Search
Close this search box.

Why and How I Got Addicted to Instagram and Then Quit It

A personal story to help you reclaim control of your time, attention, and mental well-being.

Photo of people looking at their phones.
Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexel

Deleting my Instagram account is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I joined the platform in 2021 when I launched my online English teaching business. My goal was to drive traffic to my website and connect with potential clients. I wanted to increase my visibility.

I signed up with the best intentions but, a few weeks later, I found myself addicted to the app.

You know the type of addiction I’m talking about.

You post something and then impatiently wait for people to send you their love. If your post doesn’t receive the engagement you hoped for, you start wondering if there’s something wrong with it — or with you. You wake up in the morning, reach for your phone, and experience a dopamine rush at the sight of an Instagram notification. You get this feeling every time you receive a like or comment.

And it’s this feeling that makes you post even more.

I would mostly create language learning-related content, but expert marketing people told me that I had to share bits of my private life to appear more relatable and sell more. So I started posting random stuff about places I visited, pictures of my neighbourhood, and photos of my cat.

I was now detaching myself from the present moment too.

I remember walking in the fields near my house, and instead of enjoying the view, I would stop to take a photo for an Instagram story.

What am I doing? I would think. But I would do it anyway.

Voices in my head would say to me, “Instagram is a useful tool. How can you get clients if you don’t tell people what you do? Posting on Instagram is what being a solopreneur involves. You’re doing this for a reason. Think long term!”

At the same time, marketing specialists would shout, “People will forget about you if you don’t post regularly!” So I kept working as an unpaid Instagram content creator.

And I hated that.

I hated sitting on the toilet and wasting minutes of my life scrolling through posts by my fellow teachers. I hated spending evenings replying to the poll answers I would get from my followers. I hated the disappointment of not getting the likes I thought I deserved.

I couldn’t stand constantly being robbed of my time and attention daily.

There was something wrong with the whole thing. And you know there’s something wrong when you feel you’re not in control. I realised I had lost my agency and started blaming myself for this. I even accused myself of being weak.

Until I discovered that the problem wasn’t me.

Why I Quit Instagram

This is not me being weak. This is not me lacking motivation or self-discipline. I’m dealing with a battle with a carefully engineered tool specifically designed to manipulate my psyche. They’ve been playing with my mind. I’ve been duped!

I had these thoughts while reading “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport.

Thanks to Newport’s book, I understood why — much as I wanted to limit my Instagram use — I just couldn’t resist that invisible force that would always pull me to the app, even when I didn’t have any notifications to check.

“As revealed by whistleblowers and researchers […] these technologies are in many cases specifically designed to trigger […] addictive behavior. Compulsive use, in this context, is not the result of a character flaw, but instead the realization of a massively profitable business plan.” — Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

 

When you realise someone is spending millions on getting you addicted so they can make millions, your middle fingers start rising.

When you realise you joined Instagram to grow your small business, but you’re actually growing someone else’s at the expense of your mental well-being, you start jumping around screaming, “F**k you, I won’t do what you tell me!”

They want you to be addicted and employ thousands of techniques to make this happen. This is no conspiracy theory. They speak openly about what their business model involves.

Look what Sean Parker, the former president of Facebook, said in 2017. Read the bits in bold slowly. After you’ve read them, read them again.

The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’

And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments.

It’s a social-validation feedback loop…exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.

The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciouslyAnd we did it anyway.

Now, if you’d like, listen to him saying it.

Instagram developers found our weak spot. And they are striking it hard with a heavy hammer disguised as hearts, notifications, ads, and indications of who exactly saw your stories.

No wonder Instagram was found to be the worst social media platform for mental health. No wonder I couldn’t break free.

Reading “Digital Minimalism” made everything clear to me and in an instant, I decided: I’m out of here.

How I Quit Instagram

I had been on Instagram for one year and had about 1.2K followers when I deleted the app from my phone. I didn’t make any official announcement. I just did it.

One month later, I opened Instagram on my laptop and announced I was going to close my account in a week. I posted something like, “I’ve realised this platform is just not for me. I’m leaving. If you want to keep in touch, you’re welcome to join my private email list.”

And that was it.

One thing surprised me. I started receiving comments and direct messages saying, “I admire you! I wish I could do that too, but I need Instagram!”

I realised I was not alone. There were people who knew they’d been enslaved. I want to say to these people — to you — that no, you don’t need an app that’s constantly poking your brain, heart, and soul.

NOBODY needs that — just like NOBODY needs cigarettes, porn, alcohol, cocaine, or junk food. These things make you feel good for a moment. But what’s the cost you’ll have to pay in the long term?

There are healthier ways to create connections — even if you’re a business owner. Alexandra Franzen is just one of the many people who talk about this. Check her work.

Choose quiet, quality connection, space, calm, and even boredom over anxiety, restlessness, weak ties, and fear of missing out. Choose to be free.

Final Thought

I haven’t shared this story to suggest you should delete Instagram today. In fact, you shouldn’t do it if that’s not what you want.

But if you’re tired of feeling like you’ve become a slave to any social media platform, if you’re feeling like I used to, then it might be time to reevaluate your relationship with these apps.

You may think they’re useful. Yet no degree of usefulness can legitimise their persistent manipulation of your mental state.

There are healthier and more human ways to be social — you know that.

Take good care of yourself.

Fabio Cerpelloni is an English language teacher, writer, author, and podcaster from Italy. You can find out more about him and his work by clicking on his glass of beer in the photo.