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I developed an Instagram addiction as a new mom. I now delete and redownload the app every day to set boundaries.

Annie Atherton   

I developed an Instagram addiction as a new mom. I now delete and redownload the app every day to set boundaries.
  • After having a child, I began using Instagram compulsively as a diversion and quick form of escape.
  • While I still like Instagram it was starting to interfere with my work and parenting.

I knew I'd crossed a line when I started arguing with random strangers in Instagram's comments sections.

"You should…not do that," my husband warned me. "Your real name is attached to your account. You never know when you're going to piss off the wrong person."

Right, I nodded, then surreptitiously continued typing.

But eventually, I realized I was addicted to social media and made changes to set up boundaries around the app.

After having a child, Instagram became an addiction

During the long, slow days of early parenthood, I checked the app compulsively. Like someone who absentmindedly bites her nails or reaches for a cigarette, I would open the app without even thinking. The motion became automatic, reflexive. I often felt an internal tug-of-war between wanting to savor every sweet moment and wanting to dissociate from boredom.

Sitting for hours on end with a sleeping infant, the phone was always there — ready to fill my brain with junk and quick hits of dopamine.

As our child grew, our time together became more eventful. But anyone who's spent prolonged time with a toddler knows that their idea of fun might be reading the same five-page book 30 times or meticulously moving toys from one bin to another. Ten minutes can feel like an hour. Thus, the temptation to float away on the virtual river of inane distraction beckons.

Instagram was hindering my ability to work and be present for my family

My relationship with Instagram had been growing increasingly unhealthy for years. Somewhere between having my first child and spending too much time at home during the pandemic, my compulsion to tap that sherbet-colored icon and open the floodgates of distraction had grown stronger.

But with the escalating violence in Gaza, my feed was filled with news and opinions about what was going on. Opening the app was like turning on a fire hose of secondhand trauma, but I couldn't look away. Meanwhile, this deeply disturbing content would come alongside cheerful recipe ideas, clothing ads, and memes about husbands spending too much time in the bathroom (#relatable).

It felt like an insane, frenetic way to consume information, and it was seriously impacting both my focus at work and my ability to be present for my child. Still, I didn't want to stop using the app entirely.

Eventually, I came to a compromise

I now delete Instagram every morning and then reinstall it at night. In the best case, I hold out until my toddler has gone to bed. That way, I can quickly catch up on the few posts my actual friends have shared and feel somewhat in the loop with what's trending online.

Initially, I'd tried limiting my app use by setting time limits. On iPhones, a section within "Settings" called "Screen Time" allows you to set time limits for any app. The problem: It was way too easy for me to get past the setting — you simply need to enter your password. Even when I delete the app, it's still pretty easy to reinstall, taking all but 10 seconds. But that slight additional friction is key.

So far, I feel way less distracted and anxious during the day. I still consume plenty of news, but I now get it through actual news outlets — often in the form of email newsletters and podcasts, which feel more focused and compartmentalized.

Still, I like using Instagram

Would I be better off just deleting my account altogether? Maybe. Multiple studies have shown that social media is generally bad for mental health.

Yet, there's a lot I still like about Instagram. I like being loosely in touch with people I never see in person, like old coworkers and classmates. For some reason, it feels normal to DM someone you haven't talked to in five years and would never directly text. I like swapping dumb videos with friends. For me, it's not a matter of Instagram being definitively "good" or "bad" so much as it is a moderation issue.

It wasn't always like this. It bears stating that Instagram has changed dramatically in the 12 years since I've had it. My feed and Stories transformed from a shared photo album among friends to a crazed mishmash of memes, news, and AI-generated images. Plus, the app keeps rolling out new bells and whistles, and scrolling has become both less enjoyable and, somehow, more addicting.

Perhaps there will come a day when I all but forget about Instagram. Until then, having more boundaries in place has worked wonders for my sanity and well-being.

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