Firstly, addiction. We all have one. Whether it be cigarettes, alcohol, sugar or even games, we’re all addicted to something. We all have that one thing we really can’t live without, or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. For me, it’s Instagram. Not just Instagram, but social media in general. So, I’ve been “using” for the past decade and I’ve decided to get off the wagon or is it on the wagon??

It’s only when I started tracking my screen time that I realised the extent of how much it had a hold over me. I was a puppet and the strings were attached to being validated by likes on Instagram.

What started out as an innocent hobby/way to show employers I was interested in fashion and blogging quickly matured into a full-blown addiction.

The psychology

Instagram wasn’t just an app. For me, and probably millions of others, it became a lifestyle. From the places I chose to have brunch to the clothes I wore – every decision was based on what would look good as a post. When you have been doing this to yourself for more than a decade, it’s hard to clock all the negative habits you adopt and the conditioning you have been going through. It’s not a new concept. In 1938, B. F Skinner introduced us to operant conditioning by putting pigeons and rats in boxes so he could modify their behaviour using rewards and punishments. The pigeons pecked buttons in order to get food. When the buttons were not providing any food, the pigeons still carried on pecking because they remembered the reward and hoped to get it again.

When we get likes, comments and engagement we are immediately hit with a dopamine rush – giving us a burst of happy hormone. It’s that little hit we need to keep us constantly scrolling, searching, refreshing and yearning for more likes. When we don’t get the likes, we get lumbered with an opposing negative feeling that we are lacking in something. I know this is true because if a picture didn’t get a certain amount of likes within the first few minutes of posting, I would delete the picture, even if I liked the content and put effort into it just because other people weren’t liking it. I wasn’t getting my dopamine hit and I wasn’t getting the validation from my followers, so I decided that it was somehow my fault. I blamed the fact that ‘I wasn’t good enough’ or pretty enough, or funny enough or thin enough to get my daily dose of happy hormone.

Something Bailey Parnell said on her Ted Talk really resonated with me. She referred to how it’s all well and good attaching value to likes and engagement when you are selling a product but why are we creating a social currency made up of likes when it comes to ourselves? Why are we making it so personal?

The dark side of Instagram

I called myself Karishmacookie in an attempt to remain partially anonymous. Mainly because I knew that the posts I would want to create would probably be frowned upon (which they were…by many!) but being on a public account and letting myself be “out there” wasn’t really what my family would have wanted for me. I remember them saying “but people can see you? They are looking at your body, how are you comfortable with that?” Others would say that I’m going through a phase and I would regret dressing the way I have.

(Side note: I’ve never been naked or worn anything crazy, sleeveless clothes, a long crop top and a long skirt is pretty much the extent of it).

I remember a few years ago someone had put my name forward for an arranged marriage and the guy sent a message back saying he knows who I am and that I’m not the kind of girl he would want. When I spoke to Asian boys they would ask me why I wanted to be on Instagram. Why did I want all that male attention and that they wouldn’t want to give other men the satisfaction of having my pictures so accessible to them?

I would even get random ladies at weddings telling me they “loved my posts” but at the same time needed to warn me about my content because they knew my grandmother??

Newsflash: I wasn’t on Instagram for male attention or dates. I was on Instagram because I am a journalist and I was interested in fashion. Over 70% of my followers are female and I used it as a platform to express my love for fashion, fancy breakfasts and promote my sporadic rantings in the form of blog posts. I’ll dress however I damn well please because the only person who should be concerned about my clothing is ME!

I know some people think I’m upset about the fact that I’m 29 and I “can’t find a man”, because I’ve scared away all the respectable Asian men in my community by being “on show” and now no one will marry me. I didn’t ever want to be matched with someone who didn’t respect my freedom of expression, so actually, Instagram has worked well for me as a filtering tool to repel sexist and narrow-minded people. In addition, on the finding a man front…I’m doing absolutely fine don’t worry about me fren.

I genuinely feel like I do suffer from imposter syndrome, where I can sometimes feel like nothing about me is different or interesting, that anyone can do what I do and can probably do it better. I loved blogging but I felt like I was losing myself because I felt like I was trying to be “stylish, cool and on-trend” and not succeeding. I felt like the biggest pretender with make-up, photoshop and photography lighting being the enablers that allowed me to cheat.

I was spending more than 4 hours a day on Instagram which just made me feel bad about myself. I was sucked into this comparison black hole where I was constantly trying to keep up with people who were on a different path than I was. I would see bloggers travelling and staying at the most amazing places, I would see people eating at the most expensive restaurants every day and girls walking about with Chanel bags and it would make my content seem inferior. Even when I tried to buy in to the latest trends like THAT Zara bag everyone just had to have? It became old news in a matter of weeks and then you didn’t really want to wear it again (even though you still liked it) because everyone and their grandma had been hogging it out all over the TL for the past month. I couldn’t keep up with the rat race. It got to a point where I wasn’t focusing on the good things. I was focusing on what I DIDN’T have, how many followers I’d LOST, how many likes I DIDN’T get because of the clothing I couldn’t afford. At the end of the day, even if I did have all the money in the world to keep up, where would it even get me? I’d just be a clone of the next fashion blogger.

