I Quit Social Media - Here's What I Learned

 

I decided to do a social media cleanse! When I was in Reno I got “discovered” on social media. My Instagram followers started to grow, companies reached out and wanted to work with me - I even got a job writing a lifestyle column for This Is Reno. It was amazing to have a voice and to have so many doors open for me. I loved going out, exploring, taking pictures, and meeting new people. I loved everything about it. I talked honestly and openly about my life and I felt connected to so many people.

When I moved back to Montana I was worried I would lose followers but was hopeful I would retain a few and make up for the loss with followers who lived in Montana. As time passed, my photos stopped getting as many likes, less people were seeing my stories, and I became extremely discouraged.

Having 5.5k+ followers, my typical 400-500 likes per photos turned to 85-150 likes per photo. I tried so hard to engage more people. I thought if I took better photos, filtered them, or did something more unique I would stand out in front of the crowd. My friends who also have and/or run social media accounts have been feeling these decreased effects too; Instagram is a different platform now.

The less likes I got the more obsessed I became. I basically planned my days around photo opportunities. I enjoyed life less and less and focused only on taking a great photo - when I went to an amazing event, hiked, or traveled the only thing that mattered at the end of the day was having that perfect Instagram photo. I quickly realized I was obsessed and exhausted. Everywhere I went I had to take video and photos of my activities. I would go out with the sole purpose of taking photos. It was so much work - it became so hard that I couldn’t enjoy anything. It became an obsession that I realized wasn’t good for my own mental health. This is a great video to watch about the truths and reality of social.

If you Google social media break you will find hundreds (millions?) of articles from people who have taken a break or reasons why you should.

Before all of this I only used Google+ and Twitter for blogging (to share my latest post). During the Presidential Election I stopped logging onto Facebook (All I saw on the platform was negativity) and after I didn’t really scroll through my news feed anyone - I only used it to find out about events around me. But Instagram - I posted daily, spent hours taking and editing photos. I would stalk big name photographers, take screenshots of their feed, and compare it to my own. I would analyze everything I posted, spending hours writing and planning content. Instead of just posting about my day I was trying to post things to gain followers and likes even though I was still writing honest and vulnerable content. I was so hard on myself, hating my content, wanting to delete it, never feeling good enough.

The Plan

I am not enjoying my life, my creativity is gone, I am exhausted and depressed so I am stepping away. I am going to spend less time online and more time cultivating relationships and spreading joy in my real life. I am going to deactivate my Instagram and stay off social media, with the exception being my blog and Snapchats to my parents ;). I am still going to create videos and write blog content because I enjoy these activities and they are not reliant on likes and followers, at least not to me - I know YouTube is but I ignore it. I am going to stop putting pressure on myself to take photos and constantly share my locations - one of the best things about blogging is I can still take photos but I can post them all. I don’t have to choose ONE good photo to share and I don’t have to post consistently or risk losing followers. I plan to write about my first week without social media but if I continue on I will share that too. I’m not 100% sure my plan!

Day 1

Day 1 was hard. Not hard to stay off social but hard not to automatically click on it. I realized how much of a habit it had become. Every morning I check my Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook. Today I had to resist the urge. I kept getting Instagram messages and it was hard to ignore them. Finally, half way through the day, I decided to quickly jump on and answer the messages because they were important. After I knew my responses were read and no more conversation was needed I made the decision to completely deactivate my Instagram. I deleted the app from my phone and my computer. I kept Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook on my phone and computer because like I said I don’t use them much anyhow. I did move them, however, off my home screen.

I realize now as I start this how habitual social media and phones are. I pick up my phone in the morning, during bathroom & lunch breaks at work, when I am sitting on the couch, when I get off work and am sitting in the car, etc. I realize I would check social and scroll through mindless content every few hours most days. When I went somewhere I would start to walk in and realize I didn’t take a video or picture and would have to go back - same with food or drinks before I consumed them. It was all so exhausting but it was so habitual that I was mindlessly doing it.

In the past, I’ve had days where I’ve left my phone at home and I enjoyed my day more; it felt like because I didn’t have it I didn’t need to check it or feel guilty because I didn’t respond.

Overall it felt good to sign off and stop checking social. Being Type A it was great to delete the icons, deactivate the account, and delete all the Instagram photos, ideas, etc off my phone, computer, and Google Drive. I am happy to be rid of it all and, if I come back, I can come back fresh. But I do feel a little unmotivated realizing I need to now make new goals for myself and my free time. I feel like I’ve lost a part of my life that I used to love doing (exploring and sharing my thoughts, experiences, and photos) and I need to fill that void, find new things that make me happy.

 

Canyon Creek Brewing’s outdoor patio! This brewery is close to my house. I love going there, sitting outside by the fire, and meeting new people - in person!

