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Want to improve mental health? Take a break from social media

Dr Jeff Lambert, who led the study, said scrolling social media was so ubiquitous that many people do it almost without thinking from the start of the day.

social media break
A US study showed that adult social media users had much greater odds of suffering depression. (Pixabay)

Taking a break from social media can significantly improve well-being and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, a new study has found.

The researchers, from the University of Bath, examined the mental health effects after taking a week-long break from social media. For some participants, the one-week break freed about nine hours that they would have spent on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.

“Social media (SM) has revolutionised how we communicate with each other, allowing users to interact with friends and family and meet others based on shared interests by creating virtual public profiles,” the authors wrote in the study, which has been published in the journal Cyberpsychology Behavior and Social Networking. “In the United Kingdom, the number of adults using SM has increased from 45 percent in 2011 to 71 percent in 2021.”

The researchers also noted that previous studies had also found social media use to negatively impact various mental health indices. A US study showed that adult social media users had much greater odds of suffering depression.

To investigate the benefits of taking a break from social media, the researchers studied daily social media users aged between 18 and 72. The researchers randomly assigned the individuals to either stop using social media altogether for a week or to continue their engagement.

At the beginning, the participants reported spending an average of eight hours a week on social media. Those who took a break showed improvements in well-being, anxiety, and depression.

Dr Jeff Lambert, who led the study, said scrolling social media was so ubiquitous that many people do it almost without thinking from the start of the day.

He added that it was well-known that social media usage was huge and that there were increasing concerns over its effects on mental health effects. He said they wanted to see if simply asking people to take a week-long break from social media could provide mental health benefits.

Many participants reported positive effects from taking a break with less overall anxiety and improved mood, suggesting that even a small break can be impactful, Dr Lambert said.

The researcher, however, conceded that social media was a part of life and for many and an indispensable part of their being and interactions with others. However, if spending hours a week scrolling leads to negative impacts, it could be worthwhile to cut down on its usage, he said.

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