Reevaluating Your Relationship With Instagram When You Live With Chronic Illness

We’ve all been there. You’re lying in bed about to drift off to sleep when you decide to take one last peek at the ‘gram. You let out a big yawn, rub your tired eyes and look at the time: it’s been two whole hours!

Does this scenario sound familiar? More importantly, how does it make you feel? For many, traveling through an Instagram wormhole can result in emotional jetlag. Comparing your life to the unrealistically pristine homes, impeccable outfits and exciting adventures of Instagram can manifest a false sense of inadequacy and loneliness. People living with chronic disease, chronic pain, mental illness or disability are already at risk for feelings of social isolation, so it’s especially important to manage potential triggers like social media. And, according to a recent survey, Instagram is the worst network for mental health and well-being.

But before you delete your account, consider the platform’s opportunities for self-expression, connection and inspiration. Hashtags like #invisibleillness, #wheelchairlife and #getyourbellyout demonstrate just how influential Instagram can be for various movements and advocacy initiatives. Instagram leverages the show-rather-than-tell power of images to break barriers and bring people together. For these reasons and more, it can be an incredible tool for fostering both personal identity and a sense of community.

So how do you break the “compare and despair” cycle and turn Instagram into a happy and healthy place? Here are three simple steps to get you started:

1. Set a daily limit. Like most aspects of life, moderation is key. Instagram can be an inspiring place where communities of like-minded individuals lift each other up with positivity and strength. But it can also be a serious time-suck.

2. Ditch the downers. That’s right. You officially have permission to unfollow absolutely anyone (not that you needed permission in the first place, but whatever helps!). Don’t let guilt stop you. Sometimes the more difficult acts of self-care are the most rewarding. If you’re really concerned about causing drama, you can always start fresh with a brand new account. No unfollows necessary.

3. Follow the feels. What makes you happy? OK, that’s a tough question. To know thyself is a journey and understanding what makes you truly happy is a lifelong endeavor. But in terms of Instagram, it can be pretty simple. Just ask yourself, “Do I feel better or worse after seeing this post?” If you answered “worse,” refer back to step two. If you answered “better,” think about why it made you feel good and seek out more. Still unsure? Start by following @drakeoncake, @mensweardog and @hamlet_the_piggy.

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