Social media is great for fostering connections and staying informed. However, too much of it can burden your mental health. This is because social media algorithms tend to work against it.
Social media algorithms give us even more of what we are already looking at, so it’s easy to fall into patterns of mindless scrolling and doomscrolling. The latter is a term for obsessively and endlessly scrolling on social media sites for bad news.
However, there is still hope. A research team, led by Dr. Jeff Lambert, at the University of Bath found that taking a social media break is powerful for breaking you out of a bad mood and protecting your mental health and overall well-being.
The team says that taking even a week off sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter could reduce your symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve your sense of well-being. A week-long break can also free up as many as nine hours per week that you can use for other activities.
The research team randomly divided 154 daily social media users between 18 and 72 into two groups. Researchers asked the first group to forgo social media use for a week; the second was permitted to continue as usual.
Before the week-long break, participants reported averaging about eight hours weekly on social media. The researchers also obtained baseline scores for anxiety, depression, and well-being.
The researchers gathered screen time statistics during the study to confirm that the first group had taken a break. They found that those on a social media break had an average of 21 minutes of screen time throughout the week, while the second group logged about seven hours.
After a week, individuals in the group that took a break saw substantial improvement in their symptoms of depression and anxiety. They also reported a greater sense of well-being than those who didn’t take a social media break.
Although the results were good, the research team noted that they would like to investigate further the long-term effects of social media breaks, which could be vital in managing people’s mental health.
Tips for taking a social media break
You may be a good candidate for a social media break if your mood worsens after use or if it doesn’t leave you feeling a sense of hope, joy, or peace.
If you have problems falling or staying asleep, especially if you check social media before bed, it could be a good time for a social media break.
Another reliable method to check if it’s time for a social media break is by checking in with the sensations in your body. Feeling tension or having trouble taking a deep breath is a good indicator that it’s time to close that app or tab.
However, it’s not enough to merely avoid social media. You also need to think of alternative activities you can do, like playing with your pet, taking care of your plants, or listening to your favorite song—activities guaranteed to make you feel good.
Formulate a long-term plan for healthy social media use
After you’ve taken at least a week off social media, it’s time to plan for long-term use. For some people, it’s easy to deactivate their social media accounts, but for most, it can be tricky, especially if social media is related to work.
If you need to check social media for work, set a timer to avoid the temptation to scan posts for personal use. You can also limit your social media use to 30 minutes a day—enough time to check on the people you care about or those who inspire you to be a better version of yourself.
However, for some people, complete withdrawal from social media is best for their mental health. If this is you and you use social media to get your news, it’s best to find another source. If you use social media to stay connected, you may want to call your friends and family instead.
The bottom line
While social media has its benefits, its drawbacks outweigh the good. You know best when you need to take a break or limit your use. It starts with being present in your body to watch out for the warning signs, such as tension or trouble taking a deep breath.
Once you’ve identified the warning signs, it’s time to plan for your social media break. Researchers found that a one-week break has observable benefits on one’s mental health and overall sense of well-being.
After you’ve taken a week off, you need to formulate a plan for long-term social media use that won’t jeopardize your mental health and sense of well-being.
What do you think of these tips? Will you be taking a social media break soon?