Monday, 13 May, 2024

Week-long break from social media can improve mental health

A UK study found people who stopped scrolling on social media for one week experienced marked improvements in their wellbeing.

Asking people to stop using social media for just one week could lead to significant improvements in their mental health and a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety, a UK study has found.

The study, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking, was carried out by a team of researchers at the University of Bath, who studied the mental health effects of a social media break on 154 participants aged 18 to 72.

The participants were randomly allocated into an intervention group, where they were asked to stop using all social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok) for one week, and a control group where they continued scrolling as normal.

At the start of the study, researchers took baseline scores for anxiety, depression and wellbeing. Participants reported spending an average of 8 hours per week on social media.

One week later, participants who took a break showed significant improvements in well-being, depression and anxiety than those who continued to use social media, suggesting a short-term benefit.

Participants who were asked to take the 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 make sure participants adhered to the hiatus.

“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,” explained Dr Jeff Lambert, lead researcher from Bath’s Department of Health.

“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.”

Lambert said that many of the study’s participants reported positive effects from being off social media with “improved mood and less anxiety,” suggesting that even a brief 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,” he added.

Over the last 15 years, social media has revolutionised how we communicate.

According to Pew Research, 69 percent of adults and 81 percent of teenagers in the US use social media. In the UK, the number of adults using social media increased from 45 percent in 2011 to 71 percent in 2021.

The team now wants to build on the study and see whether taking a short break can help different populations like younger people or those with physical and mental health conditions.

They also want to follow people who abstained from social media for longer than one week to see if those benefits last over time.

If it does, researchers speculate that it could form part of the suite of clinical options to help manage mental health.

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