Patio fire at Canyon River Brewery in Billings, Montana
 

Day 2

Day 2 was great. I finally felt like a giant weight was lifted. Instagram was something I had to do and was failing it so it became a constant stressor. To take that pressure away was tremendously relieving.

I went to bed on day 1 reading a book and woke up, habitually grabbing for my phone, but realized I had nothing to look at. I got up and started my day unaffected. I was more positive and more motivated for the day.

I sat down and made a list of things I wanted to do - explore Billings, read, draw, paint, create fun home decor. I was so excited to start these things and not feel pressure to share every detail of my life with everyone. It was hard though because whenever I had a thought I went to share it on Instagram only to realize I couldn’t. I took pictures of my food to share what I eat as a vegetarian and remembered I would need to blog about my life now - no more social! I did miss a few of the people I followed on Instagram - I enjoyed their content and lives. I found a few of them on Facebook and Twitter and started following them that way.

Before quitting Instagram I needed justification from the world - from the activities I did to the food I ate - it only mattered that I shared it and that people liked it. Without prying eyes I was left to my own devices. I didn’t feel guilty if I spent all day on the couch because 1) people weren’t watching 2) I didn’t know what anyone else was doing. The pressure was off.

Beartooth Pass scenic highway.  A must visit in Montana and Wyoming

Day 3

Today was the first day I realized how much I am enjoying not having social media. I’ve stopped constantly reaching for my phone and I’ve started living in the present. Instead of feeling like I’m missing something, I realize I’ve gone hours and hours without even knowing where my phone is. People who aren’t an active part of life, Insta-celebrities or people I used to follow, they have faded away. I’ve stopped caring about what they’re doing. I’ve been forced to call, not text, message, Instagram, or Snapchat, family and friends as a means of communication. I do still sometimes reach to send a Snapchat (which I also decided to delete) to those few close family members and friends.

I’ve had a few friends reach out who noticed my Instagram is gone and that’s definitely been the hardest part - having them say they will miss hearing from me and seeing my life.

I’ve realized that social media is a great way to connect with friends on an intimate level, when they can’t be there in person, but I’ve also learned that 95% of it, the part we use the most, is the toxic, addictive, “my life is better than yours” part, and I don’t miss that.

Tonight I turned off the tv at 8, laid in bed, and read a book. I’m realizing how much more time I have and how much I enjoy simple things like drinking tea and reading a book when I don’t have a constant distraction. I used to think people without Instagram were somewhat irrelevant, as if their experiences had less value because no one really knew about them, but overall I am living more and worrying less.

 
Beartooth Pass scenic highway.  A must visit in Montana and Wyoming
 

Beartooth Pass/Highway in Wyoming/Montana. One of my favorite things to do is go for drives. It gives me time to think, decompress, and explore. I always come out a happier more grounded person!

Day 4

Another great day! I’ve almost completely stopped reaching for my phone and my stress level has gone down. On Instagram, on any given day, I had 5-10 people per day reaching out, commenting, asking questions, wanting to hang out, etc. I love my followers and of course I want to know them better/hear their thoughts but sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I think someone is great but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to hang out with them in person. Right now I am still trying to settle into my work, home, etc and I want to find friends my own way at my own pace. I very much felt stressed from constant messages, comments, etc, and it feels good to only have people in my life that know me on a personal level and can reach out by texting or calling.

 

Beautiful fall colors on my drive home from work. I stopped at a stoplight and looked over, realizing fall is finally here. As I stared I thought ‘how beautiful’ and I snapped a quick photo - no I wasn’t driving. Instagram made me feel like I had to take photos, and I had to take the “perfect” photo. It feels good to take photos for me again.

Beautiful falls street colors in Billings, Montana. Leaves fall in autumn
 

Day 5

Day 5 for me wasn’t a huge deal. I got up, went to work, and came home. I watched a little tv then went to bed at 8pm - it was wonderful. I definitely I check my phone a lot less now; today I was at work and I don’t think I looked at it once. I do feel work and life is less stressful without the constant stimulation or feeling as though you are missing out on, or just plain missing, something.

Day 6

Day 6 started out great but as I sit here in bed listening to Rachel Hollis - I’ve been listening to a lot of Ted Talks in my free time - I feel sad because I realize I am not affecting people’s lives, at least not as many. Even though I had a small following, even though I felt like I wasn’t growing, I forgot to remember that I was still reaching people. And if I changed even one person’s day or life, which people told me I have, then it’s all worth it. I feel I am doing a disservice by abandoning them, by not speaking my truth. I almost signed back onto to Instagram then I thought, “I’ll sign back on and catch up with everyone’s lives.” And I realized I would get sucked into the same cycle. I do want to make an Instagram come back, not for the likes or followers, but for those people and the community that I have created. I have had numerous people reach out over the years and stay my honesty, insight, and vulnerability has changed their lives. I cannot give up on them or the messages I am trying to send. However, I do need to take a step back; I need to set boundaries for myself. I don’t too hashtag or tag irrelevant accounts, I don’t need to plan my grid for hours, I don’t need to check my followers or anything except respond to comments, I don’t need to see anyone else’s content, I don’t need to post to stories… I’m not really sure what my new Instagram goal will look like, unfollowing everyone so I can’t mindlessly scroll through the app anymore (?), but I do know it will be different.

