Instagram is Terrible for Mental Health

Instagram is Terrible for Mental Health

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.

mossy tree stump in a forest

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.

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By | 2018-01-07T15:31:14+00:00 January 7th, 2018|mental health|18 Comments


  1. Joanna January 7, 2018 at 8:15 pm - Reply

    Kate, I am loving this post and I 100% agree with everything you said! I am currently struggling with social media and the need for it for blogging but how it continually make me feel.
    Thanks for putting it into words.

    • Her Travel Therapy January 8, 2018 at 4:42 pm - Reply

      Thank you! I hope we can both find a happy medium with social media and not feel like it controls us.

  2. Byron from _misfit_moves_ January 9, 2018 at 4:51 am - Reply

    I too couldn’t help but feel jealous of the instagram models even though I know intellectually what they’re doing isn’t realistic.

    The best thing I ever did for my instagram use is completely turn notifications off for likes on my photos. I just post once a day and check the likes/comments when I go back to post a new photo the next day. Sometimes I cave and check, but setting boundaries has helped!

    • Her Travel Therapy January 9, 2018 at 4:18 pm - Reply

      I didn’t know you could do this! This is a really smart idea actually, I might turn off my notifications 🙂

  3. Middle Eats January 10, 2018 at 10:59 pm - Reply

    I’ve been reading a lot of similar information recently and it’s really interesting, as a result I’ve started going through the people I follow and unfollowing any accounts that don’t make me feel good or make me feel inadequate. It’s felt so good!

    • Her Travel Therapy January 11, 2018 at 12:18 pm - Reply

      That’s really smart!

  4. Karishma January 11, 2018 at 2:52 am - Reply

    I love Instagram… but yes I’ve switched of my notifications so look at it only 2-3 times a day. But I think it’s the best thing and gives people a great recognition

  5. Tahnee's Blog January 11, 2018 at 3:58 am - Reply

    This is so true! It’s also part of the reason I like to post the real life pics. No makeup feeling crap! I’m real and I want my followers to know that always. Real human with real short comings, problems and less than perfect angles lol xxx

    • Her Travel Therapy January 11, 2018 at 12:18 pm - Reply

      I respect that a lot. We need more accurate representations of how people actually look.

  6. Ashleigh January 11, 2018 at 4:33 am - Reply

    Loved reading this!! You’re absolutely right though, such a sad reality!

  7. Lisa January 11, 2018 at 5:15 am - Reply

    It is so important to remember what the platform is all about. I think your post is an excellent reminder not to get caught up in all the comparison and validation. It may not be a place for everyone, but it definitely has its place:)

  8. Niki January 11, 2018 at 5:23 am - Reply

    I agree with you on this so much. But I have found something that has helped me. I have set myself to check Instagram 3 times a day, for no more than 5 minutes each time (excluding the times I post or do stories). Since I work as a travel blogger full time, it came to a point where it was hectic and exhausting being on top of my phone all day long and I just had to put some boundaries. I do not understand though people who are neither bloggers/influencers nor business owners/brands and update their feed more ofter than I can keep track of.

    • Her Travel Therapy January 11, 2018 at 12:17 pm - Reply

      That’s good that you’ve found a system that works, it takes a lot of self discipline. Yeah I think Instagram is definitely a vanity project for so many people, and feeding into this desire to feel validated by and connected to others. Social media is playing on our base needs and warping them to the extreme.

  9. Kasia Mikolajczak (@KasiaMikola) January 11, 2018 at 6:06 am - Reply

    I totally agree with you. I started doing Instagram seriously for just the past 6 months and it has become an obsession. And not a healthy one if there is one. I agree it is a necessary platform for us bloggers but it’s become such a hassle to grow it. Especially when you’re being followed and immediately unfollowed by big accounts. It’s so frustrating. I pretty much assume when a big account follows me that will unfollow so I just follow them back just in case. I have an app that tells me who unfollowed so I can monitor and most likely unfollow myself. It’s also so unhealthy to constantly compare yourself to others esp. those with amazing professionally taken photos that are edited to death. I have made it one of my goals to not compare myself to others. I need it to keep my sanity. Thanks for sharing this amazing reminder to us.

    • Her Travel Therapy January 11, 2018 at 12:16 pm - Reply

      Yeah I installed that unfollow app briefly and then decided I would rather not know. My follower count seems to never actually grow because people will follow and then unfollow.

  10. abingeworthylife January 11, 2018 at 7:50 am - Reply

    I completely agree and despise the follow/unfollow game! I will follow you if I like your stuff and you follow me if you like mine. I feel like it is high school all over again! Unavoidable though for business purposes!

    • Her Travel Therapy January 11, 2018 at 12:13 pm - Reply

      Yeah it’s so completely frustrating and surely it takes up so much of their time to do, or maybe they hire people to do it for them?

  11. wondersillusion January 11, 2018 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    I love insta for such instant values of our days but totally agree with you Kate … sometimes it’s very disappointing because we expect tons of like and if we don’t get our expectations it’s results to anxiety.. For being best we need to keep struggling.. thanks for this amazing post..

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