When Instagram Is Depressing You Here's What You Should Do Instead

Updated on January 27, 2019
Em Clark profile image

Em is a millennial who's learned through therapy to limit social media as a way to balance her diagnosed mood disorder.

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I'm not big on resolutions, they stress me out and oftentimes they're based on this version of myself I think I should be, not who I really want to become. Still, I always get a bit reflective at the end of each year and while I tucked away the holiday décor in my tiny apartment, contemplating the coming year, it occurred to me that I wasn't feeling very hopeful about the coming months. After one particularly long chat with my therapist I found that more than anything else, when I'm anxious, I turn to my phone. But I'm not just twiddling around on there, I'm doing something very specific: I'm scrolling through Instagram.

What was once an interesting peak into my friend's mostly boring lives had become a competition for who was eating the most authentic Italian that week or who was having the most intentional experience or who was standing in front of famous landmarks most often and let me tell you, it was absolutely never me. And that made me feel pretty bad about myself after a while. I mean, wtf was I doing?

Scrolling through Instagram, that's what.

So my therapist and I made a plan to help me get off Instagram and dive back into my own life with the hope that it would help brighten my mood and give myself a greater appreciation of my own experiences. According to a U.K. based study, I'm not the only millennial dealing with depression and anxiety induced by Instagram's tendency to make users feel like they're not living up to the supposedly exciting lives of their peers.

Here's the steps I took and how they're helping me.

9 Steps to Free Yourself From Instagram

Delete the App

At first, I thought that I should delete Instagram altogether. But, as my therapist pointed out, having drastic, impulsive reactions in an effort to cure my life of anxiety and depression isn't a sustainable way to solve problems. Instead, she suggested that I practice some self control and just give myself a break by deleting the app from my phone which is where I usually accessed Instagram from.

This was my first step in cleansing some of the bad juju that I was getting from that filtered world. It really did help - while I'd habitually tap the screen where the icon used to appear I'd find the space replaced by my meal-planning app that I'd never even opened after first downloading it. On the first day I'd deleted Instagram I was digging into meal-planning and ordering ingredients for stuffed sweet potatoes and vegan pizza, something I would have been too distracted by Instagram to do before.

"Forget" Your Password

To keep myself from logging back into Instagram while I was working on my computer I went into the settings and changed my password to a super random set of numbers and letters that I wrote on a sticky note and tucked into my desk drawer. I can still login if I really, really want to (say after my cousin gets married in Hawaii next month so I can check out all of her lush photos) and then I can logout again. Each time I want to login, I'll have to dig that sticky note back out and type in the impossible-to-remember password.

More than once since doing this I've stopped myself, stuck the note back in my drawer and spent my break from working drinking a glass of water and going through the pile of mail on my counter instead. Two things that are way better for me than staring at yet another screen in an attempt to wind down.

Make Sure Your Contacts are Updated

I didn't realize how often I defaulted to Instagram as a form of communication with my nearest and dearest. Since deleting the app I'm texting my mom more often and having actual conversations with my best friend instead of just liking her photos in the feed.

Give Yourself a Couple of Days Off

When you first delete the app you might think it's time to start changing your life. I did. But my therapist cautioned me against signing up for a 4K (just kidding I would never do that, but you get what I'm saying) in the afterglow of ridding myself of toxic social media.

Instead, she asked me to take the weekend off to putz around and explore the things that bring actual meaning to my life and to report back at the start of the week. Here's what I learned about myself with all of my newfound time:

  • I really like brushing my cats. I know it sounds weird but they sit by me longer when they're being brushed, it's calming and when I'm done I feel accomplished and happy that I took some time out to care for my pets.
  • I eat too much candy. My mom has this habit of sending me home with those fun-sized bags of candy after our visits and though this is adorable, I would sit and munch that bag of candy while perusing influencers on the beach and berating my own bikini-bod (or lack thereof). By swearing off Instagram I eliminated two toxic habits at once: Comparing my body to unrealistic images and mindlessly eating because I was bored/bummed.
  • I have no interest in becoming a fitness influencer. On day two of no Instagram I thought maybe I'd try out some Kayla Itsines and start one of those My Journey to Buff accounts but after halfway throwing up after three burpees I decided that is not my life path.

Put a Magazine Rack in Your Bathroom

At least 45% of my Instagram scrolling happened on the toilet and with a thrift store magazine rack and an armful of Real Simple back issues I now have a year's worth of screen-free toilet reading material to keep me company on the potty.

There's more to do on the toilet than watch more of Teddy Geiger's many, many stories.
There's more to do on the toilet than watch more of Teddy Geiger's many, many stories. | Source

Invest in a Couple Fidget Toys for Your Bag

Another place I found myself gazing empty-eyed at a steady stream of avocado-inspired recipes was in waiting rooms. I really hate those places. And while I still indulged in some Pinterest waiting on my dentist appointment last week, I also brought along this labyrinth ball maze to keep my mind and my eyes occupied. Instead of nerving me up the way social media does, I felt chilled right out by the time they called me back to get my teeth cleaned.

Create Two New Daily Habits

One of the things that always made me feel bad about myself while poking around Instagram is how productive and focused everyone else there seemed to be. While that's easy to fake on social media, I really did want to find a way to be more productive and focused in my own life. As it turns out, the best way to do that was to just get off Instagram.

With my extra time and brain space I took on two, nearly effortless habits each morning - taking a walk to my mailbox and drinking a glass of water before hopping in the shower. These two seemingly stupid, pointless things start my day with fresh air, a touch of sunshine and hydration before I've even put my makeup on.

Create a List of Short Term Goals

Once I was detoxed from my social media habits it was time to create a list of short term goals to share with my therapist. She stressed the need to not create goals that would give me a ton of anxiety trying to achieve, like mastering a major lifestyle change in less than a month. Instead we came up with:

  • Clean out my nightstand on Sunday nights, the place where all loose mail, receipts and paperwork end up when I'm just too lazy to make it to the trash can.
  • Call my brother at least once a week. Connecting with my brother, checking in to hear how his job is going and listening to his hilarious dating misadventures halfway across the country has brought me closer to him than stalking his Instagram account ever did.
  • Go out to lunch with my mom. My anxiety makes it stressful for me to make plans. It's weird, but if you have anxiety, you get what I'm saying. Making a plan with my mom and following through on it really boosted my confidence.

Come Up With One Really Big Long Term Goal

When you're ready, come up with a long term goal that makes you just as excited as it made you sad to watch other people following their own dreams on Instagram. For me, that was creating a body of work that would eventually become my first book of poetry, something I've always wanted to do but never felt like I had enough time or focus to do. So far, in the month I've gone without Instagram, I already have a dozen poems written.

When you come up with this goal, whatever it is, keep track of it not only to hold yourself accountable but to show yourself how much progress you're making. It may not be a profile full of pretty, curated posts but it's a real-life effort to love yourself enough to chase the things that mean something to you whether you can eek an Instagram post out of it or not!

Instagram Bumming You Out?

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

  • Can I still check my Instagram DMs even if I don't have the app?

    Yes and no. You can't check your Instagram messages without an app, but it doesn't have to be the Instagram app. An app called Bluestack will also let you check your DMs. If you're looking to just check your messages through the web or on your computer browser you won't be able to do that.

© 2019 Em Clark

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