self-care Wellness Work

What I Learned from Quitting Instagram for 6 Months

March 3, 2020

I’ve been getting some questions recently about when/if I’m coming back to Instagram so I thought it was due time I stop in for a little update. For context, 6 months ago I announced I was taking a break from Instagram. I just looked at the date of my last post and realized it’s been exactly 6 months, although if I’m being honest it feels like 6 days and a 6 years all at once. Nothing and everything has happened in these 6 months. When I decided to take a break I always knew I’d be back but I thought when I returned I’d be some changed woman. I thought I would have gotten the space I needed and made all kinds of breakthroughs. 6 months without Instagram = enlightenment, right?!

Not so much. I have changed in the last 6 months. All of us have. Life is change. I’m not the same person I was with 6 months ago just like I won’t be the same person 6 months from now. Some of this change is indeed a part of my break from Instagram (along with moving, transitioning my business etc…) and some is just the natural progression of life. Nonetheless I’ve still learned a thing or two over the past 6 months and especially about what it means to take a break from everyone’s favorite photo-sharing app.

But first, let’s chat a bit about where my head was at when I decided to leave. For those who follow me it probably seemed like a spur of the moment decision. I’d be back in a month, right?! Not so much. I had been planning a break for at least two months prior to announcing. I started tracking my moods and how Instagram was making me feel and what I discovered was that Instagram was a huge source of my anxiety. I felt most myself and most at ease on the days I wasn’t thinking about it. The pressure of having to show up there for my business created an anxiety cycle I felt like I could never escape. I’d post things and go through the inevitable thoughts/feelings around why certain things performed and others didn’t. Then I’d recoil and not post anything feeling guilty for not being active enough for my business. It felt like a lose-lose situation.

Another big reason for leaving was feeling like my life was being lived for other people. When I started THM in 2013 Instagram was in its nascent stage. Stories didn’t exist and people certainly weren’t posting professionally captured “moments”. My first picture was a grainy, overly filtered shot of my old apartment in Montreal. I never in a million years thought that thousands of people would be or would even want to be watching my daily activities. But that’s where things have gone and I began to realize that no matter what I did I felt like I’d inevitably be looking at my life through the lens of someone else. It wasn’t just about how my life felt to me but about how my life looked through another person’s eyes. Now, as a recovering people-pleaser with codependent tendencies, this is not healthy. I wanted my life to be inspiring to people but also non-threatening. I wanted to be liked…by everyone. There was a time when I was a lot more fearless in this space, but as my audience grew so did my fears of negative feedback and I began to be cautious about what I shared so as not to offend anyone.

I’m a big believer that there is a difference between authenticity and transparency. You do not need to share everything to be authentic. I was beginning to realize that what felt truest to me was sharing a lot less than I used to. But then I’d immediately spiral into a state of “but what value do I offer? People consider me an influencer! I have to be on there. It’s not fair to only give people part of the story”. It took one too many of these spirals for me to finally realize that I couldn’t keep playing this game anymore. I needed a break to figure things out. I needed to live my life without the ‘gram. So while it may have been a surprise to you – there was nothing impulsive about the decision.

*I have to segue for a minute here – after spending 6 months off Instagram I kind of find this whole discussion a little silly. Instagram feels like a big deal when it takes up too much of your life (like it did for me) but when it doesn’t it feels more like “yeah whatever”. But more on that in a bit.*

What I felt when I announced I was taking a break

On the morning of September 3rd, 2019 I posted a picture, a blog post and a short caption and then I deleted the app. I felt a mixture of relief and pride. I was proud of myself for setting a boundary and taking a risk even if I didn’t know its implications. I also felt kind of free. It gave me space to think about other things I was passionate about and zoom out on my business. It let me see clearly what I love about my job and what no longer serves me. I wasn’t bogged down in trying to keep up with the Instagram game and making myself constantly available to other people and meeting their needs.

At the same time I’ll admit that it was a little scary. I’ve gotten used to the immediacy of feedback that Instagram delivers. I was very much altering what you were seeing to avoid negative feedback but I became no stranger to positive feedback. Instagram helped feed my low self-worth. I no longer had the immediacy of people reaching out for advice, thanking me or wanting to connect. I still received this feedback but without the easy access of Instagram these connections felt much more intentional and meaningful. That being said it wasn’t as often and my ego wasn’t loving it. I’m not going to lie, it was rough. But it also forced me to finally come face-to-face with why I require so much validation from other people. I’m not here to tell you I’ve solved it but I definitely became much more aware of it.

