How I Learned To Nurture a Healthier Relationship with Instagram

Because deleting the app never really worked for me.
Publish date:
January 6, 2014
social media, photos on the internet, online presence

There's no shortage of articles that detail the ways in which Instagram makes us feel badly about ourselves. (You can read them here, here, and here.) "Instagram envy," as it's been dubbed, is caused by bearing witness to all the fun people are having without you, which then offsets major FOMO (fear of missing out) and/or jealousy.

It’s true—peeking into someone’s carefully curated photographic life can spark feelings of inadequacy, especially if you’re doing the peeking in your pajamas while sitting in front of the TV and eating straight from a box of pizza on a Saturday night. But Instagram provides this linear experience only if you allow it.

Having had my share of envious Insta moments, I recently made a conscious decision to not let myself get sucked into a black hole of self-pity every time someone posts a shot of her fabulous night out. By changing my perspective, I’ve subsequently changed my experience. What’s more, I’ve turned the app into a personal motivator of sorts.

For instance, when I’m groggily waking up and finalizing the decision to ditch my morning run because pancakes, someone will post a photo of the sunrise they caught on their 6 a.m. jog, thereby inspiring me to get up and out. I also credit Instagram with getting me into green smoothies, which I now drink daily after seeing them popularized and made more accessible by the health-conscious foodies who I follow. As a result, my skin is clear and hydrated, and I feel more energized than ever.

Then there are the milestones—engagements, pregnancies, new jobs, new apartments, etc. More than the swanky dinner to which you weren’t invited, these developments in particular have a greater ability to inspire jealousy because they’re actually life-changing and meaningful. But Instagram has created a culture of constant congratulation, which, instead of making me feel less-than, helps me find joy in other people’s happiness. Again, it’s a conscious decision—choosing to share in fellow Instagrammers’ good fortune rather than wallowing in the fact that it isn’t explicitly my own.

This is not to say that it’s easy to adopt this way of thinking, especially if you have unhealthy Instagram practices already (like following people you dislike, better known as the hate-follow). Here are some guidelines I’ve set for myself that have helped me take more control over my Insta experience, thereby making it a more positive one.

1. Only follow people you like, or those who inspire you.

Sticking to this rule is key. What’s there to make you feel badly when the people you follow are folks you genuinely care about and want to see happy anyway? Or when they’re Beyoncé? The issues and counter-productive comparisons come when you tap into the feeds that you have no business tapping into, like your arch nemesis from college.

2. Visit the “following” page sparingly.

The problem with the “following” tab is that you’ll inevitably see photos of people you can’t stand—the ones you’ve tried to avoid by adhering to rule #1. Nothing gets my eyes rolling harder than when three of my friends have all liked that one photo I didn’t want to see. And then, of course, I have to click it. There’s also something weird about monitoring people’s activity (not pertaining to their own photos) on an app. Did I really need to know that you fancy bare booty stripper accounts? Nope. Didn’t. Or that you think homophobic/sexist/racist memes are hilarious? (Actually I did need to know that, so peace and delete.)

3. Place a limit on the amount of times you check the app daily.

Sometimes it’s hard to not check Instagram 17 times a day—especially after you’ve posted a photo and want to see all your likes as they come in. But as a reformed compulsive checker, I’ve found that limiting myself to 2-3 checks per day has drastically decreased my reliance on the app. Once you’ve reached your daily limit and you get another urge to click on that brown camera, pick up a book. 

4. Don’t post pictures solely to get likes. Instead, use Insta to create a photo journal of your life.

That means your page shouldn’t be chock full of selfies. I love looking back through my feed at vacations I’ve been on, dinners I’ve had with friends, recipes I’ve tried, music festivals I’ve attended, etc. I wouldn’t have that experience if every other photo were of me pouting into the camera claiming, “I woke up like dis.”

You should also be comfortable posting a pic regardless if you think it’ll garner 100 likes or none—as long as it’s important to you. I know not everyone will be interested in how cute I think my dog is, but if he’s looking particularly adorable in Lo-Fi one day, then he’s going up.

Happy Instagramming! What are some of your tips for creating a healthier Instagram experience?