This past fall, I found myself trying to figure out what had gone wrong with time. As far as I could tell, the clock would tick evenly by the second and the drumbeat of minutes would still change on the dial above my microwave. But no matter what I did, I never had enough time, and I couldn’t figure out why.
Almost every day, you’d find me desperately finishing my mascara in the harsh lighting of my office bathroom, being late for my morning meetings. I’d often chow down my lunch as fast as possible—al desko, of course. And I’d rush around every Sunday, trying to vacuum, dust, and tidy up the kitchen before bedtime and a long week of work. But even after all of this, I never felt “enough.”
I couldn’t figure what was going on with my schedule until one night before bed, after my usual quick scroll through Instagram, I looked up at the clock and saw that it was 11:00 p.m., which was wayyyyyy past my bedtime. (Yes, I know I’m a grandma.) What I thought was a “quick scroll” had actually taken 35 minutes of my time. Eek.
After this, I knew something had to change. The next day, I set myself a challenge: 90 days without Instagram. I posted a quick note that I’d be taking a break, took a deep breath, and deleted the app from my phone.
It felt weird. Suddenly, as if I were a little kid who had fallen off her tricycle for the first time, I started crying. It was as if something inside me had cracked wide open.
I didn’t realize it then, but Instagram was more than a time suck. It was a place where I could dive into my insecurities and hide there among the over-saturated photos and dramatic videos. It was where I could look at model-thin women in big floppy hats, soaking up the sun in Provence and put-together moms flawlessly remodeling their kitchens. It was where I could see athletes sharing “an easy” 10-miler at a six-minute pace, and where I could watch couple after couple adopting adorable dogs, having ridiculously cute kids and happily-ever-after weddings.
Instagram had become a place for me to hate myself, one post at a time.
Within minutes of posting my note, I had several texts from concerned friends—some of whom I hadn’t spoken to beyond a few Instagram comments in six months or a year—asking if I was okay? Was I?
After I deleted the app, I felt eerily weightless. There were no more red notifications and no more scrolling. In the beginning, I’d often pick up my phone, realize I couldn’t open the app, and put my phone back down again. I found myself trying to get back into Facebook (and for a desperate moment, LinkedIn) before giving up completely. And ok, I cheated a little with the desktop version—but can you blame me? I’m human.
It took some time, but slowly I stopped needing to find ways around my challenge. Instead, I found myself surprisingly on-time for appointments. I got drinks with friends (no obligatory “cheersing” boomerang needed) and actually forced myself to call them to say hello instead of relying on social media to connect. And I spent a long weekend exploring an adorable small town in Maine without needing to take Insta-ready photos of myself. I felt free.
A month later, I signed up on a whim for a hip-hop dance class in my new town. I wrote some terrible poetry and short stories—just for me. I went for long walks on the trails behind my house, as the light faded after my commute. And instead of picking up my phone whenever I was bored, I picked up a book—I ended up reading a whopping 60 titles in 2019 and joining a book club at my local library. Who knew!
But above it all, I stopped hating myself, one small activity at a time.
Everyone always talks about a being on “healthy diet” when it comes to our food. But quitting Instagram taught me that I needed to focus being on a healthy digital diet, too. When I re-downloaded the app at the end of the 90 days—to some trepidation—I went through all of the countless bloggers, influencers, and brands touting their perfect homes and designer clothes and unfollowed each and every one of them. I put a 15-minute social media timer on my phone (if you’re using an iPhone, it’s in Settings > Time Limits). And I put “call a friend” on my to-do list, so I keep up my habit of connecting with the people I really wanted in my life, in real life.
Now that it’s been 30 days back on the ‘gram, I still find myself sucked in sometimes. There are days I ignore my timer and watch stories for an hour while eating leftover huevos rancheros—and that’s okay.
But quitting Instagram showed me that the connection I craved with my friends was why I signed up for it in the first place — and you don’t need an app for that.