How to Recover from Social Media Burnout as an Autistic Person
Do you ever hate social media so much that you just want to throw your phone at the wall and disconnect from everything? SAME. Honestly, that’s how I’ve felt for the past several months. Not days or weeks. MONTHS. For months, I’ve been ruminating about how I was going to find the time to create the next valuable Instagram post. For months, I’ve been calculating what time of day the lighting would be best to film another trendy reels video. For months, I’ve been setting my alarm extra early to post when I thought the Instagram algorithm would deem said post most “favorable”. Not to mention, every activity I was engaging in on a day-to-day basis, was surrounded by mental questions of whether or not I should share whatever I was doing on my stories.
As I’m describing this toxic relationship I had with Instagram, it’s reminding me a lot of another toxic relationship I had in my life: the relationship with my eating disorder. When you’re in the thick of it (or should I say “thin” of it?), you think you’re in control. YOU are the one choosing, right? What to post, when to post, what to eat, when to eat? The outcome is seemingly a result of YOUR conscious action. Or is it the result of an unconscious habit?
However, the more you try and control something, the more it controls you. The more you focus on following the “perfect” diet, the more dieting controls your life. The more you try to craft the “perfect” exercise routine, the more exercise controls your life. And when your life does revolve around food and exercise, the joy gets sucked out of any activity that involves food or exercise! What was once a celebration of your body and its wants and desires becomes this anxious cycle of checking off another to-do…because as soon as the driving force for a certain behavior comes from a place of fear and not love, us humans don’t really want to do the thing anymore.
I created my Instagram account many years ago to document my recovery journey from an eating disorder. As I explained in my post “How I’m Finding Myself Through Losing Myself” however, my Instagram – not to mention brand as a whole – has evolved into sooo much more over time. What started out as a means of accountability in recovery, turned into a way in which I started to inspire others that full recovery was possible. When I discovered I am Autistic, I gained even more clarity on my message: emphasizing that full recovery from an eating disorder as an AUTISTIC PERSON is ALSO 100% possible.
Because the link between Autism and Anorexia is generally so misunderstood, there’s this vastly held misconception that Autistic people who also struggle with disordered eating are somehow “too complex” to be helped. This conception could not be further from the truth! I have often been asked whether I believe it’s harder for an autistic person to recover from an eating disorder, so I will definitely be creating content around that in the future, and I’m even writing a book about it! But to my point, I am EXCITED to create this type of content and to spread awareness around these topics because I LOVE it. I love it because I know I am helping SO many people, and the drive is coming from the deepest part of my heart!
If you’re familiar with my previous content, you know one of my absolute favorite books is Essentialism by Greg McKeown. I do want to dive into that book a bit, because so many lessons I am going to share in this post are lessons I’ve learned from that book. In the book, Greg talks about how success can be a catalyst for failure. In other words, when we become so passionate about something – in my case spreading as much awareness as I can around mental health – you can get so caught up in the hustle of it all, that you get spread thinner and thinner and completely lose clarity of your original intention. I think Autistic people are especially vulnerable when it comes to getting so lost in our passion, as we can get so focused on every tiny detail that we lose sight of the bigger picture!
I feel like that’s what happened to me and social media. I got so caught up in when and what to post on Instagram, that I completely lost sight of WHY I was even posting in the first place. Posting on Instagram became something I “had to do” every day, and just like when I told myself I “had to exercise” during my eating disorder, I obviously started to dread it!
Of course, we all have to do things that we dread sometimes, as there are so many parts of life that we cannot control. The first example that comes to mind for me is when I’m sleeping and then wake up in the middle of the night because I have to go pee. I absolutely dread getting out of my cozy bed to relieve myself of the pressure in my bladder, but the body’s gotta do what it’s gotta do!
Luckily, alongside the things that we cannot control, there are so many things that we CAN control, and one of these things is setting boundaries. When it comes to social media, we all know the algorithm is constantly changing…and as any Autistic person knows, change is incredibly difficult! Instagram used to be a place where I felt like I could consume content at my own pace, simply engaging with images from people I chose to follow. But now, with Instagram pushing reels and ads and the explore page that half the time shows content I’m not even interested in, I often find myself feeling paralyzed by the overload of information! I’m incredibly curious if this is just me or if other autistic people feel the same, so if you do resonate with this, send me a DM on Instagram @livlabelfree with your thoughts!
