What I Learnt from Taking an Instagram Break

Social media is a huge presence in our lives these days, and the more I hear about the dangers of social media for young and vulnerable people, the more I hear of people taking time away from it too. The constant updating, notifications, liking, sharing, and everything else that comes with sharing your life online, can be overwhelming and at times intimidating. Whether you use social media as a simple communication tool, or if it’s part of your business as well, it can become a constant distraction and at times, a source of anxiety. In fact, research shows that the more time you spend on social media, the more likely you are to suffer from mental health issues. Multiple studies have begun to focus on the disturbing association between online social networking and a variety of negative feelings and psychiatric disorders such as low self-esteem, anxiety, feelings of inferiority and increased symptoms of ADHD (source).

I love instagram. I am a hugely visual person and use it for inspiration, amusement, research, and of course to see what my friends are up to around the world. Being a blogger, and now a PT, it’s expected that I share a portion of my life with the wider world, and even use the platform as a marketing tool for new clients. It can become an integral part of everyday life, and not always in a positive way.

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(Credit: Elle Linton)

After a particularly stressful end to 2017, the lead up to Christmas was an anxious time for me. I wasn’t feeling festive, and seeing everyone else’s seemingly happy posts about Christmas plans, romantic getaways and family gatherings filled me with both envy and sadness. Why wasn’t I feeling festive? Why is everyone so happy and I’m not? I’ll freely admit that I got caught up in the endless cycle of scrolling though instagram feeling that my life was rubbish and everyone else’s was great. Now, I know that social media is a tiny snapshot of someone’s life and that it should be taken with a pinch of salt, however, when you’re already in a low mood, it can be hard to find that rational voice in your head.

Feeling low, stressed, and generally overwhelmed, I decided to take a step away from the ‘gram. After a couple of days of feeling a little lost when I opened my phone, I soon enjoyed the break and only returned on January 1st 2018. With a better perspective on things, I now want to share with you what I learned with nearly 3 weeks away from instagram.

1. It’s a Habit That’s Hard to Break

The first thing I noticed when I deleted the app is that whenever I opened my phone, on the bus, tube, when I got home from work etc, the first thing I’d do is go to click on instagram. It’s purely a habit, much like checking the time, and checking my emails, and it took a while to break that. Instead, I’d tap on my favourite podcast, meditation app, or find some music to listen to instead.

2. The Reason I Took Photos Had Changed

I love photography. Since my teenage years I’ve always taken a camera on nights out, birthdays, family events, last days of term, even lazy days in the park as a student. I even took photography as one of my A-Levels.  I love having photographic memories of these events, and have piles of photo albums full of prints. Soon that changed from always having a camera, to always taking photos on my phone. No problem there, but when I deleted instagram, I realised that when I opened the camera on my phone, my thought process was to take a photo for instagram, not to take a photo to savour the memory. My reason for taking photographs had shifted. Over Christmas, I took photos that I wanted to cherish that might never appear on social media. One of my favourites being the three generations of women in my family….ok I did put that one on facebook eventually…but that wasn’t the reason I took it. Not to mention some hilarious photos of me with my nieces. Taking photos should be about the memory, not about the ‘instagram-ability’.

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3. Followers Come and Go

The burning question in your heads if you’re a blogger is probably ‘Did you lose a load of followers?’ – well the simple answer is yes…but not a lot. My following dropped by about 2%, that feels like quite a lot when I’m not a blogger with a huge following in the first place, but I really wasn’t bothered by that. The followers I regularly interact with were still there when I logged back in, my engagement didn’t take too long to return, and I expect most of the loss was from bots unfollowing a seemingly inactive account. Followers will stick around for fresh content from a calmer, less anxious me, and if they didn’t, well I don’t want them following me anyway.

4. Nothing Bad Happened

Taking a break from instagram didn’t ruin my career. I didn’t miss half a dozen events. I didn’t lose all my followers. I didn’t become an online outcast. Nothing bad happened. In fact, I found time and space in my life to meditate, have wonderful conversations with my mum / brothers / friends without the need to check my phone or photograph my Christmas dinner, or ‘insta-story’ our Monopoly game. Not criticising those who do that, AT ALL. This post is not about telling people they should spend less time on instagram. What I want to say is; if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the constant online stimulation, feel that you’re falling into the comparison zone, or simply need to step away from your phone….it’s OK!! If you do take a break, I’d recommend deleting the app to avoid temptation 😉

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(Credit: Elle Linton)

My instagram hiatus was exactly what I needed. Now I’m happy to not post for a day or two, happy to not spend half an hour each morning scrolling through posts in bed, and happy in the knowledge that while social media is a part of my life I enjoy most of the time, it’s also something I can step back from when I need to practice self-care. If you’re thinking about taking a break, give it a go!

