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A break from social networks improves mental health: a new study

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Asking people to stop using social media for just one week could lead to significant improvements in their well-being, depression and anxiety. In the future, this “disconnect” could be recommended as a way to help people manage their mental health, say the authors of a new study. The latter was conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Bath (United Kingdom). He analyzed the mental health effects of a week-long social media break. For some study participants, that meant freeing up around nine hours of their week that would otherwise have been spent scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.

Their findings – published in the US journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking – suggest that just one week’s absence from social media improves individuals’ overall level of well-being, while reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. .

 

For the study, researchers randomly assigned 154 people between the ages of 18 and 72 who used social media on a daily basis to an intervention group, in which they were asked to stop using all social media for a week or in a control group, where they could continue to flow normally. Baseline scores for anxiety, depression, and well-being were taken at the start of the study.

Participants reported spending an average of 8 hours per week on social media at the start of the study. A week later, participants who were asked to take a week off saw significant improvements in well-being, depression, and anxiety compared to those who continued to use social media. which suggests a short-term benefit.

Participants asked to take a week off from 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 joined the outage. Bath Health Department lead researcher Dr Jeff Lambert explains: “Social media browsing is so ubiquitous that many of us do it almost without thinking from the moment we wake up until the when we close our eyes at night.

“We know that the use of social media is enormous and there are growing concerns about its effects on mental health. Therefore, with this study, we wanted to see if simply asking people to take a week off could have beneficial effects on mental health. Many of our participants reported positive effects of being off social media with improved mood and less anxiety overall. This suggests that even a small break can have an impact. Of course, social media is a part of life and for many people it is an indispensable part of who they are and how they interact with others. But if you spend hours each week scrolling and feel it’s having a negative impact on you, it might be worth cutting back on your usage to see if it helps,” the researchers commented.

The team now wants to build on the study to see if taking a short break can help different populations (for example, young people or people with physical and mental health issues). The team also wants to follow people for more than a week, to see if the benefits last over time. If so, in the future, they believe it could be part of the suite of clinical options used to help manage mental health.

Over the past 15 years, social media has revolutionized the way we communicate, underscored by the meteoric growth of major platforms. In the UK, the number of adults using social media has increased from 45% in 2011 to 71% in 2021. Between the ages of 16 and 44, up to 97% of us use social media and scrolling is online activity more frequent than effective.

Feeling “weak” and losing pleasure are key features of depression, while anxiety is characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worry. Well-being refers to an individual’s level of positive affect, life satisfaction, and sense of purpose. According to The Mind, one in six people suffer from a common mental health condition like anxiety and depression in any given week.

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