A one-week break from social media improves mental health


Asking people to stop using social media for just one week could lead to significant improvements in their well-being, depression and anxiety, and could in the future be recommended as a way to help people manage their mental health, say the authors of a new study.

The study, carried out by a team of researchers at the University of Bath (UK), studied the mental health effects of a week-long social media break. For some participants in the study, this meant freeing up around nine hours of their week that they would otherwise have been spent scrolling Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.

The results—published today in the US journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking—suggest that just one week off social media improved individuals’ overall level of well-being, as well as reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

For the study, the researchers randomly allocated 154 individuals aged 18 to 72, who used social media every day, into either an intervention group where they were asked to stop using all social media for one week, or a control group, where they could continue scrolling as normal.

At the beginning of the study, baseline scores for anxiety, depression and well-being were taken.

Participants reported spending an average of 8 hours per week on social media at the start of the study. One week later, the participants who were asked to take the one-week break had significant improvements in well-being, depression, and anxiety over those who continued to use social media, suggesting a short-term benefit.

Participants asked to take a one-week break reported using social media for an average of 21 minutes compared to an average of seven hours for those in the control group. Screen usage stats were provided to check that individuals had adhered to the break.

Lead researcher from Bath’s Department for Health, Dr. Jeff Lambert, explains, “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.

“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.

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

“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. 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.”

The team now want to build on the study to see whether taking a short break can help different populations (e.g., younger people or people with physical and mental health conditions). The team also want to follow people up for longer than one week, to see if the benefits last over time. If so, in the future, they speculate that this could form part of the suite of clinical options used to help manage mental health.

Over the past 15 years, social media has revolutionized how we communicate, underscored by the huge growth the main platforms have observed.

In the UK the number of adults using social media increased from 45% in 2011 to 71% in 2021. Among 16 to 44-year-olds, as many as 97% use social media and scrolling is the most frequent online activity performed.

Feeling “low” and losing pleasure are core characteristics of depression, whereas anxiety is characterized by excessive and out-of-control worry. Well-being refers to an individual’s level of positive affect, life satisfaction and sense of purpose. According to the UK organization Mind, one in six individuals experience a common mental health problem like anxiety and depression in any given week.

The present study is one of very few studies to investigate the effect of reducing social media use on wellbeing and, to our knowledge, the first to experimentally explore link among social media, sleep quality, and wellbeing. Overall, the results indicate general support for the hypotheses. First, limiting social media use to 10 minutes per app/day for 1 week resulted in improved wellbeing. Second, the complete case analysis suggested limiting social media led to improvements in sleep quality, although the imputed analysis demonstrated no such relationship. Finally, when investigating the relationship among social media use, sleep quality, and wellbeing, hierarchical regression revealed that social media use predicted wellbeing, but that this relationship became nonsignificant when sleep quality was entered into the model. Finally, a simple mediation analysis revealed a marginally significant indirect path, through sleep quality, between social media use and wellbeing. Overall, these findings suggest that limiting social media use has benefits for wellbeing that may, in part, be due to changes in sleep quality associated with limiting social media use.

Our findings are consistent with previous studies that have demonstrated that taking a break from social media has a positive effect on wellbeing.7,10 It is important to note, however, that the size of the effect was relatively small (Cohen’s d = 0.340). Furthermore, rather than being driven purely by a reduction in social media use, sleep quality may mediate this relationship. Relative to the somewhat inconsistent relationship between social media use and wellbeing,7–10 sleep quality has a clear and consistent relationship with mental health for adolescents and young adults.16–18 Thus, the findings of the current study suggest that, in addition to a measure social media use, intervention studies should also collect data on sleep quality.

The current study needs to be considered within the context of several limitations. First, social media usage on other devices beyond smartphones (e.g., computers, tablets etc.) was not monitored. Thus, while participants in the intervention group complied with the social media limits set for use on their smartphones, they could have accessed the social media platforms on other devices. Second, due to the recruitment process, participants were aware that they might have to restrict their social media use and, as a result, people who were particularly invested in social media or regularly use high amounts of social media may have been reluctant to participate. Finally, our measure of social media use did not distinguish between overall use and nighttime-specific use. Woods and Scott3 demonstrated that poor sleep quality was specifically associated with nighttime-specific social media use. In the context of the current study, it is possible that stronger evidence of a relationship among social media use, sleep quality, and wellbeing, would be observed if both overall, and nighttime-specific, social media use was assessed.

In summary, taking a break from social media led to a small improvement in wellbeing. This improvement, at least in part, may be associated with changes in sleep quality.

reference link : https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/cyber.2020.0217

More information: Taking a one-week break from social media improves wellbeing, depression and anxiety—a randomised control trial, Cyberpsychology Behavior and Social Networking (2022). DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2021.0324


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