You've been there before: You're scrolling through your Instagram feed when you see your favorite celeb post about their favorite new product — a face serum, vitamins that will make your skin brighter, or a specialty food service. You can't help but want to be like the stars, but are the products worth it? In Elite Daily's I Tried series, we put it all to the test. We're trying those products as well as celebrities' health and wellness tips, recipes, and life hacks. We'll do the leg work and tell you what living like your fave star is really like.
The best way to describe Selena Gomez's relationship status with Instagram would be: It's complicated. From 2016 to 2018, Gomez reigned supreme as the most-followed person on the platform and she's still considered social media royalty to this day. But Gomez is also vocal about her mixed feelings toward IG, and she even takes breaks from the app from time to time for her mental health. As a longtime follower of the pop star, I tried deleting Instagram just like Selena Gomez to see if it would have a positive impact on my mental well-being, too.
Gomez has spoken candidly about mental health numerous times, including her experiences with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, as well as her recent bipolar disorder diagnosis. For years, she's also talked about how her social media habits affect her mental health.
In a 2017 interview with W Magazine, Gomez revealed she made a habit of deleting the app off her phone "at least once a week," primarily due to hurtful comments from trolls. But those brief yet frequent cleanses were seemingly not enough for Gomez, because on Sept. 23, 2018, she announced via IG that she was taking a longer social media break than usual. That hiatus lasted nearly four months.
Since then, Gomez continues to go quiet on the 'gram for extended stretches of time. These days, Gomez admits she doesn't have the Instagram app on her phone, so she can only check it from another device.
I obvi don't have millions of followers like Gomez, but she and I do have a few things in common — like the fact that we both have conflicted feelings about Instagram. As a singer-songwriter myself, I also use the app to promote my work, but, also like Gomez, I "always end up feeling like sh*t" after spending extended periods of time on it.
So, I decided to put Gomez's strategy to the test by deleting the Instagram app off my phone. Initially, I only planned for my experiment to last a week, but after experiencing the effects of being off the 'gram, I ended up extending my much-needed Insta break for a lot longer. Here's what I learned:
My anxiety improved.
Shortly before I began this experiment, I started noticing that, regardless of whether I scrolled through IG for 10 minutes or an hour, I often experienced anxiety. I felt anxious about not posting anything in a while, anxious about whether to share a particular image, or anxious about how much time I'd wasted on the app.
It turns out, I'm not the only one who feels this way. A 2019 study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture examined the effects of social media on 129 women between the ages of 18 and 35 and found that the more time people reported spending on Instagram, the more anxious and depressed they felt.
When I deleted Instagram, I actually had a slight spike in anxiety on the first day or two without it. What if I missed something important? But then, within a few days, that FOMO subsided. As they say, ignorance is bliss — and not always being in the loop about what everyone was up to meant there was nothing to feel left out from.
I stopped comparing myself to other people so much.
During a June 2019 appearance on Live with Kelly and Ryan, Gomez said she often found herself "fixating on all these comments" on IG. "It was affecting me," she told the co-hosts. "It would make me depressed. It would make me feel not good about myself and look at my body differently."
Fortunately, I don't have to deal with hundreds of hurtful comments from trolls about my physical appearance, but I'm not immune to the ways IG can sabotage body image. Instagram is basically an endless scroll of images that have been filtered, expertly angled, or even Photoshopped, and it's hard not to compare myself to these unrealistic pics.
Deleting IG significantly decreased my exposure to these kinds of images and, as a result, I noticed I was having fewer judgmental thoughts about my exercise routines, eating habits, and physical appearance. Given that I struggled with an eating disorder in my early 20s, this was one of the more significant positive effects of getting rid of the app.
Further, I often find myself comparing my social media stats with those of others musicians, which makes it difficult for me to feel proud of my own work. Eliminating the app from my phone meant I had to measure my success in other ways — for example, how much songwriting I'd done in a day.
Without the constant reminders of everyone else's career achievements, relationship milestones, and enviable vacations, I was able to focus my attention on figuring out what could make my life feel more fulfilling.
Bottom line? I needed to lose IG to love me.
I had more time for the things that make me happy.
Anyone who's fallen down the rabbit hole of scrolling through memes, creeping on an ex, or discovering a new hashtag knows IG can be a major time suck. Gomez gets it.
“It’s what I woke up to and went to sleep to," she explained in a March 2017 interview with Vogue.
I, too, have been alarmed at my own IG dependency. Before my cleanse, I would often mindlessly open the app on a walk to the grocery store, while waiting in line for my coffee, or even in a brief moment of solitude while my partner went to the bathroom during a dinner date.
These Instagram compulsions were especially apparent during the first couple days of this experiment, when I would go looking for the app, only to realize it wasn't on my phone. However, this impulse slowly decreased and, by the fourth day, I unlearned this habit. As a result, I suddenly had all this spare time for other things. During instances when I'd normally be scrolling through Instagram, I read a new book, played piano, and reached out to long-lost college friends. The best part? All of these replacement activities gave me a way more powerful mood boost than using Instagram would have.
I refocused on what was important to me.
While Gomez acknowledged that Instagram is an "incredible platform" in a February 2018 interview with Harper's Bazaar, she also said it gives young people "a false representation of what’s important." And TBH, I felt that.
Once I was Instagram-free for about a full week, I stopped thinking about how to make it look like I was living my best life. Instead, I started figuring out what my best life actually looked like. I spent a lot of time meditating, rethinking how I communicate with my loved ones, and writing meaningful music.
Finally, I rejoined with a new perspective — and a new plan.
Before I knew it, my seven-day challenge had turned into a whopping 80 days of being IG-free. Ultimately, it was my musical career that inspired me to finally re-download Instagram. Shortly before this experiment began, I did a professional photoshoot specifically to promote my music — and I'll be real, I had been dying to post those pics on IG. So, I got the app back and shared one of my fun new shots. But you know what I did right after I posted it? I immediately deleted the app again. Being able to share a life update with my followers definitely gave me a rush, but I didn't want to get dependent on that fleeting feeling — nor did I want to obsess over "like" counts or start thoughtlessly scrolling through my feed again.
Like Gomez, my relationship with Insta definitely isn't over for good, but it's one I'll carefully monitor going forward. In fact, since re-deleting the app, I've also set time limits for myself on other social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, so that I can only use them for 20 minutes each day. As Gomez sings in "A Sweeter Place," I finally "felt what real is like" — and there's no going back now.
Sherlock, M., & Wagstaff, D. L. (2019). Exploring the relationship between frequency of Instagram use, exposure to idealized images, and psychological well-being in women. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 8(4), 482-490. doi:10.1037/ppm0000182