Slow Your Scroll—How To Develop A Healthier Relationship With Instagram
It’s Time To Be More Intentional
Instagram has taken the world—and our free time—by storm. Everyone seems to be scrolling these days; scrolling on the couch while the TV is on, scrolling in the kitchen while microwaving leftovers, scrolling in bed morning and night. I’ve seen people scrolling as they cross the street, and as they’re driving. Yikes.
So it comes as no surprise that Instagram is not actually always a healthy companion, especially when we’re sacrificing the companionship of the people we love most. It’s getting in the way of conversations, of meaningful interactions, and snuggling. It doesn’t take research to see that it’s depressing us (although there is research to back that up).
Because of my mindless scrolling habit in recent years, I’ve done it all: taken a break, deleted the app, deleted my whole account. I’ve found my way back to the app each time—but not without good reason. Instagram can be a powerful tool for creativity, for education, and for connection if we use it mindfully. So if you’re looking to reclaim your time and energy, here are some tried-and-true strategies for making the most out of Instagram by using it with a little more intention.
Change Your Access
The easiest, most tangible way to adjust your interaction with the app is to switch up how and when you access it. While there’s not always a “quick fix” for our Instagram impulses, a few simple adjustments can give us a couple more seconds to evaluate why we’re logging on:
Put the app in a folder on your phone. Make it so that you have to tap through a couple of barriers before you can start scrolling.
Don’t allow Instagram to use cellular data. This means that you can only use the app when you’re connected to WiFi—if you’re waiting somewhere, try reading an eBook instead! Change this up in your phone’s system preferences.
Turn off push notifications. This is one of the first things I do with any app I download—I can’t stand the nagging of notifications, and I especially despise those little red bubbles pulling your attention away from real life. Bonus tip: if you can swing it, remove these notifications from your email app too. It’s a game changer.
Mute stories that drain your time. If there’s an Instagrammer you find yourself watching mindlessly multiple times a day, every day, consider muting them. If you’re compelled to find out what they’re up to, set aside intentional time once a day to hop on and watch their stories.
Download an alternative. Once you’ve filed Instagram away in a folder, surround it with other more productive apps. Here are our favorite apps for women, language learning apps for the world traveler, and here are some apps that will help you live more sustainably.
Log out. If you have to log in each time you want to browse, it’ll slow you down again and give you a moment to reconsider why you’re using it. This also challenges your password retention skills—good luck.
Delete the app. This obviously hampers your actual participation in the platform—which is great if you’re trying to get rid of it all together—but you can still scroll on your desktop if you’re desperate. The only downside being that you can’t share from your desktop.
Change Your Approach
As with any habit, it’s important to make a conscious decision about why and how Instagram works in your life. It might sound dramatic, but with how prevalent the app is, it’s essential to not dismiss its role in our daily physical, social, and emotional life.
The first thing you can do when trying to become a more mindful Instagram user is to put some thought into why you really use it. Create a vision for your participation—write it out if you must. Is this a social tool? A journaling platform? A creative outlet? By creating a firm statement of your intentions with the platform, you can begin to challenge your use of the app up against your vision. Is mindlessly scrolling through memes and pet videos really helping you cultivate your creativity?
Now, for the fun part: after you’ve worked to reduce your mindless time spent on Instagram, here’s your permission to actually use the tool as a force for forward movement in your life. That’s right, start participating in the platform more. Here’s how:
Create content that you enjoy creating. Instead of just consuming what other people are putting out into the world, put energy into creating something for yourself. Share what makes you smile, things that inspire you, and create images that energize and invigorate your creative self. Most importantly: do this as an exercise in self care.
Use Instagram as a way to see friends IRL. If you build it, they will ‘gram—host a gathering at your home, your favorite pink wall, or at a nearby park and spend a few hours socializing and shooting photos of one another for your feed. Cultivate relationships with your friends and acquaintances while creating something together.
Stop lurking. See someone post at a restaurant that you’ve been meaning to try? Ask them how it was! Reach out rather than staying silent and wondering. Even if a comment or message is just to tell someone that you love their photo, a little kindness goes a long way and can help you feel more directly connected online. Plus, positive online relationships with people who share your interests can sometimes even manifest into real-life in-person friendships.
Curate who you’re following. I’ve made more of an effort to follow a more diverse group of people—especially women—who I can learn from. Work to follow people who might offer a different worldview or challenge your ideas about spirituality, race, sexuality, politics, feminism—you name it, there are intelligent women speaking boldly about topics we can all use a little more more perspective on.
By being more intentional with your participation in this social network, your incessant scrolling can be replaced by incrementally better things like taking photos, editing them, writing captions, and best of all, actually engaging with your friends and other users through comments and messages.
Change Your Lifestyle
For most of us, there’s a broader issue at play than just having access to an addicting app. Instagram is filling holes in our days that may otherwise be taken up by productivity, creative projects, or even just rest (no, scrolling through instagram while laying in bed at 3PM doesn’t constitute a restful nap).
We’ve turned Instagram (and other time-wasting activities) into the scapegoat when we don’t want to admit what’s really holding us back. So often, what’s holding us back is actually fear: fear of failure, fear of work, fear of success. Mindless social media consumption can be a superficial cover up of complex human emotions and as we make the switch to a more intentional use of these platforms, we also have to learn to say yes in the face of fear.
So once you’ve reclaimed some of your time from the virtual world, here’s how to start saying yes and making the most of your everyday life:
Learn a skill. Whether it’s something related to Instagram—writing, photography, editing, illustrating, etc.—or not, build yourself up. You can even use Instagram as a support instead of a hindrance, since it can be a great tool to help you stay accountable and connect with others on the same journey.
Replace the habit. Go to the library and get that book you’ve been meaning to read and tote it everywhere. Work on reaching for the book instead of your phone when you have a few minutes to spare.
Keep a journal. If you’re looking for a way to document your daily life but can’t seem to kick the IG habit, start a journal instead. Not everything has to be shared publicly, and by giving life to your thoughts and feelings in a notebook, you may not feel the need to do so as much on Insta.
Create boundaries. Set aside phone-free hours, or create a structure of Instagram use that works for you—maybe there are hours, days, or weeks where you take a conscious break from the app. And of course, don’t keep your phone in the bedroom with you so you can avoid those late-night scroll sessions.
Treat your Instagram habit like you would if you were creating an exercise routine, a healthy eating plan, or a meditation habit. Set specific goals, create a plan, celebrate the milestones, and start experiencing the richness of a well-balanced online and offline life.
And if you’re having trouble? Reach out to a friend and work through it together!
Emily Torres is an Editor at The Good Trade and the writer behind Ennaree, a blog dedicated to intentional, colorful living. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the hot yoga studio.