Feeling depressed or anxious? A 1-week break from social media can help, study finds

·4 min read

Most people own a cell phone and use social media apps, but a new study shows you may want to take a break.

The study asked adults to take a one-week break from social media, specifically Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.

Those who did said they felt better and less depressed.

People are constantly on their cell phones.

“I’m on social media pretty much every day,” said Samuel Shortz, a social media user.

Channel 2 Action News found people using their phones on the street, at work and even at the park.

“I really enjoy being on TikTok and Instagram,” said Georgia State University student and social media user Talaijah Murphy.

“I could be up late at night, … (and) you’re just scrolling on TikTok,” said Dre, a social media user.

It’s the first and last thing many of us do on any given day: look at social media.

“It’s definitely an impulsive thing, or maybe it’s a compulsive thing,” said Cara Tupps, a social media user.

She found herself spending hours on Instagram, so she went silent on social media for Lent.

“I had to delete the app entirely so that I couldn’t just mindlessly open the app again,” Tupps said.

She did it on her own but came to the same conclusion as those who took part in a British study by the University of Bath.

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“I think it’s good to pause that attention, that constant cycle of these things are coming at me, ... and just be quiet,” Tupps said. “I think that helps more with anxiety.”

The study, published in May, took 154 people and broke them into two groups. One kept using social media, and the other took a one-week break.

“People who were randomized into the one-week-break group had improved outcomes in relation to their overall level of ... well-being and also improved symptoms of depression and anxiety,” said Jeffrey Lambert, Ph.D., the lecturer at the University of Bath who led the study.

You don’t need to scroll for long before getting bombarded with what researchers think causes that heightened anxiety.

“It’s a lot of bad news, you know?” said Samuel Shortz.

It’s all over social media; it’s hard to miss all the negative news.

Scientists call it “doom-scrolling.”

Dr. Lambert said “doom-scrolling” takes place “predominately on things like Twitter, where they’re just looking at bad news.”

It turns out FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is also a real stressor. Researchers found all those nice pictures people post can make you feel pretty bad.

“We kind of compare, ... like, ‘Oh, I wish my life was like that,’ so it can get ... a little stressful and anxious,” said Chania Price, a social media user.

How much time is too much? Researchers said that is up to you, but they found people spent 10 or more hours a week on social media.

Dre said he spends 12 hours of screen time on social media per week, adding, “That’s kind of bad, considering I have a job.”

“You know that’s more than a workday,” Channel 2 investigative reporter Sophia Choi said.

“Right,” replied Dre.

But what came first? Did too much social media use lead to more anxiety, or are depressed people just using it more?

“Because we were randomizing people into two groups and then checking their usage after that one week, we were able to say with a bit more certainty that it was the effect of coming off social media that led to those reductions in depression and anxiety,” Lambert said.

Tupps said it worked for her, and disconnecting had another benefit: It helped her reconnect with family and friends.

“I had to proactively reach out to my friends … and just have that connection in that community, which I think is really important to mental health,” Tupps said.

The pull from social media is so strong, even some of those taking a break during this study snuck in a little time.

If that happens, don’t beat yourself up.

Scientists said just limiting your time on some of these apps can really help.

Channel 2 Action News emailed the parent companies of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok about the study but didn’t hear back from them.

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