Giving up social media browsing for just one week could lead to significant improvements in well-being, depression and anxiety, and in the future could be recommended as a way to help people manage their mental health. These are the results of a new study carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Bath (United Kingdom). Spending a few days without checking out Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok was liberating for some of the study participants.
The ‘social media’ came to revolutionize social communication, allowing users to interact with friends and family and meet other people based on shared interests. The researchers say that in the United Kingdom, the number of adults who use them increased from 45% to 71% between 2011 and 2021 and between 90% and 97% of users are between 16 and 44 years old. In addition, 95% of adults have used the Internet in the last three months, with ‘rrss’ being the most frequent activity.
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are three of the most popular platforms, with nearly 4 billion users
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are three of the most popular platforms, with close to 4 billion users, while TikTok has seen an exponential increase of 7.5 million users during the pandemic. This widespread adoption of social networks has given rise to a large amount of research to find out its impact on people’s physical and mental health.
The results of this new research have been published this May in the American journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. The study involved 154 people between the ages of 18 and 72 who used social media every day. The researchers randomly assigned them to one of two options: An intervention group, who were asked to stop using all of them for one week, or a control group, in which they could continue browsing normally.
short term benefit
At the start of the study, baseline scores for anxiety, depression, and well-being were taken. Participants reported spending an average of eight hours per week on social media. One week later, participants who were asked to take a break had significant improvements in well-being, depression, and anxiety compared to those who continued to use social media, suggesting a short-term benefit.
Participants who were asked to take a week-long 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 statistics were provided to verify that people had adhered to the break.
Lead researcher at Bath Health Department Jeff Lambert explains that “scrolling through social media is so ubiquitous that many of us do it almost without thinking from the moment we wake up until we close our eyes at night” and He adds that “we know that the use of social networks is enormous and that there are increasing concerns about its effects on mental health.”
Lambert adds that “many of our participants reported positive effects of being off social media with better mood and less anxiety overall. This suggests that even a short break can have an impact.” In his opinion, social networks are a part of life and for many people, an indispensable part of who they are and how they interact. But if you spend hours each week commuting and feel like it’s negatively affecting you, it might be worth reducing your usage to see if it helps.”
The research team wants to build on the study to see if taking a short break can help different populations (younger people or people with physical and mental health problems), as well as follow people for more than a week, to see whether benefits increase over time. They think that perhaps in the future this could be part of the suite of clinical options used to help manage mental health.