You’re Not Alone if Your Social Media Boundaries Never Freakin’ Work

·5 min read
Photo credit: claire brodsky
Photo credit: claire brodsky

E-v-e-r-y-o-n-e is aware that most of what we see on Facebook and Instagram—even the happy, fun stuff—doesn’t necessarily make us feel good. And given the testimony of former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, there’s research to back up that sentiment.

It’s probs fair to say that basically all of us have considered quitting the apps altogether or at the very least setting some healthy boundaries to keep the feeds from eating up all our mental and emotional energy. I mean, skipping one whole day of scrolling past “friends” who question the efficacy of science-backed vaccines or images of peoples’ suspiciously perfect homes, bodies, and lives just sounds therapeutic.

So why do those boundaries often fail? By design, the apps have become integral parts of our lives. They’re where we get invited to things, find out who got engaged, recap who did what over the weekend, and read up on what Lizzo is up to, minute by minute. Plus, with so much of our online identities tied up in Facebook and Instagram profiles, they feel like actual personality traits.

What I’m saying is that, yes, taking a break or setting limits on your social media use is helpful for your brain, but if you can’t follow your own rules, remember that the force you’re up against is way bigger than you.

So we asked Cosmo readers to share the boundaries they set and whether they actually helped (hint: kinda?).

"Sometimes I'm in the app for three hours a day."

“I’ve deleted Instagram hundreds of times maybe. Every couple of weeks, I’m like, 'OK, I’m done with this.' And then something comes up and I go back, or I look at it on a browser tab. It’s like I can’t ever have a quiet moment with my thoughts. I’m constantly looking at whatever’s on Instagram. And then 30 minutes go by and I think, 'I could be reading a book or playing my instruments.' There’s this fear that I’m going to miss out on something. I didn’t have any issues with Instagram until they introduced infinite scroll and Stories, but these new things just keep me in the app even longer. Sometimes, I’m on the app for three hours a day. It’s like, I’m not going to turn into the person I want to be if I’m spending all this time on Instagram.” —Shelby Bohannon, 26

"It feels like a parallel reality that I can't leave."

“I think yesterday I spent two hours on Instagram? It’s grim. I’ve tried the screen time meter that tells you when you've spent an hour on the app and that you’re done for the day. But the only thing that keeps me from overdoing it is deleting the app for extended periods of time. It feels like a parallel reality that I can’t leave. I actually got my current job through Instagram and so did my partner. I can’t envision a future where I’m truly off of it. There’s just so much on Instagram that I need to be plugged in and scrolling through people’s feeds or else I’m actually going to miss something that might add value to my life.” —Mary Bryce, 28

"Going off Instagram gave me time back, but..."

“I quit Instagram and Facebook last year. It was a really tense time with COVID and the election, and I found myself constantly getting into these stupid little arguments online. I felt like it was very bad for my mental health because I kept replaying back things that people had posted that made me angry. It was changing my perception of people. I was also spending a lot of time scrolling through endless photos and stories and, in real life, I was focused on taking pictures instead of experiencing the moment. Going off Instagram gave me time back, but now I feel like I miss the color of my friends’ lives. I miss the random things they do but don’t necessarily tell you about over text. People feel like they have to fill me in now. My friends will be like, 'Ugh, I forgot you don’t have Instagram.'” —Kaitlin Reilly, 29

"If I ever deleted it permanently, I’d have to make more of an effort to reach out to people"

“The last time I tried to leave Instagram was a few months ago. I deleted the app for two months, and it was great, but I ended up redownloading it because I got bored? I kept it all through the pandemic in 2020 because it felt like the only source of connection to other people, even though it continued to make me feel bad. You only see the parts of peoples’ lives that they feel like presenting on social media. It feels like everyone’s having a good time but me, everyone’s living the life I want to live. But it feels too integral to delete. I feel like I’ve been invited to real-life stuff because of Instagram. If I ever deleted it permanently, I’d have to make more of an effort to reach out to people or be more of a plan maker. Maybe the only way is if we all agree to get off of it together?” —Lauren LaRue, 26

"There’s truly only so far a boundary can go."

“I put my IG app on the second page of my home screen so that I can’t just mindlessly tap it every time I unlock my phone. But when my alerts pop up, which is ALL the time, I tap on them anyway without even thinking. Then I spend the rest of the day obsessing over how ugly my apartment is and how I need to buy all this shit to make it look cool like all the people I follow/stalk. Or I obsess about how I need to post more to be like all the other people with jobs like mine. There’s truly only so far a boundary can go before I mindlessly break it.” —Ashley Oerman-Meyer, 31

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