Social media apps like Instagram and Facebook offer a much-coveted rush of instant gratification. Instagram in particular is instantly addictive. However, Instagram is terrible for mental health. Unlike other forms of social media, the approval you get from Instagram is mostly from complete strangers, and on a larger scale. Within a matter of minutes after posting a photo, your phone is full of notifications from strangers approving of your content.
Travel bloggers have Instagram down to an art. The business profile analytics allow you to view the best times to post new photos, related to when most of your followers are online. There are countless articles about the best travel-specific hashtags to use for reaching new followers, and strategies for making it to the top of the Discover page.
When I started blogging, I was in a secret chat group on Instagram, full of travel bloggers, where we would post a daily photo in exchange for likes and comments. I only lasted a couple of months in this group before I had to quit. The sheer amount of time it takes to fully engage with Instagram is so mentally draining. Instagram quickly went from being my favourite form of social media to my least favourite. It’s time consuming, other bloggers constantly play games, and Instagram is terrible for mental health.
Instant gratification is damaging your brain.
Instant gratification and approval from others are the main appeals of social media, whether or not we admit it. Instant gratification is when you do something that gives you immediate pleasure, regardless of the short or long-term consequences. ‘Instagratification’ comes from likes and comments on photos, mostly from complete strangers. The process can become addictive, with the urge to constantly check notifications, and post more and more new content for increased validation.
The problem with instant gratification is that the benefits are so short-lived, leaving you wanting more. It has also been argued that instant gratification decreases patience and impulse control, and increases distraction and the need for constant stimulation (source).
I notice myself compulsively checking ‘likes’ for up to an hour after posting a new photo. I feel intense anxiety in the times when my photo isn’t getting any likes, and wonder whether I am damaging my reputation by uploading sub-par content. It becomes a vicious cycle of obsessively checking my notifications for new updates and feeling high anxiety when there are none. Each small ‘like’ triggers a release of dopamine that leaves me wanting the feeling more.
Instagram is terrible for mental health more than other social media platforms because it’s constantly updating, you get more engagement and more quickly, and both strangers and acquaintances are validating you.
Relying on external validation breeds instability.
Like other forms of social media, Instagram appeals to those who seek external validation. Some might argue that the purpose of the app is to showcase your life, but most people are editing heavily, taking several photos, and only uploading their best content in a bid to impress others. The issue with seeking external validation is that it creates an unstable sense of self.
This article explains how seeking external validation is so harmful because you ‘are much more vulnerable to threat on a day-to-day basis, and constantly require earning the approval of yet another person, winning yet another award, or outdoing yet another competitor.’ This means that you are constantly engaged in seeking external validation because it never feels like enough.
When you depend on others for external validation, any sort of negative reaction throws your sense of self into question. If your Instagram photo doesn’t get very many likes or if you keep losing followers, your brain tells you there is something wrong with you. The issue becomes with yourself, and not questioning whether seeking approval from others is valid and necessary.
Instagram is terrible for mental health because countless ‘social influencers’ constantly follow and un-follow new people just to boost their own numbers. I regularly lose several followers a day from these kinds of influencers. If you struggle to separate your self-worth from this validation, then this can hurt you and damage your self-esteem.
Comparisons will prey on your insecurity.
Instagram is a breeding ground for envy, filled with high quality photos of incredible travel destinations and impossibly beautiful people. Filters are regularly used to make everything brighter, more colourful, and larger than life. When your feed is constantly full of these fantastical images, it’s easy to feel like your life just doesn’t measure up.
This article explores the idea that increased use of social media leads to higher levels of social comparison. They find that higher levels of social comparison are associated with the perception that ‘other people are happier and have better lives’. The article also outlines how youths who actively use social media have lower self-esteem in general and a greater tendency towards depression. These negative trends have more of an impact on women than on men.
I notice myself feeling intense envy towards the travel bloggers that I see on Instagram. Their profiles are full of bright, colourful photos in amazing destinations. They always seem rich and happy, and like their lives are a lot more fulfilling than mine. I feel envious of their travels to places that I’ve never been, and particularly envious of the beautiful women who can garner thousands of followers just by being pretty in pretty places.
When other people are only presenting the very best of themselves on Instagram, it’s easy to feel insecure about your own life. You are fully aware of your own struggles and limitations, but that information is not available for other people. It’s important to stay mindful that Instagram is only showing one half of the story.
Instagram is terrible for mental health, but should you quit it?
Instagram is unavoidable if you are trying to build and promote a business, and is highly addictive for others who use it socially. Trying to completely detox from social media is a challenge that most people are not willing to undertake. It’s more realistic to try to limit your usage of Instagram and remind yourself that it’s not an accurate reflection of reality.
I know that Instagram is terrible for mental health, and so I would love to give it up completely. However, it’s a necessary platform if you are a travel blogger, as it can showcase the visual aspect of your travels and reinforce your brand. I do my best to avoid becoming obsessive by limiting posts to once every day or two, and forcing myself to not check notifications constantly after posting a new photo. I still feel a lot of anxiety and compulsiveness surrounding Instagram, but I try not to let it rule me.
Social media is a fun platform to connect with others and promote your own work. However, it is important to stay in control of your social media, and not let it control you.