Photo by Beth Wall

Perhaps you, like many of my friends, have declared an Instagram hiatus, only to reactivate an account hours, days, or weeks later. Recently, I expressed my views on engaging with Instagram mindfully to a friend who had managed a year-long hiatus and was, at the time, writing an anti-Instagram manifesto. She’s now back on the ‘gram – the justification being to challenge herself to use it mindfully, in the ways I’d suggested. Well, I’m challenging you to do the same– but what would it look like to take this challenge?

Focus on Following
For me, I focus most on who I follow and how I define my relationship to them. I have a rule never to follow more than 130 people (still quite a large number, considering I could never have that many friends IRL!). Those that make the cut are my closest or oldest friends, my family, those who I circumstantially can’t keep in touch offline with, and people whose lives I find inspiring on spiritual or creative levels. The people I went to school with but wish I didn’t, those I only talk to at parties, co-workers who I don’t socialize with beyond the office, and any commercially interested account, are not only unnecessary and potentially toxic followings, but they also fill my feed with posts that prevent me from seeing the posts of those I actually care about seeing.

It can be daunting at first to unfollow people, especially if they’re within your regular social circle. What you have to realize is that the expectation that you should follow someone, precisely because they follow you, is a social construction self-generated by fear of going against it. You are under no real obligation to follow anybody, and in fact the fewer people you follow, the more people will understand when you don’t follow them back. It’s not like you’re cutting ties forever– in most cases, you’ll have them on Facebook or another social media platform (and if you don’t, well, you might want to consider why you’re even following them on Instagram).

Focus on Feeling
Using Instagram mindfully is also about how you engage with the content presented to you. There are lots of reasons why scrolling your feed, even with a limited following, might create negative feelings: perhaps you see your ex is with somebody else, two friends are having lunch without you, or somebody’s flexing a lifestyle or a look that you covet. If you took a moment to pause, you’d realize that what makes you upset about these scenarios is not the actions of others but their relation to yourself: your ex moving on (from you), your friends’ friendship (that excludes you), or somebody’s enjoyment of something (that you do or cannot have). Yet, these experiences are inevitable occurrences in life; Instagram naturally brings them to the surface.

To engage more mindfully with Instagram, then, does not mean you shouldn’t be upset by what you experience– part of mindfulness is accepting this process– but only that you should be more conscious of why you’re feeling that way. This might alleviate any negative feelings (perhaps all you needed was a dose of rationality), or at least allow you to recognize your feelings for what they indeed are (the first step to processing them entirely). It might even change your feelings into positive ones: perhaps you realize how happy you are for somebody else. If, after reflecting on it, you still feel as if you prefer not to see specific posts (or even posts by certain people), then you can always use Instagram ‘mute’ feature, which will hide someone’s posts from your feed without requiring you to unfollow them.

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