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First dumped, then liberated, Sharon Stephenson learns how to cope with an Instagram breakup.

LDon’t get me wrong, there are good things about social media, such as being able to keep in touch with friends around the world SARAH NASH

ike so many love affairs, it start ed w ith a roar an de nded with angr y ex pletives. I was late to the Instagram party, but fell har df or those shiny square so f perfection. So hard I was in dange ro f becoming one of the estimated 88% of “over-users” who spend more than an hour each day mindlessly scrolling through their phones.

As with any relationship, ther ewe re niggles, especially the time I wasted, suck ed d own endless rabbit hole so f othe rp eople’s holidays, cute puppies an dw hat someone I barely kn ew w as having for breakfast. Also triggering: feelings of inadequacy, jealousy and that slightly icky sense of seeking validation from strangers.

I’m ashamed to a dmit it, but I wasn’t immune to a spot of #humblebragging (aka showing off) wheneve rI posted something special.

To b e honest, I’d been falling out of lov ew ith Instagram f or a while, tired of its ever-changing algorithms ,w hich meant I hardl ye ve r sa w the content I wanted.

In th ee nd, th e de cision was take nouto f my hands: two months ago my account was hacked and numerous attempts to retrieve it failed.

Afte r th e initial frustration at losing fiv e ye ars worth of memories, Ir ealised that tech giant Meta had done me a favour b yd umping me. And that severing ties with what has been called th ew orst social media channel f or m ental health wasn’t such a bad thing.

In a poll of around 1500 social media users, the UK’s Royal Societ yf or Public Health found that Instagram made them feel more inadequate about the ir o wn lives, jealous of others and contributed to high leve ls o f anxiety, depression, bullying and Fomo (th e fe ar o f missing out).

Dr Alex Jones, as enior lecture rinps ychology at Swansea University, took it one step further. “Social media apps such as Instagram are correlat ed w ith narcissism and body image, and not alway sinagood way because greater usage can b ede trimental to self perception, ”h e told Dazed magazine.

“Thos ew ho spend considerable time on these apps tend tob e more narcissistic where asalo we ruse of, or total lack of, social media is associat ed w ith a certain kind of personalit yw ho is probably less vain and less narcissistic.”

Sarah Nash nods whe nIr ead her this quote.

“Don’t ge tm ew rong, there are good things about social media, such as being able tok eep in touch with friends around th ew orld, ”sa ys Nash, 47, aPR/ founde ro fw omen’s wellness coaching business The Me Spot.

“But platforms like Instagram se tus ers up for othe rstot ell them that they look good, they’r ed oing well in life, their kid s ar e cleve rorth eir car is cool. If peopl ed on’t get that external gratification, that can lead to a spiral of anxiety an dde pression. Our sel fw orth shouldn’t be based on how many like sor comments we get.”

Nash was an early adopte ro f Facebook as a way of keeping in touch with friend s sh e had ma de d uring six years in London.

It took her longer to join Instagram but by the nshe had become more attuned to th ed ownside of social media.

“What I don’t like isp eople only showing the good bits of their lives ,w hich isn’t a true representation. It also worrie sm e that some gain a following for superficial reasons.”

Two years ago ,w hil ew atching Netflix’s The Social Dilemma documentary, the mothe ro fW ill, 11, Isabelle, 9, and tw ost ep-childre nha d a light-bulb moment.

“I wanted tob e in control o fw hatIl et into my life .I w asn ever a big poster on Instagram and Facebook, more of a vo yeur, but I deleted both apps from my phone.”

It was liberating both f orh er time and mental health. “I used to scroll through Instagram and without realising, an hour had gone by .In ever felt like I’d spent that hour well and often felt worse at the end .No w I have time to do things like read a book or actually connect with someon ef ace-to-fac e, w hich fills my cup far more than an hour spent with strangers on my phone.”

When Nash started The Me Spot in September sh ew asr eluctant to re-join Instagram, but business advisers told he rit would help build the brand.

“So I’ve reluctantly gone back on for work purposes only and I’m very careful about how Ius e it. I hate being at th ew him of an algorithm and at the mercy of a super-wealthy individual [Mark Zuckerberg, owne ro f Facebook and Instagram] so my strategy is to grow m ye mail list to create an etwork of clients I can engag ew ith via that medium rather than via Instagram.”

Swimming against the tide

When Tyler Harris, whose name has been changed for privacy, heard that one of his sporting idols had quit social media, he knew he’d done the right thing.

In December Crusaders rugby player Ethan Blackadder, 27, revealed he’d given up all social media in a bid to spend less time on his phone. “It means you don’t have to see anything, any noise, anything that’s going up into the old satellite,” he told 1 News, about why he deleted his accounts after high school.

“I thought that was pretty cool because Ethan must be one of the few professional athletes who doesn’t have a social media presence,” says Harris, 16. “I like that he’s swimming against the tide.”

The year 12 student was initially excited to join Instagram and Twitter a few years ago. “Everyone was on it and I thought it would be a good way to connect with the world from little old Wellington.”

But the excitement soon faded when Harris realised how unhealthy his obsession had become. “If I didn’t get more views and likes than my mates I’d get really anxious and unhappy.” Ditto the time he and his friends spent curating content. “It felt like an unpaid job. Six months ago I went, why am I doing this to myself?”

Harris’ decision to quit both TikTok and Instagram attracted considerable flak from friends, which is why he didn’t want his real name used in this story.

“I’ve been super bullied because people hate anyone going against the grain. They don’t have the guts to break out of social media hell, even though many of them want to, so they turn on anyone who does.”

Would Harris ever reactivate his accounts? “Probably not. I like having more time and not having to see people yelling ‘look at me, look at me’ all the time!”

Addicted to dopamine

If I didn’t get more views and likes than my mates I’d get really anxious and unhappy. Ditto the time he and his friends spent curating content. It felt like an unpaid job. Six months ago I went, why am I doing this to myself. TYLER HARRIS

Anna Dean was such an enthusiastic social media user that four years ago she was diagnosed with repetitive strain injury (RSI) in both hands, an injury attributed to scrolling through her phone.

Back then the brand/business consultant was managing social media accounts for up to 25 clients.

“Posting and updating these accounts was the last thing I thought of at night and the first thing in the morning, says Dean, 45. “I’d often spend six or seven hours on my phone each day, addicted to the dopamine hit, which has been compared to hitting the same brain receptors as cocaine or heroin.”

Now based in Tākaka, Dean was an early adopter of social media personally and professionally, from Tumblr (where she posted 18,000 images) to Myspace and later Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (she has never been a fan of TikTok).

“Social media platforms used to be all about the power of the image so I used them like a visual diary of creatives, artists and photographers. But over the years they have changed, so now the content is more about screenshotted tweets and memes, which isn’t inspiring.”

Dean has also fallen out of love with the aggressive and nasty comments posts increasingly attract. “Social media is a much less pleasant place to be. It’s definitely harder to find meaningful content.”

While the former broadcaster applauds movements supported by social media such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, books such as Johann Hari’s Stolen Focus and the American-based LOG OFF movement have encouraged her to take a social media sabbatical.

“I can’t go off it forever because I need it for work. But I’m looking forward to rewiring my brain and finding the joy of connection in conversing with people instead of being glued to my phone. Lots of people seem to be doing the same at the moment, which is great.”





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