How I Beat Instagram Envy
A University of Pennsylvania study has just come out proving that excessive time on social media does cause depression. The study was published in this month’s edition of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology (linked). It filled in a research gap that’s now proven the long-term theory, taking social media and feelings of loneliness from a “correlation” to a “causation”. So, now we know. And once we know, we can do something about it.
As someone completely addicted to Instagram, I interpret this study in context of Instagram. I’ve been working on avoiding the negative psychological side effects for a while. Here’s what I do to sidestep the worst of the impacts and try to make the experience of Instagram as positive as possible (while still very much being only human). While I still have negative thoughts about myself and my low-key life living on a small island in the Pacific without awesome concerts or restaurants to compete with the content my friends are sharing, overall Instagram is extremely positive, rewarding and uplifting for me.
Here’s what I do.
Here’s the thing, just unfollow that account. Even if it’s not that person’s fault you don’t want to see their posts anymore. People don’t have to do something wrong to lose your follow on a social media app. If you ever have the thought that you don’t like seeing someone’s posts, just unfollow them.
Keep going. If any account doesn’t inspire you, entertain you or educate you on something you find valuable, unfollow. If the content they share encourages you to consume more or drink more, makes you feel insecure about yourself, leaves you with negative feelings of jealousy or inadequacy, you find their personality grating on you, anything they talk about is triggering or they post support for unethical practices that make you uncomfortable, whatever the reason is. Just unfollow them. You don’t owe anybody your time, attention or mental energy. If they knew their content was making you unhappy you know what? They wouldn’t want you to be following them. Their self-esteem will bounce back after losing just one follower.
At one point I was following 3000 people, now I follow well under 1000. As soon as I see a photo from someone and I realise I don’t recognise their account or remember why I’m following them, I unfollow. You don’t need to see every photo posted on the Internet, so it’s healthy to unfollow people regularly and liberally.
Follow People That Are Authentic And Share The Whole Picture
Once you’ve unfollowed everyone that you won’t genuinely miss from your life, you’re wide open to find accounts that speak to you. Accounts of people or brands that align with your values, that educate you on important topics, that promote body positivity or mental health messages, or otherwise encourage you to be a better person in some way.
I prefer to follow accounts that share long captions and post stories from their life, because I get bored quickly of normal food, fashion or travel accounts that lack substance. I want authenticity, I want human connection, I want to see their bad days, I want to get to know them as a person behind the screen. I want a well-rounded cross-section of their life that keeps things realistic and human. Otherwise the overly-curated surface-level photographs bore me, drain my energy, and that’s where I start to understand the negativity associated with Instagram.
I don’t want to look at little photos that make me feel bad that my life looks normal, and not like something out of magazine. I just want to connect with awesome people I wouldn’t get to meet otherwise. So I like to follow ladies like @laikenrichelle, @jessy.wallace and @cocokayxo.
Make Your Instagram About Things You Care About
What you post matters, too. Your headspace when deciding what is “Insta-worthy” can tell you a lot. When you step back and look at your Instagram objectively, does it represent who you are? Who you wish you were? I do not mean “Do you look hot enough? Successful enough? Fun enough?”. The question is whether your content falsely represents you as caring about superficial characteristics you think you’re meant to have on social media.
I used to want my Instagram to represent how fun I was. How busy I was. All the cool things I was always doing. Because I put out a certain image that I wanted people to associate with me.
But at some point in my life, maybe when chronic illness stopped me from doing all the “fun cool” things I wanted to be doing, I decided that whether people thought I was fun or interesting wasn’t important anymore. I don’t need to present the image of having lots of friends or being likeable. I decided to instead chill out and post what’s on my mind, and attract the people that will actually resonate with that more authentic content. Because I want to be friends with genuine people that have their priorities straight and talk about things they find important. So that’s what goes on my Instagram these days. Instagram is a place to share my values and connect with kindred souls. Since posting whatever I feel like I’ve built stronger connections and real friendships than I ever could have done when I was posting superficial junk that wasn’t important to me to look “cool”.
Post Photos Even When You Don’t Like How You Look
Seriously. This is a learned skill you have to practice. Don’t shy away from sharing a photo that captures a moment or a message you want to share just because you look “ugly”. (Ugly relative to who!?)
I don’t have a professional photographer or a good camera to take photos on, I just share whatever the heck I have near the top of my camera roll because otherwise I wouldn’t be posting content for weeks at a time. Crappy photos of me with no makeup taken on an iPhone have been some of my most popular uploads. Photos where I’m bloated with messy hair and visible acne can be found all over my social media.
Do I have 10k followers? Nooooo. I don’t want to change a thing about myself to get that kind of external validation! What I do have now is a healthy relationship with social media where I no longer think I have to look a certain or behave way to be liked. We have to get comfortable with putting our real faces and bodies on social media, because that’s how people know us in real life. And more importantly, that’s what takes the pressure off others to maintain an unrealistic, artificial appearance at all times too. Person by person, we can deconstruct the expectation that we have to look perfect to put ourselves on social media because the “imperfect” (i.e. realistic) versions of ourselves aren’t good enough and need to be shamefully hidden away. The skill of posting photos you don’t like of yourself is an ongoing practice, because I am still human and I am still a 27-year old woman battling chronic acne who’d prefer all my followers didn’t know that. But working on this insecurity and conquering it is definitely worth the effort.
Challenge Yourself To Less Phone Time
OK, so here’s the actual proven way to beat social media-caused depression from real experts and not just me. If you’re finding that even after cleaning up who you’re following and overhauling the way you approach Instagram you’re still feeling worse-off every time you look at your phone and see this stream of other people’s highlights reel, there are ways to do it less. I recommend the app Moment. It helps you track your screen time, what apps you’re spending the most time on, and has different levels of challenges to cut down your time spent browsing social media with daily challenges like temporarily deleting your most used app, taking no photos for 24 hours, or sleeping with your phone in another room for just one night. Give it a go or let me know of similar apps I can try in the comments.
So I’m no psychologist, because I dropped out of that degree after 18 months. But despite all the evidence that Instagram is probably damaging our mental health, I don’t feel that way yet. I turn to Instagram to feel better when life seems bad, because I’m reminded of all these rad people I’ve decided to invite into my life. It’s a nice break from the bad news cycle or frustration after a tough day at work. So something I’m doing with this platform must be working! Therefore, I hope something I’ve mentioned might work for you too.