May 6, 2022 -- Taking a weeklong break from social media can lower feelings of anxiety and depression, according to a new study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.
People who stopped using platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for seven days reported an increased sense of well-being, and some said they freed up about nine hours in their week that they would have spent scrolling.
“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,” Jeff Lambert, the lead study author and a health and exercise psychologist at the University of Bath, said in a statement.
“We know that social media usage is huge and that there are increasing concerns about its mental health effects,” he said. “We wanted to see whether simply asking people to take a week’s break could yield mental health benefits.”
Lambert and colleagues divided 154 participants between ages 18-72 who use social media daily into two groups — one where they were asked to stop using all social media for a week and one where they could continue scrolling as usual. At the beginning of the study, baseline scores for anxiety, depression, and well-being were taken. Before the study began, participants reported spending an average of eight hours per week on social media.
One week later, participants who took a break had significant improvements in their anxiety, depression, and well-being scores than those who continued to use social media as usual. In addition, those who took a one-week break reported using social media for an average of 21 minutes, compared to an average of seven hours for the control group.
Participants who took a break were more likely to agree with well-being statements such as “I’ve been feeling optimistic about the future” and “I’ve been thinking clearly.” They were also less likely to feel nervous, worried, or report depressive symptoms.
“Many of our participants reported positive effects from being off social media with improved mood and less anxiety overall,” Lambert said. “This suggests that even just a small break can have an impact.”
The research team now plans to study whether other groups can benefit from taking a short break from social media, including younger people and those with physical and mental health conditions. The group also wants to follow people for longer than a week to measure whether the benefits last over time.
If results last, study authors wrote, a social media break could be prescribed as an available option for managing mental health.
“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,” Lambert said. “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.”