Instagram is an online social platform that allows users to share photos and videos with friends. While this can be a fun way to engage with loved ones, an Instagram addiction can occur after prolonged and obsessive use. Over time, this may lead to negative impacts on a person’s self-esteem, relationships, and mental health.
What Is Instagram Addiction?
While there’s nothing wrong with spending time online, habitual use is a well-known symptom of internet addiction. Instagram usage can trigger a psychological dependence in a person when they spend excessive amounts on the app, at the expense of other obligations or relationships. Additionally, someone may also experience withdrawal symptoms after stopping use.
Currently, 40% of Americans report actively using Instagram, at least 70% of which are teenagers or young adults.1 The platform was created as a means of supporting healthy social connections. However, involvement with any online network can increase a person’s risk of developing a social media addiction.
Is Instagram Addiction Real?
An Instagram addiction isn’t a formal diagnosis, rather a generalized term used to describe compulsive or problematic use. Instagram addiction symptoms mirror that of other process or behavioral addictions.
Signs & Symptoms of Instagram Addiction
An Instagram addiction can often be unnoticeable at first, but can worsen over time. Like with many behavioral addictions, defining what constitutes ‘excessive use’ can be challenging. For instance, some use Instagram for work or professional purposes. Regardless of these specifics, setting reasonable limits and knowing the warning signs of addiction are key.
Here are ten potential signs and symptoms of Instagram addiction:
1. Spending Excessive Time On Instagram
More than anything, the frequency of Instagram use can reveal addictive behavior. For example, opening the app first thing in the morning; using it to pass time or delay projects; or using it to calm anxieties may indicate a problem.
2. Making Sure to Document Everything
It can be tempting to record everything you do for social media. However, this mindset can trigger anxiety and insecurity. It also makes it hard to enjoy the present moment.
3. Sacrificing Other Activities or Relationships
You may unintentionally prioritize Instagram over your other responsibilities. For example, you might mindlessly scroll through your feed at the office, despite company policy restricting social media usage. Or, you may miss out on real-life social interactions such as caring for a loved one.
4. Persistent FOMO
The “Fear of Missing Out,” also known as FOMO, is used to describe the insecurity a person feels when they fall behind on staying up to date with everyone’s lives.2 Instagram reinforces this obsession, because most users tend to post only the best parts of their lives.
5. Feeling Negatively About Yourself
FOMO can leave you feeling sad, ashamed, lonely, or embarrassed. Scrolling through your friends’ highlight reels can induce a sense of worthlessness, as you may feel your life isn’t as interesting as others. Furthermore, the compulsion to keep checking these will only reinforce those negative emotions.
6. Deleting Content If It Doesn’t Measure Up
When used appropriately, Instagram can be a great platform for users to share their lives with loved ones. However, if you start to see the amount of “likes” and comments on a post as a competition, you may delete or repost content if it doesn’t measure up. With this approach, instagram becomes less about connection and more about validation.
7. Using Filters On Everything
Many Instagram users apply filters to everything they post. Unfortunately, this perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards and thus reinforces low self-esteem.3 As a result, you may find yourself modifying your content, because you believe you need to be accepted by others.
8. Denying or Hiding Instagram Use
Addiction often coincides with deceit. The lying comes from a place of shame. You may downplay or conceal your Instagram use to avoid others from discovering the truth about the extent of your habits.
9. Feeling Anxious Without Instagram
Anxiety and restlessness represent psychological signs of withdrawal, and they may indicate problematic Instagram use. If you feel anxious when the app crashes or you don’t have access to your account, you may be dealing with an Instagram addiction.
10. Continuing to Use Instagram Despite Wanting to Stop
If you’re struggling to disconnect from Instagram, despite attempts to, this behavior may be a sign of an addiction. This is particularly true if you keep setting limits for usage, only to break them immediately.
What Makes Instagram Addictive?
It’s no secret that social media use impacts mental health. Despite being a relatively new concept, research shows that these platforms most certainly affect a person’s self-esteem and emotional well-being. That said, it’s challenging to ascertain if Instagram can actually cause negative reactions such as low self-esteem or depression. Instead, it appears that the problems may go hand-in-hand. In other words, someone experiencing low self-esteem or loneliness may turn to Instagram to improve their mood. Unfortunately, because a person may be seeking validation in these cases, addiction behavior is more likely to occur.4
Moreover, social media can increase levels of “feel-good” hormones like dopamine in a person’s brain. When someone likes your photo or follows you, you may experience a brief moment of pleasure. Your brain will then crave this burst of happiness, thereby reinforcing addictive behavior.
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16 Tips for How to Break an Instagram Addiction
Overcoming Instagram addiction can be difficult, especially because we live in a society that promotes an online presence. Still, if your Instagram use begins to affect your mental health, changing your habits is worth the effort. This can help dramatically improve how you feel.
