Could a social media break reduce stress?

If you’re feeling stressed, a University of Queensland research team have a potential solution: quit Facebook

And the benefits of a Facebook break are independent of whether you’re worried that Cambridge Analytica and other stakeholders might have more information about you than you’d like.

The UQ research team, led by Dr Eric Vanman of the School of Psychology, investigated the effects of a short break from Facebook on individuals’ stress levels and wellbeing.

They found that a break from Facebook of just five days could reduce a person’s level of the stress hormone cortisol.

But there was some good news for the social media giant.

“While participants in our study showed an improvement in physiological stress by giving up Facebook, they also reported lower feelings of well-being,” Dr Vanman says.

“People said they felt more unsatisfied with their life, and were looking forward to resuming their Facebook activity.”

There are several theories behind the mixed results, Dr Vanman says.

“Abstaining from Facebook was shown to reduce a person’s level of the stress hormone cortisol, but people’s own ratings of their stress did not change — perhaps because they weren’t aware their stress had gone down,” he says.

“People experienced less wellbeing after those five days without Facebook — they felt less content with their lives — from the resulting social disconnection of being cut-off from their Facebook friends.

“We don’t think that this is necessarily unique to Facebook, as people’s stress levels will probably reduce anytime they take a break from their favourite social media platforms.”

The study involved two groups of active users of Facebook, with one group instructed to stay away from the platform for five days and the other group using Facebook as they normally would.

All 138 participants in the study provided saliva samples at the beginning and end of the study to measure changes in their cortisol levels.

Dr Vanman says the idea for the study came from his own experience of quitting Facebook from time to time.

“When I told colleagues about my ‘Facebook vacations’, I found I wasn’t alone,” he says.

“Others admitted that they took similar breaks from Facebook when they found it too stressful or overwhelming—quitting Facebook for several days or weeks but then reconnecting.

“One of my students kept herself off Facebook by having her friend change her password so she wouldn’t be tempted to come back on, but eventually she broke down and got the password from her friend after two months had passed.

“Facebook has become an essential social tool for millions of users and it obviously provides many benefits. Yet, because it conveys so much social information about a large network of people, it can also be taxing.

“It seems that people take a break because they’re too stressed, but return to Facebook whenever they feel unhappy because they have been cut off from their friends.

“It then becomes stressful again after a while, so they take another break. And so on.”

The study is published in the Journal of Social Psychology.

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