How and Why to Leave Instagram

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Do you need a social media detox? Here’s how to leave Instagram – and why you should think about it.

I started using Instagram in early 2014. Back then, though it had been founded some years before – in October 2010, to be exact – it’s fair to say that it wasn’t nearly as popular as it is now. I used the app to crop and edit my photos and didn’t really think much about “curating” what I was sharing.

Fast forward to the end of 2018, and I’ve organically grown a following of around 1,500. Not that impressive, I know. I don’t have a blue star, but then again, I don’t have an agenda either. Instagram has millions of users who accept payments for plugs and mentions, hashtag #Ad and have to post several times a day to meet the requirements of a contract they’ve signed with a company.

And while I never fit into that crowd, I did use the photo sharing app every day. I posted photos, comments and liked lots of posts.

Every. Single. Day.

Selfies, shopping posts, flat lays, where I stand, what’s on my plate… whether you love fashion, want to share a message, or just have a penchant for tiled floors, Instagram has a hashtag – and a community – for you. It helps many people to feel known, heard, and accepted.

The Instagram app brings people with the same interests together in one place, even if they’ve never met before and live thousands of miles apart. But while there’s a lot of great stuff on Instagram, there’s also a lot of pointlessness, nastiness, and a great deal of comparison and distractions.

Fed up with my post-it-all ways, my husband challenged me to stop using my personal Instagram account. Whether it’s a permanent break or a short detox, here’s why you should too…

A view of a mountain with an iPhone in front of it taking a photo for Instagram.
Know your worth isn’t contingent on your Instagram following.

1. It’s Stopping You from Living Your Best (Real) Life

This might sound farfetched, but I assure you – it isn’t. Have you ever done, seen, or photographed anything, especially #forthegram? If you answered yes, then don’t worry, you aren’t alone.

There are literally thousands of blog posts and articles online about the things you ‘must do’ to use Instagram successfully, and they are actively encouraging this kind of performative behavior. They are also advocating the use – or, more accurately, the overuse – of social media to the exclusion of everything else.

If you’re using Instagram for business, following the online advice makes sense. But for the rest of us – and we are the majority – implementing these techniques or learning to use the photo sharing app as a tool is really unnecessary.

According to current WordStream statistics, there are over one billion active Instagram accounts per day, posting more than 40 billion photos and video content. Half of us follow at least one business profile, and over 60% of companies in the US will use Instagram this year as a method of promotion.

The reason they do so is because they know that they can rely on the repeated exposure and recommendations from ‘influencers’ that Instagram provides.

While businesses want to use their Instagram profile carefully and successfully to represent their brand, the rest of us should never be made to feel that our worth or success is contingent on our use of a social media app or the number of people who follow our Instagram profile. 

We should also live our lives for ourselves and not fall into the trap of planning activities, so we can Instagram them and get attention or social validation.

Though we can all laugh at viral video content of Instagram husbands, the reality is this: if our enjoyment of activities, travel, or day-to-day life is only worth something if we are posting it to Instagram and other social media accounts, or our relationships are only worthwhile if they are helping us to create an online presence… then are we really living our best life?

Different Personas

It’s easy to create a separate and different persona on social media — we hear about the dangers of it happening all of the time — but it’s time we recognize that the very process of doing so stops us from enjoying life, just as it is.

Stepping away from Instagram, even if it’s just for a month or so, can help you reset and refocus your priorities. When you don’t feel the pressure to impress, instruct, or keep up with other people, you can focus on doing the things that you really enjoy — without documenting them.

You can be in the moment, knowing that real life isn’t what is on your phone screen; it’s what is happening right in front of you. 

When you don’t have to share what is happening during your day on your Instagram Story, you can devote your full time and attention to your relationships — without the expectation that the other person cares as much about your photo-perfect, post-making, incessant-scrolling ways as you do.

Distraction and Disconnect

Social media accounts claim to connect us, but they can also do the opposite. When we spend too much worrying about what others are doing and how we compare, then we are only trying to live a life that society expects. We lose track of what makes us happy and are distracted from living our best lives.

And that brings us to our next point—comparisons.

A blonde girl looking at a building through her phone's viewfinder
Is too much comparison stealing your joy?

2. Comparison is the Thief of Joy

The boom in social media — especially Instagram — has opened up a distinct new field for psychologists. Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D., is one such specialist who has written extensively on Why We Worry and the role of social media in feelings of loneliness and anxiety among young people.

