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Why I Quit Social Media for Good

by Heather Cadenhead

I shut down my public Instagram account a little over a year ago. Prior to that, I took a break for nearly an entire year—deactivating at the end of October 2020. I couldn’t handle another election cycle on social media: the arguments, unfriendings, and inevitable alliances forming again—the ones I’d worked so hard to forget about. It felt like people had barely started being civil to each other again. 

I reactivated at the end of summer 2021, having successfully skipped the entire thing like Rip van Winkle. Still, I’d tasted freedom that year and it was hard to go back to that shackled existence: strangers asking if I was “fine” if I went 24 hours without posting a story, the sinking feeling in my chest when a post didn’t “perform” similarly to prior posts, appeasing the comments section like a nine-year-old explaining a broken Venetian vase to her mother. In those first days back, I started to mull a permanent exit. 

I’d been dissatisfied with social media for many years, but I kept coming back because the conventional wisdom was that, as a writer, I needed social media to grow my readership. As such, I spent an inordinate amount of time, well, not writing. Instead, I “engaged” on social media: I watched stories, liked posts, left comments, and developed my own content. Instagram began to feel uncomfortable and icky—especially when the Instagram algorithm started pushing video reels over still images. I’d reluctantly learned to snap images to accompany my writing. Now, in order to attract a wider audience, I had to produce an entire video to accompany a simple block of text. 

With time, the goalposts moved again: Instagram creators could no longer simply produce video reels—we also needed to research trending audio clips and pair video content with those clips. Conventional wisdom also stated that I needed to contribute multiple stories to the app each day in order to stay relevant. I also needed to reply to messages and engage with other people’s content—and continue, somehow, to homeschool my kids, keep my house relatively clean, keep food on the table, and what about my writing? Somehow, in the thick of the social media algorithm, I’d forgotten about the thing that mattered most to me.

I began to recognize that the key to social media success was a willingness to do, say, and be whatever the algorithm wanted (which was never one static thing). I longed for the halcyon days of publishing: submitting a book proposal, follower count unseen—writers judged solely on the quality of their writing (by, of course, portly men in suspenders who smoked imported cigars). That said, I certainly wasn’t too good to hustle. If this is what social media required of me, I would do it. I’d do it all.

What I didn’t anticipate was the soul-curdling effect of such efforts. Every trade has a price. I decided to open up to a few trusted friends about the meat of the issue: social media was negatively impacting my mental and spiritual health. I felt ashamed to confess this truth but, the more I confessed, the more I heard: Me, too. I struggle with all the same things. These friends inspired me to share my struggles a little more publicly. 

I often experienced envy when I logged onto Instagram. I felt like an out-of-place ragamuffin amidst women who were prettier, thinner, and more successful than I was. The more I tried to compete, the more I fell short. They’re doing it, a sinister voice whispered. Why can’t you? In time, I understood that I would never satiate that voice of condemnation. I had to overpower it, bend its will to mine. I needed to preach to myself, rather than listen to myself: I’m not called to that. I’m called to something else.

Often, Instagram produced a depression that haunted me long after I logged off. I explained mood swings to my family by detailing situations that, outside the app, did not matter and often made little sense. With enough real-life stress to fill a book, I could no longer tolerate inscrutable trouble—mysterious usernames that boiled with anger over things I did or didn’t do correctly. It was not unusual for me to feel physically fatigued after

an uncomfortable interaction in DMs or comments—but it wasn’t an Instagram follower who witnessed my tears. It was my children. 

I often logged onto social media in an upbeat mood. I’d finish reading the Bible with my kids, pour a second cup of coffee, stop to admire a cardinal at the bird feeder—and absentmindedly tap Instagram. Soon, I’d find myself stressed. Occasionally, I’d find myself frantic. What am I doing with my life? I’d panic. So-and-So just shared her second reel in two days and I haven’t contributed anything in two weeks. I’m falling behind. I’ll never catch up. Scroll, scroll. Oh, wow. And So-and-So already did her workout for the day. I need to post a new reel and get a workout in. Scroll, scroll. Oh, wow. This mom is already reading Dickens with her kids? We haven’t gotten around to Dickens yet. I need to post a new reel, get a workout in, and start Dickens’ complete bibliography. 

In time, I recognized that, in fact, I’d felt no urgency about posting content, working out, or reading Dickens until I opened social media. I’d been quite satisfied to watch the birds and enjoy my coffee. I’m obviously not writing any of this to suggest that ambition is a bad thing. I consider myself to be a highly ambitious person. However, my ambitions are very specific—and I don’t need the Internet to remind me of my own goals. Those hopes live within me, rent-free—taking up space in the still places of my soul. 

We can’t be all things to all people. We are finite beings with limited resources. God’s wisdom is a balm for a harried state of mental health. Scripture points out that the approval of others isn’t enough and never will be enough. If it were, no author would ever write a second book. No musician would ever record a second album. While a completed task may satisfy for a season, the urge to strive and compete will return, and, with it, the emptiness of everything we do. When we seek God, He creates meaning in even the midnight cry of a sleepless child.


The writing of Heather Cadenhead has been featured in Wild + Free, Relief: A Journal of Art and Faith, Literary Mama, and other publications. She publishes a monthly newsletter about mothering her non-speaking son through the lens of the Christian gospel.


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