”
And, that is so true. As the world becomes smaller, we are becoming lonelier.
Well I’m beginning to talk to people. Instead of just whizzing off an email, I’m much more inclined to pick up the phone and speak to them, or even go visit.
Rather than sitting with my head craned over a phone screen on an evening, I am spending time, reading to Tom, my son. I’m loving it and I don’t think Tom minds it either.
I also leave my phone at home when I go and walk my dog every day. It’s become a phoneless hour when I am free to enjoy my surroundings and play ball with an ever-appreciative Cockapoo.
Will I ever use Instagram again?
Of course I will. It is quickly becoming the biggest social media platform. I know though, I will use it far less than I used to. In fact I may not use it for another couple of weeks.
I am however far more aware of the effect it has on my mental health and treat it with the caution it deserves.
Be all you can be
I hope that you have found my experiences interesting and helpful. How have you found Instagram affects your mental health? Were they positive or negative? Let me know below.
If you would like to ask any questions about this or any other blog then please get in touch.