Though social media was created to facilitate connections with other people, it seems that what’s happening is the reverse for many people. Rather than feelings of connectedness with old friends and new people, social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram are actually causing loneliness, disconnection, and anxiety.

“Loneliness appears to have a reciprocal relationship with social anxiety, that is, an excessive and unreasonable fear of social situations,” Davey tells us.

“Social anxiety is known to facilitate loneliness, but loneliness also increases social anxiety and feelings of paranoia, and this may represent a cyclical process that is especially active in the young and in our modern times may be mediated by the use of social media.”

Social Media and Loneliness

Loneliness increases as the number of perceived friendships decreases. And sadly, today’s social media mindset focuses as much — if not considerably more — on online friendships as it does on real life ones. 

A study of social isolation in America by Miller McPherson found that, between 1984 and 2005, the mean number of confidants a person had decreased from 2.94 to 2.08. That’s a significant drop in “real friends” at a time when online networks were really just beginning to grow.

In 2019, rather than getting out there to seek real friends, we are increasingly using social media sites like Instagram as a surrogate for connectedness, and as a consequence, our connections grow broader but shallower.

Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are all significant contributors to the friendship networks of young people, and how successful we perceive ourselves to be on social media can have a huge impact on our mental health.

They, writes Davey, “add a new dimension to loneliness and anxiety by offering the young person a way of directly quantifying friendships, viewing the friendship networks of others for comparison, and providing immediate information about social events.”

Social media has given us FOMO — “the fear of missing out” — which adds fuel to the fire of loneliness, anxiety, alienation, and paranoia.

Comparison and Depression

But it isn’t just young people who are feeling a detrimental impact on their mental health as a result of using social media accounts. We all fall victim to what is known as Social Comparison Theory, the human propensity to constantly evaluate ourselves and others “across a variety of domains, such as attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, and success.”

Instagram actively fuels this behavior because it enables us to compare ourselves — our outfits, our living space, our careers, and our diets — with dozens of other people in the very same moment.

We become so curious about what we’re missing out on and what everyone else is doing or looking like that we begin to neglect, or even attack, ourselves in response.

Smiling Depression is the term that has come to be associated with the negative impact of this comparative, social media-driven mentality. It is used to describe people who are depressed but do not outwardly appear to be and is the kind of depression fueled by the constant comparisons we are confronted with when we look at other people’s lives and think that they are better than our own. 

Steve Furtick relates this back directly to Social Comparison Theory when he says: “the reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

Comparison is indeed the thief of joy because it robs us of any security we might feel in who we are and what we do. 

Social media isn’t real and doesn’t show us the whole picture.

When we compare ourselves to the perfectly filtered and heavily edited lives we see on our small screens; we inevitably set ourselves up to fail. But that comparison doesn’t make us happy – and as we are finding out, it doesn’t make us healthy either. In some cases, it can even be a tool for manipulation and deception.

A man alone in a dark room looking at his phone.
Do you need a social media detox?

3. It’s an Addiction

If you asked anyone on the street to define what it means to have an addiction, I think they’d come up with some or all of the following:

  • Powerful cravings
  • Inability to control the use of a specific substance, despite awareness of its harmfulness
  • Obsession and obsessive behavior
  • Secrecy and denial
  • Deteriorating health

We’re so used to thinking about addiction in terms of substances – like drugs and alcohol – that we often fail to see patterns of addictive behavior elsewhere. 

Dr. Davey tells us that using social media actually activates the same areas of the brain as addictive drugs like cocaine, meaning it is pretty inevitable that it, too, can become an addiction for some people.

Feelings of social anxiety and the need for social reassurance are fueled by the use of Instagram and Facebook, which in turn becomes an “addiction [that] poses a threat to physical and psychological well-being and interferes with performance at school or work.”

Spending time away from Instagram or any other form of social media as an act of self-sacrifice or “detoxification” is also a sign of this kind of thinking and can cause further stress and anxiety.

Social Media Stress

study of 1,839 students at the Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania found that the time they spent on Facebook had a strong and significantly negative impact on their overall grade point average (GPA).

Other studies at Regis University in Colorado linked social media-induced stress to physical health problems like respiratory infections. It also concluded that the bigger your social network – i.e., the larger the number of followers and the more engagement is required – the higher the levels of stress it causes.

