A Week off Social Media Reduces Depression and Anxiety
A new study has revealed that taking just a week off social media can reduce depression and anxiety and increase a sense of wellbeing.
How did the study work?
Researchers split their sample of 154 people aged 18 to 72 into two groups. One group was banned from social media while the other was not. On average, participants used social media for eight hours a week.
Participants were quizzed before the study on their baseline levels of anxiety and depression, and their sense of wellbeing, using three widely-used tests;
- To measure their wellbeing they were asked to rate their agreement with statements like “I’ve been feeling optimistic about the future” and “I’ve been thinking clearly”.
- To measure depression they were asked questions such as “how often during the past two weeks were you bothered by little interest or pleasure in doing things?”
- Their anxiety was monitored using the General Anxiety Disorder Scale, which asks how often a person is bothered by feeling nervous or on edge, or an inability to stop worrying.
What did the results show?
Those who took a one-week break from social media saw their wellbeing climb from an average of 46 to 55.93 on The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale.
Levels of depression in this group dropped from 7.46 to 4.84 on the Patient Health Questionnaire-8 while anxiety fell from 6.92 to 5.94 on the scale.
Lead author Dr Jeff Lambert, of the University of Bath’s Department for Health, said the changes represented a moderate improvement in depression and wellbeing, and a small improvement in anxiety.
Have other studies shown the same results?
The ‘chicken and egg’ relationship between social media and mental health has still not been established however. ie whether social media use leads to mental health problems, or whether pre-existing feelings of low self-worth drives people to social media as a means of validation.
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% use social media and scrolling is the most frequent online activity performed.
The researchers say that in future they hope to study the impact of stopping social media use on specific parts of the population, such as younger people and those with physical and mental health conditions. They also hope to follow up with people beyond one week to see if the benefits of the social media break have a lasting effect.
What steps can we take to improve our own wellbeing?
#1 Log off
Logging off for either a small or longer period of time would seem to be a good idea, as suggested by this study and many others.
#2 Cut down
If logging-off completely isn’t feasible, then cutting down on the amount of time spent on social media (particularly the time spent passively scrolling) is also linked to improvements in mental health.
#3 Be more mindful
A mindful approach, which takes a note of how we are feeling before and after episodes on apps, is also recommended to monitor the unique impact it may be having on our own wellbeing. Checking in with ourselves from time to time and asking the question “how does this make me feel?” is top on our list of strategies to build a healthier relationship.
My Brain Has Too Many Tabs Open
For more about how the digital world is impacting our wellbeing. Out now on Amazon and in all good bookshops.