Why I Quit Social Media

My Slow, 7-year Realization that these Platforms Were Destroying Me

Words by
Kristen Hansen

MAY 31, 2024

Why I Quit Social Media

My Slow, 7-year Realization that these Platforms Were Destroying Me

This article was originally published on Substack and has been republished with permission.

It was my 14th birthday. I was finally allowed to download Instagram, and I couldn’t have been more excited. Instagram was a fascinating vortex that I desperately wanted to feel a part of.

So, I curled up on the corner of the couch and watched that rainbow app slowly materialize on my iPod touch. 

3 hours after creating an account, I looked up from my phone, dazed. 

Where did those 3 hours go?

At least 20 minutes were spent agonizing over which profile photo to add to my account. I lost another 10 trying to decide what my “bio” should be. Both of these decisions, of course, were influenced by the dozens of friends and popular girls at my school who I searched and thoroughly stalked, adding at least another hour to my tally. 

Somewhere along my stalking journey, I stumbled upon a couple of early influencers — girls around my age who posted filtered, professional-looking photos a few times a week. Their lives as portrayed on Instagram encapsulated everything my 14-year-old self dreamed of being — they were skinnier, tanner, and had better hair than I did. Their outfits were expensive, on-trend, and fit perfectly. They had photos with the most attractive guys, and it seemed like they spent every weekend at a party or on vacation.

I consumed this idealistic content for another hour before discovering a different but equally addictive segment of the platform: memes. In my first 30 minutes of meme consumption, I discovered a lot of funny content, some slightly inappropriate content, and some content that just seemed outrageous. 

I fell into cyclical addictions of doom scrolling, which always ended in me feeling lonely and ugly because I had fewer followers, fewer comments on my posts, or fewer invitations to parties than the “friends” that appeared on my feed.

If I had 5 minutes of downtime, I’d sneak into my room to check Instagram, scrolling in an almost desperate way, hoping for that quick dopamine hit. 

When at a party feeling awkward or out of place, I’d find a corner where I could pull out my phone and scroll through the app. 

At family gatherings, I’d sneak into the bathroom and scroll until my hypnotic daze was interrupted with some family member’s question of: “Where did Kristen go?” 

After a long day of volleyball games or work on my family’s farm, the end-of-day activity that most excited me was opening Instagram and seeing all the new content I’d missed. 

On Friday nights when I felt lonely and disliked, I’d lay on the floor of my room and scroll Instagram stories showing everyone else’s exciting weekend plans, pouring salt in my already aching wounds of insecurity. 

I started to realize my relationship with this app was unhealthy, but I felt like I couldn’t escape.

Intermittent deletions of the app, unfollowing influencers, and setting time limits proved largely ineffective at reducing my compulsive usage. I’d still find myself wasting an hour or more of my life each day, only to feel worse each time I closed the app and reentered reality. Soon, Twitter and Snapchat became additional vortexes of negative thought spirals.

The occasional positive experience with friends or interesting content kept me coming back for more.

While I served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the rules of this transformative experience gave me a year-and-a-half hiatus from my personal social media accounts. As I finished my mission and returned to normal life, I was terrified I’d fall back into my former social media habits. 

Wanting to learn more about the harms of social media, I went to the library and checked out Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism. It articulated what I’d been feeling about social media for so many years. I felt ready to take action.

Here’s the plan I created:

  • Remove all social media apps from my phone
  • Delete Snapchat and TikTok altogether
  • Set aside a 30-minute time slot on Saturdays where I could check Instagram and Twitter from my laptop. 

This restrictions, combined with a great group of friends, many of whom had deleted their social media accounts entirely, helped me see the beauty of deep conversations, be more present, and reduce my tendency for toxic comparison.

My unhealthy social media consumption was much less frequent, but I’d still find myself doom scrolling on the browser version of Instagram when I felt especially lonely, stressed, or insecure. 

(It’s here that I’d like to point out that if you’ve had an addictive relationship with technology, you will likely relapse over and over again. Choose to give yourself grace when you feel weak and return to unhealthy social media use. Remember, these apps are designed to maximize the time you spend on them, and the best way to do that is to make them addictive. It’s natural to feel a strong pull to return to the app. Keep trying to reduce the grasp it has on your reality, and you’ll be amazed at how much your life will change over time.) 

Seven years after initially creating an Instagram account, while talking on the phone with my boyfriend, (he’s now my husband), I was once again forced to confront the destructive effects these platforms had had on my sense of self.

“Do you think you’re beautiful?” he asked.

I paused, and after a long silence answered, “No.”

Even though I’d drastically improved my relationship with social media, the years I’d spent consuming content that made me feel like I wasn’t as beautiful, as worthy of love, or as good as most other people still affected how I saw myself.

Despite receiving frequent words of affirmation from friends and family, dozens of accolades in academics and athletics, and having a great support system, I couldn’t shake the notion that there were so many people who were simply more beautiful, more accomplished, or more interesting than I was.

Instagram and other social media almost always made me feel like less.

They amplified my tendency to be a perfectionist. They reinforced my self-deprecating thoughts. They made me think knowing about the lives of influencers was important, stealing countless hours I could’ve invested in relationships that brought me joy. 

Yet their addictive algorithms and powerful network effects kept me coming back for more — for seven of the most transformative years of my life.

Today, I’ve mostly broken free from the addictive grasp of social media. 

I spend more time in nature and in prayer. 

I read and write often.

I rarely worry about the clothes I’m wearing or how perfect my hair looks. 

I look in the mirror much less often, and when I do, I almost always see myself as a beautiful person. 

I talk to friends and strangers more often, and I find myself appreciating their internal and external beauty without deprecating my own.

Social media will forever feed us with superficial versions of the deep connections we crave.

Choosing to leave has changed my life.

Join Me

To help others leave unhealthy relationships with social media, Macy Dial and I started Ignite.

Starting June 1, 2024, we’re inviting everyone to try living 3 months without social media as part of our Summer off Social Challenge.

Log Off and Ignite flyer for social media fast challenge

Our Summer off Socials Challenge will help you replace social media with activities focused on intentional connection and creation (as opposed to mindless consumption). 

Join us now!

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