This suggests that although feelings of social anxiety, paranoia, and loneliness are prevalent among those who feel they are using social media unsuccessfully, those with large social networks equally struggle with higher cortisol levels, chronic stress, burnout, and depression.

If you check in with social media first thing in the morning and last thing at night, you aren’t alone. Unfortunately, this is another sign of addiction — and it goes right alongside the fear of being unable to access or use it.

The immediacy of being able to see what other people are doing, wearing, saying, or eating is one of the things we love most about Instagram, but these constant updates “can turn a mere interest in social networks into an unhealthy, stressful compulsion that not only affects stress levels but leads to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.”

Recent complaints about Instagram have also highlighted just how dangerous it can be for physical and mental health, as the availability of graphic self-harm material on the app was linked closely to the suicide of British teen Molly Russell.

Empowering though it may feel to grow your social network, the very process of doing it is harmful to your physical health, mental well-being, and performance.

A phone screen with a message saying videos will disappear after being viewed
Living your best life means not living on your phone.

With all that being said, now we must really look at how getting an Instagram handle can change our lives, so we can better determine if it is something we should use or something we need to take a step back from for our happiness and health.

Should I Get Instagram?

Deciding whether or not to get Instagram depends on how you plan to use the social media platform. It definitely isn’t necessary to have an Instagram account, and if they do, many of the accounts are private.

So, when asking yourself: should I get Instagram? You should understand that you don’t need social media to interact with the world. If you want to use it for yourself and as a place to store your photos or document some life experiences, then go for it. You always have the option of making the account private—for your eyes only.

But remember, studies have linked Instagram to body image concerns, self-esteem issues, social anxiety, and depression. The Instagram app focuses on the users drive to belong in society, which keeps them scrolling along.

According to Jasmine Fardouly, Ph.D., a psychology researcher that studies social media use, “Everyone’s experience on Instagram is slightly different—and we’re only just starting to get at some of the nuances.”

Is Instagram Worth It?

Is social media the best use of time? The main aim of Instagram is to share images or short video content with others. What attracts people to this platform the most is how attractive it is to a content user who eats up visually stimulating content.

Instagram has evolved since its beginning and offers several ways to consume images or videos, including through Instagram Stories, Guides, Instagram Live, Post Feed, and Reels. So, if you have high-quality content to share, then Instagram may be a worthy platform for you to use.

Let’s look at a few more pros and cons of Instagram to help you decide its worth.

Instagram Pros

As you will see below, if you have a business, Instagram and other social media networks can prove to be very beneficial. A business profile can be used for Instagram marketing for a content creator.

  • Free to Use. As an Instagram user, you don’t have to pay to access the content on this social media platform. Since it is free to use, the data you share on the social network is used to segment and personalize the ads you see on Instagram.
  • Provides Visibility. If you own a business, Instagram and other social media networks are a great way to gain visibility and brand awareness. Instagram offers a business profile option that shows what services or products you offer.
  • Drives Traffic. If you have a website, Instagram is effective for driving traffic. You can add a link to your Instagram profile, but you can’t use clickable links in post descriptions.
  • Good for Advertising. Organic content is always good as it can generate interactions to make your brand more well-known. Instagram offers the power of segmentation when it comes to advertising.
  • Good for Digital Marketing. Visual posts produce 650% more engagement than posts that are text only. A content creator can use this social media platform to engage with their target audience, spread brand awareness, and use Instagram hashtags to reach the right audience.

Instagram Cons

Now, we need to look at more negatives of the platform. These apply to both a content creator and Instagram user.

  • Changing Algorithms. With such a large user base, Instagram reduces its organic reach to put more emphasis on advertising.
  • Negative Behavior. As you grow a following as an Instagram influencer, the bad behavior of other users will become more apparent. You may receive SPAM messages or other inappropriate messages.
  • No Link Posts. Instagram doesn’t allow you to post links to your posts to keep active users on the platform for longer.
  • Fake Followers. You also have to understand that fake followers on Instagram are created to follow other profiles just to boost their numbers. These fake profiles don’t belong to a real person but make it look like the Instagram influencer has more influence than they really do. Legitimate brands try not to use fake followers or partner with companies that do.

How to Take a Break from Instagram

When we spend too much time scrolling, feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression can increase. Sometimes it is essential to take a break from social media to decompress. Learning how to take a break from Instagram is the first step to take.

