Scrolling through the Instagram feed for hours and hours, looking for something even remotely exciting but finding only viral Tik-Tok reels – this could be the trailer of last year. We’ve all been there. Or still are. After a few months of lockdown, I’ve noticed my Instagram screen time gradually growing from thirty minutes to one hour a day, two hours, three… It took me quite some time to realize there’s a problem. I noticed my behavior changing, my anxiety growing rapidly, and my sleep quality decreasing. So I deleted Instagram for a month.
Dealing with Anxiety?
As it is for many people, the one-year lockdown had a very negative impact on my mental health. In normal times, I used to deal with anxiety by distracting myself, going out and socializing. Obviously, in the context of the pandemic, the only distractions available are the entertainment media. I became inseparable from my phone, always reaching to it when I had a free minute or felt stressed. With time, I noticed that scrolling through Instagram only makes me experience more negative emotions: anxiety, jealousy, exhaustion. Consequently, I spent even more time on Instagram, hoping it would help me deal with my feelings. The problem was that instead of dealing with them, I merely covered them up with the constant stream of information from social media. While I thought I was on top of things, stress and anxiety were quietly bottling up inside me, causing unreasonable irritability, regular nightmares, and anxiety attacks.
The Age of Information
The human brain hasn’t changed much for thousands of years. Nevertheless, people in the modern world, especially in big cities, consume and digest tremendous amounts of information daily. Even though our brain isn’t equipped to process that much data, we’re constantly forced to process it anyway to be a functioning part of society. Our friend circle, our job or education, and, of course, media – all of these are inexhaustible sources of information that we have to take in and make decisions accordingly.
On social media, whether it’s influencers or the suggested feed, we often consume information that is completely irrelevant to our real life. However, to process this information, we still have to invest energy and time, which leaves us with fewer resources for what is relevant.
It was all noise that I could never silence or take a break from.
The excessive consumption of information can lead to higher levels of anxiety and even a decrease in some cognitive abilities. When I was using Instagram, besides anxiety, I constantly felt chaotic. It was difficult to focus for long periods, build work structure, and I relied on my weekly planner more than on my memory. In the lockdown, when my Instagram consumption grew immensely, I started to notice myself constantly thinking about personal problems of the influencers I followed or replaying hilarious dog videos over and over in my head. These thoughts occurred even when I wasn’t using Instagram: when I was studying, or having a walk, or working out. It was all noise that I could never silence or take a break from.
Moving forward, achieving, being more, and being louder – these goals have become the most valuable and most rewarded by society. Young people are afraid of silence, of staying still, because when you’re not moving, others are, and you’re staying behind.
But is silence that scary? When I realized my Instagram use was becoming problematic, I asked myself why I was trying so hard to fill every moment of silence with more information. The answer I found for now is that when it’s silent, you can hear yourself think. Being a highly sensitive person with high levels of anxiety, I know that giving yourself time to think is often scary because you might not like what you find in your head. It might bring up unpleasant memories, or make you realize that you have to change some major aspects of your life to be happier. And then you would have to deal with that.
After deleting Instagram, I immediately noticed how much silent space in my mind freed up. I could easily remember my to-do lists, organize my week without having to write everything down. Besides that, for the first time in my adult life, I started spending some of my free time doing absolutely nothing. Just laying on the couch, or standing on the balcony and looking outside allowed me to get my thoughts in order. This newfound order, in turn, made me more productive and calm, and my life less chaotic.
Despite all the benefits of deleting Instagram, there’s no reason to deny all the good it brings people. Currently, I live miles away from home, from my family and closest friends. Social media allows me to connect with them when there’s no time to call, allows us to check in on each other with minimum effort. Being off-grid made me contact people who are most important to me more often. However, there’s never enough time or energy to send a personal message to everyone you care about every day. That’s why Instagram plays such an important role in maintaining personal connections: even if you don’t ask someone directly, through their stories and posts you can know that they’re ok, and stay updated about their lives. This opportunity is what I miss the most about Instagram.
I believe Instagram can serve many positive causes. Human connection, social activism, online communities, just to name a few. Nevertheless, even though social media was created by people themselves, its effects are yet to be fully understood. So, we should learn to use it according to our needs and wishes instead of letting it use us. Will I come back to Instagram? Probably, at some point. But first, I have to build my boundaries with it and understand, for what reasons I use it and what I gain from it.
Edited by: Debby Mogot