Here are 16 tips to consider when addressing an Instagram addiction:
1. Assess Your Use
Determine how often and how long you use Instagram each day–you can review this information in your phone settings. This knowledge provides you with baseline data and offers a helpful starting point for you to track any progress.
2. Consider a Full Detox
It may be challenging to recognize the full impact of Instagram addiction until you’ve completely disconnected from the app. Committing to a week or month without using the app can be eye-opening, and you’ll gain a perspective on what behaviors need to change.
3. Deactivate Instagram
Consider deactivating Instagram during your detox or whenever you want to reduce your use. Disabling your account hides content from your followers, and others won’t be able to see yours until you reactivate. You can disable Instagram for as long as you want.
4. Identify New Limits
If you don’t plan to stop using the app altogether, try setting specific boundaries for future usage. Be realistic. For example, if you use the app three hours a day, cutting time down to just ten minutes may not be feasible. Instead, aim for an appropriate limit and commit to following it for at least two weeks.
5. Identify Alternative Activities
Think about what you can do instead of using Instagram. Write them down and keep the list in a visible location. The goal is to replace online time with more productive, enjoyable activities.
6. Install an Instagram Blocker
Install an app on your digital device that limits your instagram usage to help you stay accountable to your goals.
7. Turn Off Push Notifications
It’s hard to avoid opening Instagram when you receive a notification. Your brain, after all, loves the dopamine hit. Over time, this continued use only perpetuates your addictive behaviors. Try turning off notifications for a while to avoid falling back in the routine of immediately checking your account.
8. Keep Your Phone Somewhere Else
Push yourself to set a specific time every day to avoid using your phone . At first, this concept may seem foreign. For instance, one study found that 1 in 5 people feel naked without their phone5. But, the more comfortable you feel without relying on technology, the less of a hold Instagram will have on your life.
9. Enlist Your Support System
Accountability can help you stay on track when combating an instagram addiction. Consider telling a loved one about your struggle and your desire to change. Let them know exactly how you intend to work on your habits and ask them to help you stay motivated.
10. Avoid Overcompensating on Other Platforms
Don’t replace your Instagram addiction with another bad habit. Limiting time on one platform only to spend more time on another is not going to be beneficial. Remind yourself that all social media platforms share the potential to be addictive. If you notice yourself struggling, it’s time to set new limits.
11. Reward Yourself
The incentive of tangible rewards can help keep you focused. Make your growth a positive experience by celebrating your progress. Think about some things you want and treat yourself to them when you achieve a goal, like buying a new pair of shoes after a successful two week detox.
12. Prioritize Your Relationships
Because Instagram is often a stand-in for social connection, the solution to addiction often lies in your real-life relationships. In other words, prioritize how you socialize with others. Make a genuine effort to reach out and spend time together. This may feel awkward or uncomfortable at first, but keep practicing.
13. Immerse Yourself in Hobbies
You may use Instagram to feel fulfilled in life, but the more you tune into social media, the less engaged you become with the real world. Instead, try to intentionally focus on spending more time and energy on your hobbies. If you don’t have any, think about one that has previously piqued your interest and commit to trying it.
14. Touch Base With Yourself
If you find yourself caught scrolling endlessly, pause and take a break. Gently ask yourself if you are experiencing any stress or tension. Determine what (if any) anxieties are impacting you at the moment. You can continue scrolling, but increasing your mindfulness can help you be more aware of this habit’s role in your life.
15. Keep Reminding Yourself of Your Intentions
Breaking up with Instagram isn’t a punishment, but it might feel that way if you don’t remind yourself of its benefits. Whether you want to spend more time with friends or enjoy better sleep, keep your motives front and center to remain on-course.
16. Delete Your Account
At some point, you may feel ready to delete your account. Of course, it’s possible to create a new account, but this may be the best course of action if you want to stop using Instagram altogether.
When to Get Professional Help
Instagram addiction may be a symptom of another mental health condition. It often coincides with depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. If Instagram continues making you feel poorly about yourself, it may be time to seek therapy.
Therapy may include identifying triggers that cause you distress, and learning healthier ways to cope with these uncomfortable feelings. Additionally, therapy supports better self-care and self-esteem, which can decrease compulsive behaviors. Find a therapist who has experience treating addiction by browsing an online directory.
Instagram addiction can be insidious and is often reinforced within modern society. However, changing your behavior and regaining control of your life is possible. Seeking professional support can make a significant difference in how you feel in the long-term.
For Further Reading
- Social Media and Mental Health – NAMI
- Smartphone Addiction – Help Guide
- A Growing Epidemic – Net Addiction
- The Growing Case for Social Media Addiction – California State University