When taking a break, make sure to turn off all notifications. You can also set time limits. Your break can last for hours, days, or weeks and you will quickly discover how beneficial it is for your health and well-being.

Here are the steps to follow to use Instagram’s new Take a Break Feature:

  1. Open your Instagram app
  2. Click on the three lines in the top right corner
  3. Tap on Your Activity
  4. Select the Time Spent tab found on the top
  5. Now you can turn the Take a Break Feature on and off for the duration of your choosing

With this new feature, you can set your Instagram account to remind you to take breaks. Within the Your Activity menu, you can enable a daily limit and take a break reminders. Currently, Instagram’s Take a Break feature is only available on the iPhone app.

To Temporarily Deactivate Your Instagram Account Using Mobile:

  1. Log into from your mobile browser
  2. Tap your profile picture in the bottom right
  3. Tap Edit Profile
  4. Scroll down and choose Temporarily Deactivate Account in the bottom right corner

The steps to deactivate from a computer are the same, except it will also ask you to select an option from the dropdown menu explaining why you are deactivating your account. It will also have you reenter your password. Click yes or no to confirm.

How to Leave Instagram

If you have tried to take a break or learned that Instagram just isn’t worth it to you, you can leave. Here is how to leave Instagram:

  1. Log into the app
  2. Tap the profile picture in the bottom right
  3. Go to Settings
  4. Tap on Account
  5. Delete Account at the bottom

Just like it did when you deactivated, it will ask why and have you reenter your password to delete the account.

You cannot delete your account from the Instagram app. You must log into your account on your desktop computer or through a mobile browser. After thirty days of your request for account deletion, the account and all the information will be permanently deleted.

You will not be able to retrieve any of it. So, before deleting your account, it is advised that you download a copy of all your information from Instagram.

Leaving Instagram: Final Thoughts

When I quit using Instagram altogether — and I honestly still don’t know how long that will be— I hadn’t done the research for this article yet. But now that I have, I’m glad I put a stop to my scrolling, double-tapping ways. 

Life should be about doing the things that make you happy with the people you love, not about taking photos to share with people you’ve never met and probably never will. 

Your health is more important than your social network, whether you struggle with social anxiety, depression, or just can’t seem to shake that head cold. Switch off, take time to look after yourself, and focus on living your best life. If your Instagram friends don’t understand that – well, don’t worry, because maybe they weren’t really your friends anyway.

It’s time we stopped letting comparisons steal our joy and let screens be our surrogate for real interaction. Put down the phone. The real world is waiting.

Photo of author

Natalie Seale

Natalie Seale is a writer and researcher with an MA, MSc, and PhD in History from the University of Edinburgh. Natalie is an avid reader, a keen traveller, and enjoys cooking and walking with her English Spaniel. Her posts focus on inspiring ideas and tips that help people learn, gro, and inspire others.

8 thoughts on “How and Why to Leave Instagram”

  1. Hey I came across this on my search to stop social media addiction and thanks a bunch, life is what’s happening and not thru any screen. Thank you for reminding me.

  2. It’s been 50 days I left instagram and I’m really feeling freshed up and I can fully concentrate on my studies .I felt into depression but now I’m so happy everyday.

  3. In my opinion this is very great article, I recently gave up Instagram and for few days I felt disconnected from the world, I felt like alone but then I went out alone on walks and cafes

  4. I quit Instagram a couple of months ago and I can already feel a difference in my mental health. I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees social media for what it is.

  5. It’s funny, I just deleted my IG account less than 24 hours ago and feel absolutely nothing! I totally agree that IG fuels social anxiety and loneliness- been there, done that, never going back.
    Thanks for this article, more people should read this and take a long hard look at their social media use.

  6. An insightful, well written article. There is no doubt that Digital Minimalism is going to grow as we become more aware of the impact on our lives of all the ‘free’ tech that is at our fingertips.

  7. If you know what you want from social media, then you won’t have a problem. It’s not just instagram, it’s the whole social media but your post is very helpful

  8. Hi @Natalie
    Thank you so much for sharing this amazing post. Yes, I agree on these true facts. Social media is a kind of virtual world where everything seems to be fake.
    I feel like people are lost. They think if the crowd is after a lie, That can be true.
    I appreciate this.
    Thank you!


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