This constant state of overwhelm combined with Instagram becoming another empty box on my to-do list led me to feel completely burnt out. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I had been feeling this dread for months…yet I kept on pushing, because that’s what we’re supposed to do, right? No pain, no gain? Until one Saturday morning, as I was trying to post a story and it wasn’t uploading, I literally broke down crying on the floor of my apartment. THAT was the moment I realized I really needed to take a break and delete the app.
Instagram is a wonderful platform, and I am so grateful for the community I have built there! But as I’ve said before, sometimes you need to step away from something to appreciate it again. You need to climb OUT of the jar in order to read the label! So, that same day, I decided to delete the app from my phone for an undetermined amount of time. That same night, I took out my journal and wrote in big bold letters: deleting the Instagram app was the BEST DECISION EVER!!!
The closest description I can give of the following days was like getting a breath of fresh air after being held underwater for too long. I was completely drowning in overwhelm and pressure, and letting it all go to just LIVE my life gave me an energy I have not felt in a very long time. Instead of opening the Instagram app at times I didn’t immediately know what to do with myself, I began being so much more intentional about how I spent this time. I started working on projects that I had been wanting to work on for months. I filmed an entire video series on the Adapted to Flee Famine Hypothesis. I started outlining my book. I invested in a coaching certification program. When I stopped putting my energy into Instagram, I realized how much energy it had really been taking from me.
This is where I want to dive into another concept from Essentialism, and that is the idea of making trade-offs. In his book, Greg McKeown often compares the way of a Nonessentialist to the way of an Essentialist. When it comes to where we focus our energy, a Nonessentialist believes everything is important and tries to fit it all in. An Essentialist, on the other hand, focuses their energy on doing less, but better; quality over quantity. A Nonessentialist spreads themself very thin, unable to make their highest level of contribution in any one area. An Essentialist recognizes and accepts that one simply cannot do it all and asks what the trade-off’s are in each and every situation.
While I was on my break from Instagram, I learned that I was dispersing bits and pieces of my energy in a dozen different directions. Reels, stories, engaging with other accounts, my podcast, YouTube, website, coaching, book…all while trying to just live my life! Although I am almost ashamed to admit it being a mental health coach, I was trading off my own health for these external content deliverables. I was constantly feeling exhausted, unmotivated, and honestly, a bit depressed. This is how I knew I had reached burnout. Perhaps, you feel exactly this way right now! In order to recover, I invite you to step back from whatever it is that’s leaving you feeling drained. Take some time to journal and assess where you’re expending your energy on a day-to-day basis. Then ask yourself, where do you want to spend your energy?
During my time away from Instagram, I gained so much insight on where I personally want to invest my energy; and notice my choice of words here. I say invest, because I want to receive the same amount – if not more – energy from the activities I’m putting my energy into. When I can completely immerse myself into scientific research and work on a project or gather information for my book, I get into this flow state of focus. During my social media break, I wasn’t distracted by my phone or thoughts about whether or not I should reply to comments on my latest post. When I went to walk on the beach to clear my mind, I didn’t question whether or not I should snap a sunset pic for my stories. When I woke up in the morning, I didn’t rush to my phone to post the reels I had prepped the night before. I took each moment as it came, embracing the freedom that comes with setting boundaries.
My main message with all this? In order to recover from social media burnout (and really burnout of any kind), you need to set boundaries. More effort does NOT mean more results; intentional, focused effort does. Just as you can’t have a deep conversation with 100 people at the same time, you can’t be living your life to the fullest if you are trying to show up on social media at the same time. Instagram IS a highlight reel, I mean, the videos aren’t called REELS for nothing!
So, step away. Delete your social media apps for some time. Create space to escape from your limitations and explore the world; I promise it will leave you feeling empowered and with a sense of limitless energy!
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