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Breaks from Social Media to Improve Mental Health

17 May 2022
Giulio Prisco

Social Media

Researchers at the University of Bath have studied the mental health effects of a week-long social media break. And they suggest that just one week off social media can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improve overall levels of well-being.

In the UK, the number of adults using social media increased from 45 percent in 2011 to 71 percent in 2021. As many as 97% of those aged 16 to 44 use social media.

"Scrolling social media is so ubiquitous that many of us do it almost without thinking from the moment we wake up to when we close our eyes at night,” says lead researcher Jeff Lambert in a press release issued by University of Bath.

"We know that social media usage is huge and that there are increasing concerns about its mental health effects, so with this study, we wanted to see whether simply asking people to take a week's break could yield mental health benefits.”

A paper is published in Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking. The researchers describe the methods and results of a study with 154 participants aged 18 to 72. They used social media every day, spending an average of 8 hours per week scrolling social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok.

The participants were divided into an intervention group where they were asked to stop using all social media for one-week, and a control group where they could continue using social media without restrictions. The levels of anxiety, depression, and overall well-being of all participants were evaluated at the beginning of the study.

"Many of our participants reported positive effects from being off social media with improved mood and less anxiety overall," says Lambert. "This suggests that even just a small break can have an impact."

In fact, the participants who were asked to take the one-week break had significant improvements in well-being, depression, and anxiety compared to those who continued to use social media. This suggests a short-term benefit.

The researchers plan further and more detailed studies. And they suggest that a break from social media could form part of the suite of clinical options used to help manage mental health.

"Of course, social media is a part of life and for many people, it's an indispensable part of who they are and how they interact with others,” concludes Lambert. “But if you are spending hours each week scrolling and you feel it is negatively impacting you, it could be worth cutting down on your usage to see if it helps."

Allow me some personal considerations. I use social media like everyone else. But this doesn’t negatively impact me because I don’t take social media too seriously.

I use Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I don’t use TikTok at the moment. I like scrolling to see updates from friends and people I admire.

But I mostly ignore toxic partisan talk and fake news politics and culture. Also, I assume that everything is fake unless I see it confirmed by multiple unbiased or differently-biased sources.

I recommend this as a way to enjoy social networks without letting them kill your well-being.

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