I have a love-hate relationship with Instagram. The artist inside me loves taking photos and sharing them, the writer in me finds it a great way to publicize my work and to engage with my readers, and for the most part, I enjoy seeing what my friends and family are getting up to, especially when we all live so far apart. But on the flip side of that, it is very often one of the major triggers for my anxiety, and thanks to the addictive nature of the app, I find myself constantly scrolling my feed and then wishing I hadn’t. Whether it’s seeing fitness models with unachievable bodies or comparing myself to other creatives who seem far more successful than me, I spend a considerable amount of time beating myself up for everything I’m not. It’s unhealthy, and yet I can’t stop using it. But, I’ve learned that there are ways of navigating this and ways of protecting myself. Here are just a few things to consider when asking yourself if your use of Instagram is having a negative impact on your mental health and what you can do about it.
1. Are you spending too much time on it?
Have you ever wondered how much time you’re spending on social media apps? Well, luckily (or perhaps not-so-luckily), most smartphones now let you monitor how much time you’re spending on various apps throughout your day. We are all guilty of mindlessly scrolling Facebook and Instagram throughout the day–on the morning commute, during our lunch hour and when things at work are moving slowly—but this is time which could be better spent elsewhere. Say, having an actual conversation with an actual human being. Actual real life social interaction, you gasp? Yes, try it! Forming real connections and having a laugh in the staff kitchen will make your day so much brighter and more interesting than burying your face in your phone.
2. Are you using it as a source of validation?
We all open ourselves up to a constant stream of virtual validation by posting selfies or any other image where we are saying, “Hey, look at me, I’m doing great!” and when people double tap or comment, we get that warm feeling of “Yes, they think so too.” It’s a fleeting feeling which isn’t worth anything, but we have become so conditioned to believe that the number of likes on a photograph or number of followers at the top of our grid holds some profound confirmation of our worth, beauty and success. Reality check, it doesn’t! Validation is great, sure, but any form validation we do get means far more when it is given in person, spoken by someone who looks you in the eyes when they give it to you. And just because you only get one like on your photo doesn’t make you any less beautiful than the person who gets 100. Hell, if you get no likes, that doesn’t diminish your worth. We all need to be kinder to ourselves and know that the only validation that holds any real substance is the validation we give to ourselves.
3. Is your feed a trigger?
The thing about Instagram is it creates an algorithm of the tags you’re searching, the posts you’re liking and what you’re commenting on. That means you can tailor your feed to suit your interests, hobbies and what inspires you. And while you might feel inspired by gym bunnies or girls who post about low-calorie meals, you need to ask yourself if that is helping your wellbeing. Because whether you realize it or not, everything you see during the day—on T.V, in what you read, on social media feeds—is something you’re absorbing and using to measure yourself. This doesn’t need to be something you are actively aware of, but it will be happening subconsciously. And I don’t know about you, but when I see a picture of a super-toned, gorgeous model, I appreciate it for about two seconds before picking out all of the tiny ways I am absolutely nothing like her and then feel bad about myself. Tailor your feed so the images you’re processing are helpful, calming and inspirational. For me, that’s feminist posts, mental health posts, writing inspo and hilarious memes I can send to my friends and coworkers. Your social media should be a safe space for you to explore and express yourself, and only you can control what that looks like.
4. Are you constantly making comparisons?
Instagram has introduced a whole new way of being able to compare yourself to others—whether it’s their looks, their body or their lifestyle. We no longer have to leave the house to feel bad about ourselves, and what’s worse is that on Instagram, nothing is as it seems. We can all choose the best moments of our lives, we can all airbrush and reshape photographs, we can all post photos claiming everything is perfect, but that doesn’t make it so. The saddest part of this is that we all do it while being fully aware of the impact it has on us when we see a stream of people living their best life, the way it makes us feel like we are in some way failing, yet we still post photos we know are not a true picture of what is going on behind the screen. Whether or not you are conscious of it, exposing yourself to this for hours each day is going to impact how you feel about yourself, even on a subconscious level. As I said before, only you have control over your feed, of what images you are absorbing, and if someone (even a good friend) is making you feel like crap (unintentionally, of course), take back control and mute their account—they won’t know and you can stop lingering on images which make you doubt yourself.
5. Are you watching what your bae is liking?
This is perhaps the worst tool on Instagram and one which is just adding to all of the drama social media can cause in relationships. Trust me on this one: don’t look. This tool will allow you to see every single photo that someone has liked (although only posts which belong to a public account), meaning that you can see if your boyfriend/girlfriend/crush is liking lots of photos of random hot girls, and then measure yourself against said hot person and instantly feel crappy for all of the ways you fall short. I strongly suggest you don’t look, but I also appreciate just how addictive it can be to see a stream of your competitors and then beat yourself up for not being perfect. But if you’re going to do it, remind yourself that 99% of photos on Instagram have been face-tuned and filtered, and despite what triggering memes tell you, him liking a photo is not him cheating or telling you that you aren’t beautiful, it’s simply lazy appreciation for the idea of someone. Think how many photos you like of gorgeous men—you know that one like does not equate a disinterest or comparison to the person you like/love.
6. Are you using it to stalk someone?
Social media stalking seems like a great way of checking up on your ex/people you went to school with, but it’s actually just preventing you from moving on. And like with anything social media related, it can very quickly become addictive—checking up on their every move and comparing yourself to their new boo will lead you down a rabbit hole of self-destruction and living in the past. Do yourself a favor and block them, and every time you feel the urge to go looking, remind yourself of that feeling you get immediately after. Is it worth it just for a few minutes of your curiosity being satisfied?
7. Are you doing things simply for the ‘gram?
When you go out with friends, what’s more important to you: Having a great time and living in the moment, or taking photos/videos for Insta? I’m totally guilty of this myself, and I have to constantly check myself and remember to put my phone away and just be present. I’m working on it, it’s a process. But if you find yourself more interested in getting the perfect photo/video so everyone knows what you’re up to rather than just enjoying yourself, ask yourself, “What is going to be more important to you in ten years? An image of you tied to the memory of stressing about getting the perfect shot, or the actual memory of you having an amazing time?” Trust me, no one cares about the photo or video as much as you do. Be present and live in the moment. Who cares if all of your followers, who I doubt you even speak to, don’t get to share it with you?