Around mid-October I started to feel a little disconnected. While I definitely did not miss sharing my life with strangers, I did miss seeing what my friends were up to. 2 years ago I created a personal account for this very reason. It’s incredibly important to me to have strong and meaningful friendships in my life and I do my very best to show up in person when I can but I’ve lived in 4 different cities over the past 10 years and my friends are spread across the world so I missed getting the occasional update on them. I knew I wasn’t prepared to download the app again so instead I allowed myself to occasionally check my personal Instagram on desktop. This allowed for a nice balance and I finally felt like I could use the app like a normal human and not someone whose business depended on it. Speaking of which, let’s chat about the business implications.

How Leaving Instagram Affected My Business

So I know what some of you may be thinking – that sounds great and all but I could never leave Instagram – my business depends on it! Trust me, I get it. I told myself the exact same story for 7 years. Instagram is crucial to running a digital business. Or so I thought. This has by far been the biggest learning lesson since quitting Instagram. I can, in fact, run a digital business without using Instagram. MIND BLOWN.

Now I’m not going to sugarcoat things for you, my business has required a total overhaul. I’ve always been open about how I make money in this space but for a brief refresher it has primarily been through sponsored content (working with brands to create content), ad revenue (cause we all love ads lol!) and affiliate earnings (I recommend a product and make a small commission from the sale if you buy it). This is a model that has worked well for me because it’s allowed me to create my work and share it with you without ever having to charge you a cent.

In the past sponsored content made up the largest chunk of my income. Influencer marketing is a BIG industry and while I never set out to be an influencer, I kind of fell into the trap. I’ve prided myself on my integrity in my brand relationships (though I’m certainly not perfect) but nevertheless, there is a lot of money passing hands in the influencer space and its hard to turn it down. But here’s the thing, I started THM to work for myself and serve my audience. As the influencer industry has grown I started to spend most of my time feeling like I was working for other people and serving the needs of my clients…not my audience. Most of you never see what happens behind-the-scenes, but trust me when I say it is big business and brands have extremely high expectations of your deliverables and returns. Trying to meet these needs while also fighting for the rights of my audience (without your trust I have nothing!) became exhausting and made me want to not show up here.

Now what does this have to do with Instagram? Over the past year, brands have basically been putting all their influencer marketing budgets into Instagram. While I was still able to occasionally secure a sponsored blog post, most saw it as a bonus on top of an Instagram post or only wanted an Instagram post at all. If my Instagram audience was no longer accessible to these brands they didn’t see much value in working with me. For the first two months I was somewhat in denial about this. For context: the blog has over 10x more monthly visitors than THM’s Instagram. My audience has and likely will always be bigger on the blog than on social media. I spent the first two months thinking that if I could just communicate this to these brands they’d see the light and want to work with me. Not so much. Right now the influencer industry is Instagram-centric. Despite the lowest amount of engagement the platform has ever seen, more and more money is being thrown into the space. I felt bitter about this for some time but then I realized it was time to let it go. Just because I’m over Instagram doesn’t mean everyone else is too.

As my contracts wrapped up and I wasn’t signing new ones a felt a sense of dread and relief. The biggest chunk of my income was disappearing but for the first time in over 5 years I was running the business I wanted to run. I could talk about whatever I wanted to talk about and I wasn’t spending 50% of my time negotiating contracts, sending in drafts, discussing concepts and managing the expectations of my clients. I fell in love with blogging and why I started this space in the first place. It’s funny to me how many people think blogging is dead. Blogging circa 2014 is dead but blogging very much is not dead. Without the pressure of Instagram and brand commitments I was able to see this much more clearly.

