This week, I made a big step in creating some mental health boundaries for myself by unfollowing many food/beverage accounts on Instagram. When I see mostly restaurants and food IGs in my feed, I have feelings of, not really FOMO, it’s more like they feel like a distraction from what I want to be doing. How I want to be feeling. I don’t want to scroll mindlessly. I don’t want to live on my phone. I am starting to turn off my phone for a few hours in the evening. It feels so good. And I am working on training my brain to not immediately take a photo of what I’m eating. Posting less. Following more dogs and decor than food and cocktails. Don’t get me wrong, I still LOVE (love, love, love) going out for dinner, cooking, martinis, all of it. But it’s not everything. It’s not the most important thing. It just took me time to realize. Confinement changed my mindset, for sure. I hope no one minds my unfollow. It’s super personal to me and I feel like it’s the healthiest thing right now.
A little background on how I got to this point.
For the first few years of having a larger following, I’d be invited to dinners, tastings, private events, tours and more. It was fun. It felt good. I loved the access. I loved meeting chefs and bartenders one on one. I asked them so many questions,and sometimes even got to see the kitchen — I love the back of the house! Then, something shifted. More and more food Instagram accounts started popping up. The events got bigger and more unwieldy, some of the people let it go to their head and I thought it was time for me to tap out for my own personal mental health. I didn’t want to get so used to it that I felt like I somehow deserved it.
I gotta say, some of the dinners and tastings were fun, especially at restaurants I already liked or where I knew people who worked there. What I didn’t like were the larger group dinners and events. At the last big one I attended, I remember looking up from my end of the table and there were, like, eight people taking pictures of the same dish. Lights overhead, selfies, posting on Instagram while the chef stood in front of us, telling us about the dish. That was it for me, I can still see it in my head. At these dinners, too, people would sometimes order the most expensive dish because they could. Or the prettiest thing and not eat it. While others ordered multiple dishes and packed them to go.
Another thing that made me really think it was time to slow down on food IG was when I posted a photo of a restaurant dish and a food influencer commented “Oh, man. I have been meaning to get there to photograph that!” I instantly thought to myself, no…you mean EAT that. It had clearly become more important to document food versus experience it.
This brought back memories from when I started a small consulting firm working with restaurants and other small businesses — helping them run their social media channels, creating and managing content, engaging with followers. (PR was never my forte.)
Every so often, I’d invite influencers and other folks to small dinners, wine and cocktail tastings and more hosted by my clients. I enjoyed putting those together. I would kind of craft the guest list based on locations, menu approaches, chefs, etc. It was like putting together a dinner party…the crowd had to really connect. It also had to be FUN. And, nine times out of ten, it was. But soon, it seemed the influencer thing was wearing thin and there was almost no way to really measure the return on the investment of a free dinner. Hindsight.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how social media can really make your head spin, and your heart sink. Here are a few things that resonated with me when I was reading about social media toxicity online. From HelpGuide.org:
“Human beings need face-to-face contact to be mentally healthy. Nothing reduces stress and boosts your mood faster or more effectively than eye-to-eye contact with someone who cares about you. The more you prioritize social media interaction over in-person relationships, the more you’re at risk for developing or exacerbating mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.”
“Even if you know that images you’re viewing on social media are manipulated, they can still make you feel insecure about how you look or what’s going on in your own life. Similarly, we’re all aware that other people tend to share just the highlights of their lives, rarely the low points that everyone experiences.”
“While FOMO has been around far longer than social media, sites such as Facebook and Instagram seem to exacerbate feelings that others are having more fun or living better lives than you are. The idea that you’re missing out on certain things can impact your self-esteem, trigger anxiety, and fuel even greater social media use. FOMO can compel you to pick up your phone every few minutes to check for updates, or compulsively respond to each and every alert—even if that means taking risks while you’re driving, missing out on sleep at night, or prioritizing social media interaction over real world relationships.”
At school (my full-time job in fundraising), I cover lunch duty for various grades during the week. A few weeks ago while outside with a group of fourth and fifth graders, one of the kids saw my phone, which I had opened to Instagram. She said, “Oh my gosh, Ms. Amy, you have over 2,000 followers!” A few more kids came over and started listening to our conversation. I told the students that I had recently deleted my original Instagram account with almost 18,000 followers. Omg, their faces. Disbelief. Horror. I explained that while social media feels real, it’s not. It’s just people trying to put their best image forward. Followers, likes, how many people see your IG story…none of it is good for you. It makes you depressed, fills you with self-doubt, raises your anxiety level and just makes you feel “less than.” I told them that it made me feel all those things. We talked about this until it was time to go back to class and it felt like a good few minutes spent. I hope to continue these conversations when the opportunity arises. They really listened.
Following a year-plus of isolation and anxiety, it feels like the time is ripe to make changes to make ourselves healthier. Or at least start trying.