Spending a week away from social media can have a “significant” impact on mental health, helping to reduce levels of anxiety and depression, as well as helping to improve mood. This is the main conclusion of a new study that has analyzed whether a disconnection of a few days from Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter can be enough to have relevant positive effects for users who use them for an hour or more a day.
The researchers’ analysis shows that this stop produces an immediate benefit in mental well-being, according to the results they have published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. In addition, these effects are independent of the user’s age, since no significant differences were found between the study participants (who were between 18 and 72 years old).
To carry out the study, the researchers separated the participants into two groups. One of them was set as the control group, while the other was asked to minimize their exposure to social networks. All the participants made daily use of them, accumulating an average time of use of about eight hours a week.
Members of the intervention group were advised to uninstall Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram apps during the week of the study, close open sessions in browsers, or use app blockers. However, these measures were not mandatory, and finally the participants in the intervention group registered an average use of social networks of about 21 minutes during that week.
The researchers found that one week of almost complete reduction in social media exposure “can lead to significant improvements in well-being, depression and anxiety.” Specifically, they recorded an improvement of 4.9 points in mood, as well as a decrease of 2.2 in symptoms of depression and 1.7 in anxiety.
“Scrolling on social media is so ubiquitous that many of us do it almost without thinking from the time we wake up until we close our eyes at night,” says research leader Jeffrey Lambert of the UK’s University of Bath. “We know that social media use is huge and that there is increasing concern about its effects on mental health, so with this study we wanted to see if simply asking people to take a week off could produce benefits for Mental health”.
“Many of our participants reported positive effects of not using social media, with improved mood and less anxiety in general. This suggests that even a short break can have an impact,” says the researcher: “Of course , social networks are part of life and, for many people, they are an indispensable part of their identity and the way they interact with others, but if you spend hours a week scrolling and you feel that it is affecting you negatively, it could It might be worth reducing your use to see if it helps.
The study results align with other previous research that has found evidence of improvements in mental health from short disconnections from social networks. Other analyzes of this type have found that limiting the use of networks to just 10 minutes per platform per day for 3 weeks led to a clinically significant reduction in depression in university students, or that, paradoxically, reducing the use of Facebook causes decrease the feeling of loneliness.
However, the University of Bath researchers stress that there are “significant gaps” in research on the impact of social media on mental health. “In particular, the notion that different platforms generate different psychological outcomes based on differences in their features and capabilities. For example, our results indicated that reducing time spent on Twitter and TikTok may have a greater impact on reducing depression symptoms, while only TikTok mediates anxiety reduction,” they note.
They also ask to emphasize the need to study the effects of periods of disconnection longer than a week, as well as with vulnerable population groups. Something that is not always easy given the refusal of the platforms to open their systems to external audit.
Internal analyzes of social media companies also point in this direction. In October 2021, former Facebook worker Frances Haugen revealed that the company runs its own studies that have detected negative mental health effects from the use of its platforms. According to the documentation that she made available to the US Senate, the use of Instagram causes one in three adolescents who use it to have a worse image of her body. She also denounced that the company knows that between 5 and 6% of 14-year-olds are addicted to this platform, but that their refusal to open their data to external researchers prevents knowing the real situation.
Meta (owner of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram) denounced that Haugen “worked in the company for less than two years” and that “the image” he gave of the company “is false”. “He did not have people in his charge, he never attended decision-making meetings with senior executives and he has answered up to six times that he did not work directly on the issues that the senators asked him about,” the company highlighted. However, both Facebook and the rest of the social networks have promoted self-control measures so that users can be more aware of the time they spend on them.
The most used social networks in Spain are the three from Meta, especially WhatsApp. Facebook and Instagram are the ones with the most implementation of those analyzed in the study, since 81.4% and 68.1% of Internet users over 15 years of age use them, according to data from the National Observatory of Technology and Society, dependent on the Ministry of Economic Affairs. 9% of Instagram users spend more than four hours a day on the platform. Both Facebook and Instagram have a section in the user panel called “your activity” where you can check the time spent and configure maximum usage times.
The implementation of TikTok is not that great (approximately a quarter of Internet users use it) but it does stand out for the fact that it manages to retain the attention of its users for a longer time. More than 50% use it more than one hour a day and 10% more than four. From the company they explain to this newspaper that “in the privacy and security settings of TikTok, users can access the ‘digital detox’ menu, where they can also manage how much time they spend in the application and what type of content is shown. In this way, we make it easier for our users, and especially minors, to develop positive digital habits”.
From Twitter (used by 41% of those over 15 years of age, of which 8% use it between two and four hours) they state that they have reached agreements with the Friendly Screens organization to “promote the responsible use of technology” , how to reduce the use of mobile. Sources from the social network also state that it has designed “advanced resources” to help people seeking information about suicide to try to redirect them to help systems such as the Telephone of Hope.