 
Beautiful falls colors in Billings, Montana
 

Pretty fall colors on the walking trail right by my house. I am so lucky to live near walking trails and along the river. It’s great to be able to go outside and unwind every now and then.

Day 7

Day 7! I can’t believe I’m here. It hasn’t felt like a week since I deleted my Instagram. But man have I learned so much.

  1. I was addicted to the platform, plain and simple. I would spend hours on it, scrolling, watching stories, liking photos, exploring, and finding accounts that “inspired me”. I checked Instagram likely 10-20 times per day. As with all businesses, Instagram has created an addictive platform, something we want to spend more and more time on. I realized how toxic my behavior had come and I’ve set forth some rules for myself.

  2. Real life is all that matters. I was extremely invested in lives of people I’d never met. And as great as it is to meet people through social media (I wouldn’t have one of my best friends without it) I realized I was spending way too much time caring about people who didn’t matter and responding to every single message, comment, etc., because I wanted to be nice. It’s too hard to have 1000 good friends. It’s just too much work. I hate when I pour my soul out to someone online to have them not respond but now I realize that for my own sake not everyone needs a response. And I received a lot of comments where I felt I needed to explain or defend myself; I sometimes got caught up in that and it would make me angry and ruin my mood. No more!

  3. I had a lot more free time without social media! I had hours after work where I didn’t stare mindlessly at my phone. My brain started working and I couldn’t sit there in front of the TV - I had to move. I started cleaning, going to bed early, watching Ted Talks, reading books, etc. I felt my drive to grow as a self-learner, the drive that made me obtain my (first) doctorate degree. I realized I want to focus more on blogging and even more importantly I want to look into getting my Ph.D. in psychology and write a book!!

  4. I gained creativity. For the first time in probably a year I felt less frustrated with photography and blogging. I was able to take pictures when I wanted to and the pressure for the perfect Instagram photo was off. I wanted to write, wanted to paint, wanted to create things, things I didn’t spend time comparing to “better” people’s things. Sometimes isolation is a HUGE motivator.

  5. I am sleeping better and overall I am happier. Because I have more time at night I’ve been going to bed early, getting ready at 8pm, laying in bed, drinking tea, and watching Ted Talks or reading. Instead of waking up to a million things I missed each morning I wake up and get out of bed feeling new and refreshed. I start my day in a positive mood and because the habitual need to reach for my phone has diminished I am a happier person. This may not sound like a huge revelation but quitting Instagram was one of the best things I’ve done for myself.

  6. I reconnected with people. Without social media I had to call my friends, my family. We talked on the phone, met for drinks; it felt great to cultivate those relationships that really matter to me.

  7. I realized social media isn’t bad; it’s how we use it. As you read from Day 6 I realized the biggest thing I lost from not having social media was my voice, my audience, and I felt as though I was letting down the people who faithfully followed me, stating how much my honesty, vulnerability, etc has helped them. Social media can be a great way to get your voice out there but it can also cause so many problems (see above!)…which leads me to...

 

Me the morning of day 7. I’ve been waking up refreshed, excited, and happy. Less time spent on social media, especially Instagram, even after only a week, has significantly improved my over all mental health!

Adorable lifestyle blogger Bri Sul in a grey sweater and black skirt. Perfect fall fashion
 

The rules - part 2

I’ve decided the only way to handle my “addiction” is to set rules that I must follow. Chiseled in stone, pen to paper, proclaimed to the world - I have a weird habit of following rules I set forth semi-permanently so here they are for the world to see!

  • No scrolling through my feed

  • No “discover people” page

  • No celebrities or big accounts (except Alex Strohl)

  • No watching stories

  • No following people except friends (I went from 250 to 150 people I follow!)

  • No checking likes on photos

  • No checking the count on my followers

  • No time spent on negativity or defending myself - you send me a rude comment? BYE!

  • Only post to Instagram to share blog posts or revelations - aka long, thoughtful captions

    • Exception: You can post just to post if it’s awesome such as your birthday

  • Use stories sparingly and mostly to promote blog/vlog

  • Only get onto Instagram to post OR respond to comments (goal 3x/week) and definitely not multiple times in one day

  • You can plan your feed if you plan 9 photos in 30 min or less - but also screw the feed #beyourself