The last 4 months have been very interesting for me from a business-perspective. I’ve had to get a lot more stringent with my business spending (I couldn’t keep running a podcast that was costing me more than it was earning) and get clear on exactly what I need to do to keep THM up and running. Three letters: SEO. I’ve spent the last several months revamping old content, creating new content you want to see and getting smart about what you guys are searching for. It’s a balancing act between creating work you want to see and writing posts from the heart and that don’t have much SEO-value (like this one) but I’m getting better at it. Between increased page views from SEO and you guys trusting my product recommendations (unsponsored but with affiliate kickbacks) you have made it possible for me to continue to run this business. I’m not going to lie, my income has been cut roughly 1/3-1/2 of what it used to be but I’m happier and healthier and when it comes to my values and priorities those two take precedence. Although if you guys do want to support me and my work it doesn’t hurt for you to share articles you love with friends and/or buy products I recommend through the links on this site. It means absolutely nothing on here has to be sponsored which is pretty cool!

My advice for anyone wanting to take a long Instagram break

It wouldn’t be a maven post without a little dose of wisdom. If you’re thinking about taking a break from Instagram my advice would be this, DO IT. If it feels like a big deal to take a break, you need a break. I mentioned earlier on in this novel of a post that it feels kind of silly dedicating a whole post to taking an Instagram break and that’s honestly because after you leave you realize that it isn’t such a big deal. Perspective is everything. Once you get outside the Instagram bubble it all seems very warped and strange. A few years ago I remember telling someone that I thought social media was going to be the smoking of our generation…then Juul’s came on the scene but you know when I mean! I think we’re all going to look back on the last few years as this weird social psych experiment taken too far.

Everyone keeps asking what the next big thing will be and while TikTok may be having its hayday, I honestly think the next big thing is going to be a regression back to more authentic, more present human interactions. The internet has been a wonderful thing for us but the amount that it’s permeated our lives has pulled us away from the sense of connection and belonging we feel from being face-t0-face with a real human. Our ability to connect is the highest it’s ever been but so are our rates of loneliness. This is not a coincidence. We all need to find a better balance of human vs. digital connections.

As for my business owners reading, I get and respect why you think you might not be able to take a break but I urge you to set aside some time to evaluate why that is. It’s a story I told myself for a really long time but when I sat down and looked at the numbers and compared them to my values and what’s important to me the answer was actually quite simple: I didn’t need Instagram to run my business. Did it require me to refocus and make sacrifices? Yes. But for me it was worth it. And it may be worth it for you too. Give yourself permission to explore that possibility or at the very least test out taking a break for a few days or weeks.

If you are planning to take a break, DELETE THE APP. You can always re-download it but the temptation will be much less if you don’t have immediate access to it. See this post on technology boundaries for more tips on having a healthy relationship with social media.

So Will I be back?

So after all of this, the question becomes – will I be back? Funny enough, yes, probably. I’ve always been someone who needed to go to the polar opposite extreme before setting a healthier boundary in the middle. Instagram took over too much of my life, my business and my self-worth. I needed to regain my confidence and live without it to remind myself what’s really important to me.

One of the things that has felt missing these past 6 months is feeling like I want to use my voice for change. I feel incredibly grateful to have the platform that I have and it’s important to me that I use it to the greatest good. I get it to some degree on the blog but like I said, it’s a balance between SEO-friendly content and my personal voice. I’m trying to figure out how I’ll navigate all of this but likely The Healthy Maven you’ll see on Instagram will be different from what you see here on the blog. The blog is much more content-focused and IG will be more of my voice. You likely won’t be seeing a lot of my BTS life. I’ve become a lot more comfortable with the degree of privacy I’ve gained from this break but I still plan to bring you snippets of my life that inspire me, bring me joy or add value to your lives. It won’t be my life on display and it won’t be able me encouraging you to buy products or certain brands. I’ve had to accept that sponsored Instagram posts (no matter how lucrative they may be) don’t feel right for me. I might be the only “influencer” on the web who doesn’t want to be paid by brands but hey! you gotta do what works for you.

So…see you soon! Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe in two months. As always – thank you for the support. Truly so grateful for all of you.

Quick question – do you guys like these longer posts? would love to hear from you.

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  • Reply
    Priya Kumar
    August 16, 2021 at 9:44 pm

    This is so inspiring. I had the same idea last night ans I decided to leave instagram.

    Suddenly felt such a wave of relief and it felt like my anxiety just calmed down.

    Thank you for this!

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