I started thinking I was fat and broke and ugly. That I needed surgery, new clothes, a wig? And I’m not alone.“Snapchat dysmorphia“, a term coined by the founder of Escho clinics Tijion Escho, found that patients would bring in pictures of heavily airbrushed celebrities asking for the perfect jaw or tiny noses. Jamila Jamil has always been my icon and recently, with her Iweigh movement, she’s turned into my goddess. The fact that she doesn’t let anyone edit her is amazing and all the body positivity she throws out on the daily is doing wonders for cancelling out the decades of body-shaming. She definitely helped me snap out of being obsessed with how I look online.

Last year, I finally booked my first trip to Paris and the thing I was most excited about was going to the Louvre. I wanted to capture everything. Take pictures for the Instagram feed, post Boomerangs on my story and then I wanted to create a vlog too because “if you didn’t post it, did it even happen?”

I just wish I just stopped to soak that shit in more. What I was excited to see the most was wasted because of all the multi-tasking I didn’t soak up any of the art that I wanted to get lost in. Multi-tasking, even in our everyday lives has a cost. It slows down your productivity, makes you more stressed and drains your brain’s battery. I was in the Louvre trying to do a whole lot of things at once – and that’s my only memory of it now, the feeling of being scattered. There’s something so liberating about leaving your phone at home or in the car and fully immersing yourself in whatever you have planned.

Be honest with yourself, how long can you go without checking your phone? You know when you have a deadline in 5 hours, and you haven’t even started yet. You tell yourself you’ll smash through it, no breaks, no procrastination. But what do you want to do after just ten minutes of focused working? Check your phone. So, you carry on, it’s only been a minute, your body takes over and you mindlessly refresh Twitter because SOMEONE on twitter must have posted an even funnier GoT meme right? Even when your phone is five yards away from you, plugged into a charger, it’s still a distraction. The mere presence of it makes your brain think of it as a potential choice: seems harmless but as I mentioned before, it’s public enemy number one when it comes to procrastination.

You know when you speak to older people and they tell you they remember when there were only black and white TV’s back in the day? I feel like one of them people when I say I remember when Instagram first came out, it was actually fun. You could post your picture and everyone you followed would see it and you would see everyone else’s stuff in chronological order. You wouldn’t miss your best friends new fire selfie because it would come up on your feed. Since the algorithm changed, only a few people actually get to see your stuff when you post in real-time (20% of your followers is it?). It sucks all the life and joy out of the app like a dementor eating your soul. Did you hear about Lush cosmetics deactivating some of their social media accounts because they are “tired of fighting with algorithms, and we do not want to pay to appear in your newsfeed”. As a journalist, I created Instagram so I could grow my feed and show employers that I have an online presence, this basically went to shit when the algorithm went weird.

The good

So yes, I am well-known but I’m well-known enough for recruiters to approach me and offer me my dream job. I got my first full-time job because I showed that I had a good grasp of social media, photography and writing.  I got my first job as a journalist because of my writing ability and because of my knowledge of social media. I got a freelance opportunity with AO.com whilst I was a journalist because I was a blogger who could create engaging written and video content. I got published in massive publications like Cosmo and The Daily Mail because I had the content creation abilities AND an eye for what works and what doesn’t. Did I do a social media test for all these jobs? No, they just looked at my page and knew from that.

Instagram has helped me make friends, find pages which have helped me deal with anxiety, find accounts that have taught me self-love and a lot more. The people who follow me gave me the confidence to speak up about the issues I feel most passionate about. I think what I enjoyed the most is when I posted my blog on speaking about marriage pressures and moving out. I got to speak to many people who had been through the same things as I have, and it made me feel less alone and gave me hope.

How to create and maintain healthy social media habits

These are just some that have helped me, I know there are systems you can use that block your apps so you can only use them for a certain amount of time, but I haven’t needed to do that…yet. If anyone has tried that it would be interesting to see if it works.

This one has helped the most. I’ve learnt to manage my unhealthy social media habits by unfollowing accounts which didn’t make me happy and replacing them with cute bunny and fluffy cat videos, Tan France and Jamila Jamil with her Iweigh movement. I am now one of her army of followers dedicated to calling out the Kardashian rhetoric for what it is. Unrealistic. And that feels kind of empowering- like I’m using Insta for good. Another thing that helped was unfollowing a bunch of people just because I was following too many. Limiting yourself to how many people you follow decreases the amount of noise and scrolling you can do.

I used to get so hung up about likes an engagement. Analysing every photo and caption for hours on end. Fretting about why I only got a certain amount of likes on this picture when I got more on that other picture that was similar. As soon as you let go of everything and post for yourself all of that stress just melts away…well most of it

I bet there isn’t one person reading this who hasn’t forgotten their phone at home. Yes, it’s inconvenient, especially when you use it for maps, to pay for things, your calendar, but on the flipside doesn’t it also feel so liberating? You aren’t at everyone’s beck and call. You are anonymous, nobody knows where you are or how to get hold of you so you can’t be dragged into the drama.

Quitting Instagram definitely freed up my time so I could get back into reading, learning a language and spending more time outdoors. I needed it. I needed to see how it would feel without all the noise and negativity. What I realised is that at the end of the day I DO have full control.

So you stay fresh in your morning routine, eliminating all the stress that comes from the notifications you missed through the night.

Banish the choice your brain is constantly making when you are trying to focus and persuading yourself not to check your phone. This will leave lots of brain room for you to really focus on the task in hand without feeling scattered and foggy.

And that’s all folks. Have you ever thought of quitting Instagram? If so, why? And If you didn’t go through with it, also why?  Maybe you disagree with everything I’ve said, maybe you think otherwise? I’d love to hear and share your thoughts.


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