“You spend too much time on Instagram.”

I looked up from my phone at my partner, who was sitting on the couch next to me. I had spent an indeterminate amount of time alternating between scrolling through curated photos on Instagram and watching whatever television program. Was I retaining anything? No. Was I entertained? Honestly, I’m not sure. Social media at that point served as nothing more than a habitual distraction. I started noticing that my fingers just automatically reached for the Instagram icon whenever I opened my phone. I craved being bombarded by photo after photo and yet at the same time got literally nothing out of it.

I started thinking: how much time would I get back if I stopped scrolling Instagram for hours at a time? And more importantly: is this doing anything for my mental health? Is it helping or a hindrance? Time to find out.

As a Catholic, Lent seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to test how much I actually needed/wanted social media in my life. So in the end of April, I made a decision: no more social media for 40 days. I’m not going to lie, I hesitated before deleting the icon from my phone; I was nervous, although I wasn’t entirely sure why. It’s not as if I was losing anything of value by removing myself from the social media world. And yet…

The first few days were the hardest. My brain kept going back to what I was missing on social media. What if someone was trying to reach me? I kept asking myself. My fingers itched to scroll through the colorful squares that used to populate my vision. I had to constantly remind myself that all of my real friends had my phone number; if they wanted to reach me, they would.

It got easier. And about halfway through Lent, I noticed a significant weight off of my shoulders. I felt at ease. I was able to stay present more rather than feel the need to document an event and put it on my story so others could see how much “fun” I was having. Instead, I was having real fun. Making real connections. Having real experiences.

Remember what that’s like? Because until recently, I don’t think I did.

My mental health improved. I wasn’t bombarded by thin bodies and workouts and beautiful smoothie bowls. I could live in my skin and not constantly feel like I was being forced to compare myself to others.

I felt free.

I think we have been so isolated, especially during the pandemic, that we crave human connection to the point that we will seek it anywhere, including our phones. And it’s so easy to forget that the images we are seeing are curated and stage and planned. We end up comparing ourselves in our loneliness to something that isn’t real. No one documents their mundane day-to-day on the ‘gram. But that’s real life, and we have to learn to embrace it rather than being wistful for all of the things our life isn’t.

 We are a few weeks out of Lent at this point, and I have returned to social media, but sparingly. I placed limits on my phone as to how much time I could spend. Part of me wants to forsake it entirely, but unfortunately in this day and age, many businesses and restaurants use the platforms to advertise pop-ups and specials and, as a girl who loves a deal, I don’t want to miss out on those entirely. But I’m more careful now with my social media consumption. It wasn’t until I removed it completely that I had realized what a negative effect it had on my mental health, and I don’t want to go back to that place.

Plus, now I have so much more mental bandwidth and free time to do things that really matter. Like spending time with my partner. Or actually appreciating my surroundings and looking up rather than down. Or, you know, doing homework.

Regardless, I can take more time to appreciate the smaller things in life that we take for granted. And that is a truly wonderful thing.

Kristy Cloetingh is a Philadelphia native who is currently trying to figure out her place in the world. Her passions include reading, singing, dancing, nature, yoga, chicken fingers, and puppies. An anorexia survivor and mental health warrior, Kristy has made it her life’s mission to remind every single person that their bodies and minds are worthy of unconditional love and respect, regardless of size, shape, or whatever “normal” is.

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