What Instagram’s Take A Break Feature Means For Mental Health
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What Instagram’s Take A Break Feature Means For Mental Health

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By now you have probably heard about Instagram’s newest app feature. But if not, you should know on December 7, Instagram launched its newest “Take A Break” tool. The Take A Break feature was first announced in September 2021 and is now available to some users in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The tool is designed to encourage users to disengage with the platform after scrolling for a certain time.

So, how does it work? A user can turn on the feature under “Settings” and select if they want to be notified by the app after 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or 30 minutes of use. An alert will pop up on the screen suggesting the user close out of the app, take a deep breath, write down what they are thinking, listen to their favorite song, or do something on their to-do list.

What Instagram's "Take A Break" Actually Means

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Instagram’s Take A Break feature was essentially developed as part of a response to the Facebook Papers. The government and other child advocacy organizations want big tech companies to be held accountable for their role in how social media impacts mental health. Earlier this year, hundreds of internal documents were leaked to the Wall Street Journal and the Securities and Exchange Commission demonstrating Facebook’s knowledge of how Instagram can damage mental health and body image, especially among young women and teenage girls. In turn, Facebook decided not to launch an Instagram app for children under the age of 13 and consider input from parents, policymakers, and advocacy groups.

Aside from the legal implications for Facebook, the implementation of the Take A Break tool encourages users to stay grounded or come back to reality through the use of mindful suggestions like writing down their thoughts or practicing breathwork. Oftentimes, many of us (especially women) are scrolling mindlessly through Instagram with uncontrollable thoughts that lead to high anxiety, low self-esteem, negative self-talk, and high levels of self-consciousness from curated content.

Rising Mental Health Issues & Social Media

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In an article published by Time, a survey revealed Instagram is the worst social media network for mental health, according to a survey of 1500 teens and young adults. The platform is associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying, and FOMO (fear of missing out). The article further states that social media posts set unrealistic expectations, create feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. With that said, Instagram received the worst scores for body image and anxiety. Research has also found that the more social networks a young adult uses, he or she is more likely to report depression and anxiety.

It is suggested that navigating between different norms and friend networks on various platforms could account for reports of mental health issues.

The Washington Post reports Instagram has steadily increased the amount of recommended content it shows people. In July, a user’s main feed included content from people you don’t know alongside a friend’s posts promoting idealized images and self-help recommendations. It is Instagram’s algorithm that becomes a mental burden because there is no control over what pops up on your feed. The way Instagram is used between genders varies, but research has uncovered eating disorders in men. Instagram doesn’t only exacerbate body image issues, some content promotes violence, and biased ideologies, making young boys and men susceptible.

Forbes reports that with women, there is an increased risk of developing eating disorders because of social media. Another study found depression, anxiety, self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction are associated with Instagram use. The article also states suicidal thoughts are linked to social media use as well as an increase in loneliness. Even the New York Times recently wrote that social media turned prioritizing mental health into a trap by their critique of the Hulu reality series The D’Amelio Show based on the famous TikTok star Dixie D’Amelio.

And from my observation, with the infinite amount of social media influencers, there is a scary level of self-importance and narcissism due to online presence that didn’t exist before Instagram. You have to step back and ask if Instagram didn’t exist or ceased today, would we have an excessive amount of influencers or life coaches? And what would happen to their self-esteem or sense of self-worth without social media? The answer is no and self-worth would be diminished.

When Facebook recently shut down for one day, high levels of anxiety and stress were exhibited. It’s one thing to have your voice heard, but at what point does it become toxic and overbearing causing someone to possibly not enjoy their own life?

Prioritizing Mental Health In A Social Media-Driven World

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While the Take A Break tool is geared towards teenagers and young adults, women and men need this tool. It’s been said parents should have a conversation with their kids about how to use Instagram, recognize photoshopped pictures, and the associated risks. I think grown men and women need to have the same conversations with each other if we haven’t started to already. With the countless mental health issues that have risen from Instagram, it’s important to know when you should separate yourself from the 'gram. I know, because I had to do it.

At that moment, I had to decide if I wanted to continue scrolling through feeds or put myself first. And I chose the latter. Therefore, you should too. What I have come to realize is that Instagram is nowhere for your mind to live.

Once I got off social media, I realized I wasn’t missing out on anything. I was less anxious and less self-conscious about myself and my body. It forced me to be present whether I was at the gym, work, or visiting family or friends. Overall, I have become less interested in Instagram and more interested in my to-do list and doing things that feed my soul.

With any choice, there will be repercussions. I lost friends or people seemed to stop talking to me because I no longer had a strong online presence. I wasn’t doing the “hype” thing anymore. And all I can say is I just didn’t want to live my life online or spend most of my time curating perfect pictures or captions. At one point I felt like I was forced to be online just to feel connected. It’s like you're damned if you do or damned if you don’t. So, with this example, do you see how social media affects mental health?

I would also say the decision to prioritize your mental health in a social media-driven world is a conscious choice. You have to be aware of how Instagram or any other social media platform makes you feel. We’re not meant to live in our thoughts or live our lives in constant comparison to someone else.

We’re meant to live and experience this world given to us.

And it’s perfectly OK to want to share your experiences and successes through Instagram and social media. It’s OK to follow other users that positively impact your life. But don’t get too caught up to the point where your mental health is affected. Don’t be consumed by what others are doing either. Don’t feel like you're missing out or your life is less exciting based on other people’s Instagram Story or posts. It’s not real. What is real is you living and breathing this very second.

The minute you feel social media is making you feel a certain way or is disrupting your life - take a break.

I always knew about the time limit feature on Instagram and have previously used it too. Though, it seems as though the “Take A Break” tool, coupled with Instagram’s “Daily Time Reminder” is a step in the right direction for tech companies such as Facebook to be proactive in putting our mental health first. The features aren’t perfect and there are definitely glitches to work out. But if it’ll help people be mindful and present, I’m here for it.

Everything in moderation.

Featured image by Getty Images

A Black man, R. Kelly, stands in a court room, wearing an orange jumpsuit with his hands handcuffed behind his back, accompanied by a police officer in a green uniform, bulletproof vest and gun.

*Editors note: this article contains information about sexual assault, child pornography and rape. Please read with care. If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.

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