Getting Stuck in a Rut

I have been feeling a little burnt out recently. I’ve struggled to find inspiration for blogging, studying, cooking, eating and looking after myself. As a result I’ve been neglecting the blog, getting behind on my studying, either skipping meals or eating rubbish, and feeling guilty about all these things, making me feel even more anxious. Everyone gets stuck in a slump (or a funk, as I like to call it) sometimes, and despite what you see on social media, life isn’t perfect for anyone. The trick is knowing how to get yourself out of a rut, should you find yourself in one.

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A week or two ago I decided to work gently to get out of my funk, and not put pressure on myself to get perfect at everything, all the time. I thought I’d share with you some of the things I’m doing in the coming weeks, to get back on track and feel like myself again!

Blogging

Unless you have deadlines from PRs or brands, it is not the end of the world if you don’t post for a week or two, or more. Be honest, if you’ve given yourself a personal task of 3 or 4 posts a week and you’re stressing out because of it…give yourself a break! Set aside time per week for writing and photographing posts, and work for quality, not quantity. Your readers will stick by you, and they’ll appreciate better content from a non-stressed blogger!

Studying

I’ve recently started studying for my Level 3 Personal Training qualification, and I’m finding it hard to get the balance between work, study and actual relaxation. I toyed with the idea of creating a Bullet Journal to organise my thoughts and my time, but realised I already have so many diary-type things I can use! I recently contributed to the Passion Planner kick-starter, and was sent one of their planners, which I’m going to use instead. I love the fact that the days are broken down into individual hours, which suits my varied work schedule. I’m trying to be creative with the spaces given, taking the time to make the pages colourful, adding a bit of mindfulness into my scheduling!

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Hopefully, if I can see my schedule on paper, it will be easier to stick to, and I can get a better balance!

Food

This has been a big one for me recently, I’ve been so uninspired by food that I’ve either skipped meals (BAD TASH) or been lazy with basic stodge or UberEats. As a result, I’ve been fatigued, achy and have unnecessarily lost a bit of weight. Not good! This is not an easy one to deal with, especially when you’re not a great cook, like me!

First things first, I bought a bunch of my favourite foods that are nutritious and easy to cook to stock up my fridge. Think simple stir fry ingredients, fish, vegetables, meat etc. planning in my head all my favourite easy meals for the days ahead. I’ve never been one for meal planning too far in advance, but I might try that too, writing down each meal I’m planning and on which day.

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Next, I decided to go through my recipe books, get rid of the ones I never cook from, and highlight the nicest looking recipes from those I’m keeping. I’m moving soon (more on that in a minute) so the clear-out is needed anyway. With all these tasty looking recipes marked, all I have to do it pick a day and buy the ingredients.

Finally, with food, I know I have to be gentle. I’m never going to restrict myself to never eating a pizza or take-away again, because that’s unhealthy mentally in its own right, but I’m trying to lose the guilt associated with those treats. Once every two weeks, when I’ve not only taught but taken class as well? That deserves a treat. Every week when I’m simply too lazy to cook? That’s when I can be a bit more strict and make the effort to make something, even if it’s super simple. But Sundays are always for pancakes or waffles…

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Life

Finally, and this is another big one, look at the bigger picture. This can be scary. Is there something else happening that might be affecting the smaller elements of your life? I remember when I was younger and something upset me, my mum would notice if my reaction to the initial situation was too big, and she’d always asks what else was the matter. She was rarely wrong, and invariably I’d end up telling her all about something else that was happening which I’d been trying to hide.

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So when I couldn’t get myself out of my funk, I looked at what else might be bothering me. After a lot of contemplation, more than I can go into here, I decided that I needed to make a big change…and that big change is to move, after 7 years in my current flat. Now, I didn’t come to this decision lightly, I’ve considered moving before but have always found a reason not to (budget, nothing available, too intimidating) but this time something was different. As soon as I started flat hunting and planning a move, I felt so much anticipation and my mood brightened. That increased further when I found a place I loved and got my rental offer accepted. Now I’m moving in less than a week and I couldn’t be more excited. My funk is lifting and I’m happy to be planning not only the new place, but also planning new business ventures and other things for my future.

Getting stuck in a rut can be scary, depressing, worrying and seemingly never-ending. For me to get out of the downhill spiral of negative feeling, I not only had to put more emphasis on the positive things in my life, but I also had to face those negative things and deal with them. Burying your head in the sand, or just ploughing through, might seem like a good solution, but it is only temporary. Change in itself is scary, but it is also cleansing, cathartic, and energising. I am looking forward to my new challenges, new space, new scenery, and getting my groove back, ready for 2017.

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Credit for Photos 1, 5 & 6: Will Patrick