Without much warning or forethought, in mid-October, I decided to do an Instagram cleanse.
Let me preface by saying that I’ve been using Instagram personally but also as an extension of the blog. Using it to tout wellness messages, share blog posts and of course, post photos of Noe. It all started as fun and games, but slowly morphed into something I wasn’t very proud of and something I’m even less proud to admit, is that I allowed it to affect my life in a negative way.
When you play the Instagram game you start silently tallying engagement: likes, comments, reposts. You get obsessed with things like hashtags and the best time of day to post. You worry over filters and photo editing, captions and ultimately followers. Hoping that the number continues to tick up and feeling just awful when you lose 10, 15, 20 followers in one day.
It’s hard not to take it personally, wondering what you’re doing wrong and attempting to be nonchalant when you only see little bits of success.
This background is to say that I had become more than a little obsessed with the app over the past few months.
So, without thinking much about it or making a plan I simply took action on what’s been in the back of my mind for a while now…
I did an Instagram cleanse.
It started with a weekend break, which lead to another day and another day and another day. It turned out to be rather easy and quite refreshing. I did jump on from time to time to check in on some friends, like some cute baby photos and drool over some delicious eats, but letting go of personal posting felt like uncharted territory I needed to explore.
During this time I also took the notifications off my phone (which in and of themselves are kind of nuts). Why do I need to know the instant someone likes or comments on one of my photos? Who gives a rat’s ass? Apparently me and it was time to take the caring down a notch.
As you can see, my problem ran deep and fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t think I’m alone in my affliction. I read this blog post by a blogger and Instagrammer that I totally admire for her beautiful photos, who also grapples with this. The struggle can be real, even if in the grand scheme of the world it’s not all that important.
Anyway, back to the Instagram cleanse itself, as the weeks went on I noticed some shifts, lessons and realizations from my little experiment and thought I’d share, just in case you’re struggling as well.
Not jumping on my phone the second I felt bored, anxious, unhappy or listless made me actually have to deal with these feelings.
I honestly think this is broader than just Instagram and a problem with technology use in general. My phone is a distraction from feelings. When I stopped looking at my phone, I had to start looking my anxiousness in the face and figure out why there feelings were coming up. I had to go old school, simply put, I had to deal with my shit instead of running away from it.
Not posting or worrying about taking the perfect photo made me a whole lot more present.
I was suddenly capable of watching an entire movie without toggling my phone at the same time. I was able to have conversations with Michael without side glancing at my glowing screen telling me @smelltherosesinfrontofthisoldhouse liked my latest photo. It became refreshing to simply put my phone on the coffee table and leave it there.
I stopped comparing so much.
Instagram is a wonderful place for motivation and inspiration but it can also make you feel like absolute crap if you allow it. I think social media in general has a way of doing this. Wishing I had that clean white kitchen, the week’s vacation on the beach, the amazing looking latte. These are wonderful things to daydream over, they are terrible things to use as comparison of your own happiness and joy.
Not being on my phone all the time made me realize how much everyone around me is.
I ate lunch on a busy street in San Francisco the other day and in the course of 5 minutes I saw at least 20 people walking down a beautiful, sun-filled street with great people watching and they missed it. They were all looking down, they didn’t even look up to sidestep other people.
I watched a couple sit at a table and eat their lunches without once looking up at one another or talking. Both spent the entire meal scrolling. I watched a woman mindlessly, and I mean with a fierceness and quickness I’ve never seen, inhale her meal with her phone in her other hand. (Now maybe she was in a rush or maybe she had just run 17 miles and was so hungry she couldn’t see straight but she wasn’t even chewing and it was mid-day on a Sunday with no place to be. She seemed unaware of her own action of eating).
Don’t get me wrong, I am not immune to this behavior and am not saying I’m any better than the people above. I still struggle big time with this. But I have become more aware of what my technology addiction is doing to how I experience the world and more importantly, how it’s affecting the way Noe sees the world, and her mama.
I’ve found myself less apt to pull out my phone when there’s a lull in our activities and being more conscious of how we react to these lulls. Usually these are opportunities to show her something new, watch her explore her surroundings or even become more aware of our surroundings myself. Turns out, the dancing shadows of leaves through late afternoon sun is still pretty mesmerizing and spectacular, even at 35.
And finally, being off a social media platform that people have come to expect me on brought a lot of concerned texts, emails and calls.
No, I didn’t mean to alarm anyone but I can also say that it felt really nice to be looked after by my friends and family. I ended up having hour-long conversations with two of my girlfriends on back to back days. We reconnected the way friends used to. Yes, it’s lovely to be able to see what’s going on with those near and dear to me any time I want and I don’t always have time to have hour-long conversations with friends but we should be using social media to nurture our friendships and relationships, not replace them.
Social apps are beautiful tools for friendship check ins but they don’t replace the face to face or voice to voice-ness of relationships. These pieces are important too and as long as we have social media filling in the gaps, it’s easy to forget that friendships need real life tending to in order to flourish and grow.
So there you have it. What I learned from my 4 week Instagram cleanse. Since ending the self-imposed cleanse, I’ve gone back to posting photos, after all I still enjoy that aspect, I just won’t as seriously. I’ve continued to keep the notifications turned off and I’d like to keep monitoring my use of my phone in those lull moments.
If any of this resonates with you or you see yourself in me, I highly recommend taking an Instagram cleanse or a general social media break from your favorite app. Most of the people reading probably still remember a time when cell phones and the internet weren’t so readily available. There is something kind of refreshing about going back to that time. I encourage you to try it.