Can a social media break improve mental health?

Can a social media break improve mental health?
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A new study finds that a social media break could lead to significant improvements in wellbeing, depression and anxiety.

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. As a result, some participants freed up around nine hours of their week which was usually spent on social media applications like Instagram and Facebook.

The results can be found in the US journal Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking.

Does a social media break work?

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% of us use social media, and scrolling is the most frequent online activity we perform.

The researchers allocated 154 individuals aged 18 to 72 who used social media every day into either an intervention group, where they were asked to have a social media break for one week or a control, where they could continue using social media. The researchers took baseline scores for anxiety, depression and wellbeing.

Before the study, participants reported an average of eight hours per week on social media. The following week, the participants who were asked to take a social media break had significant improvements in wellbeing, depression and anxiety than those who continued to use social media, suggesting a short-term benefit.

Participants taking the one-week social media break reported an average of 21 minutes of social media use compared to an average of seven hours for those in the control group. Screen usage statistics were provided to check that participants adhered to the break.

Lead researcher from Bath’s Department for Health, Dr Jeff Lambert, explained: “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.”

What next?

The researchers want to test whether taking a short break can help different populations and follow people up for longer than one week to understand if the benefits last. If further research is completed, a social media break could form part of the suite of clinical options for managing mental health.



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