Arlene Sy
Art + Illustration


My journey as an artist chronicled in life events, thoughts, and musings.

Why I took a break from social media


It’s been six months since I was last on Instagram. Wow, half a year. This is the longest I’ve been away.

This recent pause was necessary because of some personal matters—the most urgent being the preservation of my mental health. Since 2015, I’ve been constantly anxious, distracted, and depressed. While there isn’t just a single cause, I know social media is among the biggest reasons.

When I first joined IG in 2012, things were simple—I posted whenever I wanted, there wasn’t any pressure to share work. In fact, my account mostly held pictures of my personal life. In about a year, my account slowly changed into a work/art account. As most of us on Instagram know, the platform started evolving too when people, brands, and advertisers saw it as an opportunity to sell.

Because I didn’t necessarily have a clear strategy for Instagram, it gradually became a source of distraction and confusion. Instead of feeling inspired and motivated, I felt pressured by the need to post daily, and I gradually lost the habit of diving into deep, meaningful work. I ended up making work that stayed as WIPs (works in progress) because—and I realize this now—it was more for the views than my own growth. I would embark on a piece then quickly lose interest. As soon as I’d completed a piece midway, I’d stop and latch on to the next (again, yet-to-be-finished) thing to post. Fear and self-doubt began creeping in when I fell into the habit of evaluating the number of likes per post, and my follower count. To my dismay, I stopped creating art and lost the joy and purpose in doing so.

This went on for a while until it overwhelmed me. I didn’t want to go on like this. Despite giving myself breaks from IG, it was a struggle; I’d find myself being “on hiatus” longer each time—every year since 2015.

What I've found especially hard to balance is this: staying active on social media to be relevant, versus limiting your exposure and time on the platform. It seems counterintuitive to lessen your time on IG, given how it rewards frequent posting and interaction (no thanks to the algorithm).

Everyone uses social media differently. So maybe it’s just me? I’m not like others who can stay incredibly active on IG without getting affected somehow. (Other people thrive on IG; if it works for them, then great!) I’m the kind of person who’ll post just a few times a week, at best (and someone who goes away for months at a time, at worst). It’s not my style to share something every single day. Try as I did, I never felt comfortable with it. I’ve only recently accepted that this is really who I am—and that should be perfectly fine.

I should constantly remind myself that—as many online articles (and my own peers) have advised—likes and follows don't matter. What really matters is engagement from people who are genuinely interested in your work; and the jobs, projects, and opportunities you attract because of the quality of your work. These, AND getting to do the kind of art YOU want to make, for no one but yourself.

My opinion is, we should always place authenticity at the forefront of any online presence. So if being on social media hurts us or stifles who we truly are, less of it can only be a good thing. The pressure to be “someone” online is great, but we can’t be consumed by it. It’s not real life. At best, it should reflect just a fraction of our existing, real lives. As real people. We shouldn’t ever be at the mercy of these tools.

I think I’ll always struggle with social media, and I’ll have to accept its rules—but knowing I don’t always have to play the game the way others do, is a welcome option. I should be able to unplug whenever I want to.

For now, I’ll use Instagram to promote my art, but I don’t ever want it to become a measure of my worth. All I want is to enjoy making art for the rest of my life—and to be able to share this work to an audience, no matter how big or small, can already be incredibly rewarding in itself.

Main photo: Taken at Burnham Park during a trip to Baguio, June 2018.

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