3 Women Share How They Got Over Instagram Anxiety (Because Yes, It's a Thing)

I'm a 25-year-old woman who spends hours on the internet every single day working in digital media. It'd be an absolute lie to say I don't care about Instagram—sometimes, it feels like I don't even have a choice not to care. Here's the thing: Without Instagram, I wouldn't be able to do my job well. I use Instagram as a vehicle to spark future story ideas, crowd-source real people for future interviews, showcase my writing, and more. A mentor of mine just told me I need to treat Instagram like a visual representation of my résumé. As millennials, so much of our success and future opportunities is dependent upon our Instagram, so we become consumed. However, where do we draw the line? Being swallowed by social media is so, so dangerous for our mental health. When you begin to treat your Instagram posts like a performance everyone's watching, you start staging your life in unhealthy ways. If you continuously use Instagram in this way, it becomes a place of judgment, comparison, and self-doubt. This practice plants the seed known as Instagram anxiety, which is deeply rooted in the minds of many who are consumed by the app.

I've found myself questioning my purpose on Instagram so many times. I deal with so many downs in my life that I'd never dare talk about on social media. I feel like I'm not "supposed to," and I'll be judged for being negative when I'm only experiencing feelings that are human. Many of my followers have the false presumption that I live a "perfect" and "fun" life, that success was handed to me. That's not true. And when I get sad, I hide from Instagram because I don't know what to portray anything other than my best self. It's complicated. On Instagram, we're inundated with images of curated highlight reels, so we forget what real life is actually like—that is, not perfect and unfiltered. This "social comparison theory" is something psychiatrist Samantha Boardman discussed in a recent article.

"It is a theory predicated on the idea that we determine our own social and personal worth based on how we measure up to others," Boardman says. "In other words, in the absence of objective means of evaluation, we are constantly evaluating ourselves—our intelligence, our attractiveness, wealth, success, etc.—in reference to those around us."

Although it is a natural human instinct to compare yourself to others, the birth of social media has heightened this feeling to a whole new level. "Rather than making comparisons to people who are in the same boat as we are, we now have a global landscape to draw from," Boardman says. "Mass media is one of the commanding influences today for social comparison and studies show it takes a toll on our wellbeing. Research has found that women who report frequently comparing themselves to other women, especially women in the media, are more likely to show signs of negative mood and body image disturbance found that women participants' brief exposure to media images of females led to increased levels of body dissatisfaction and weight anxiety." It's true: Images on Instagram can create a crippling feeling that plagues self-confidence.

Instagram isn't going anywhere anytime soon, though, so how do we move past this? I talked to real women (with beautiful Instagram pages) who were vulnerable enough to share their honest experiences with Instagram anxiety. Mental health advocate Claire Fountain, beauty and wellness influencer Mominatu Boog, and lifestyle YouTuber Tiffany Malone get really, really real. Read how they took their power back from Instagram below.