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Taking a break from social media improves psychological well-being, depression, and anxiety


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by Patricia Y. Sanchez

High social media usage may result in increased odds for depression and poorer mental health in general. According to new research published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, taking a one week break from social media platforms like TikTok may improve well-being and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Some previous studies have shown participants to have better well-being and lower levels of loneliness and depression after taking a break. However, “there is currently still a lack of studies examining the effect of reducing [social media] use on well-being, depression, and anxiety, with studies calling for more experimental research,” wrote study author Jeffrey Lambert and colleagues.

“To address these gaps, the present study aimed to understand the impact of taking a 1-week break from [social media] (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok) on well-being, depression, and anxiety compared with using [social media] as normal.”

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Participants were recruited from various social media sites and by word-of-mouth, local news ads, and radio broadcasts. Eligible participants were adults, reported using social media every day, and willing to stop using social media for one week. Participants who were iPhone users needed access to the ScreenTime app and Android users needed to download the ActionDash app, which they used to provide evidence of their screen time. Participation was voluntary and not compensated.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups: the intervention group where they were asked to quit social media for a week and the control group where they continued social media use as normal. After 1 week, all participants took a follow up survey where they provided evidence of their screen time from the relevant apps. Participants then completed measures assessing well-being, depression, and anxiety both at the beginning of participation and in the follow up survey.

Results indicate intervention group showed overall improvement in well-being scores compared to the control group. Further, the intervention group showed significant reductions in depression and anxiety scores compared to the control group. Follow up analyses suggest the improvement in well-being and reduction of depression and anxiety scores worked through participants reporting spending less minutes on social media.

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The researchers noted that different platforms appeared to be associated with different psychological outcomes. “For example, our results indicated that reducing time spent on Twitter and TikTok may mediate the effect abstaining has on reductions in symptoms of depression, whereas only TikTok mediates reductions in anxiety,” they explained.

Overall, results from this study add to the growing research literature showing the negative impacts of social media use on mental health. The authors cite their recruitment method as a potential limitation of this research as recruiting people who were already willing to abstain from social media might have impacted their results.

The study, “Taking a One-Week Break from Social Media Improves Well-Being, Depression, and Anxiety“, was authored by Jeffrey Lambert, George Barnstable, Eleanor Minter, Jemima Cooper, and Desmond McEwan.

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