Free time on social media promotes mental health, study suggests – Capital Gazette

It’s no secret that too much social media can be bad for mental health. Now research suggests that even a short break from TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Staying away from social media for a week meant gaining about nine hours of free time for some study participants, which improved their well-being, British researchers report.

“If you feel like you’re using too much social media and it’s negatively impacting your mental health, taking a break may be worth a try and give you at least some short-term improvements,” said study author Jeff Lambert, an assistant professor of health psychology at the University of Bath.

These findings could have implications for how people manage their mental health, and offer people another opportunity to try, Lambert said. “However, further research is needed to investigate the longer-term effects and whether it is appropriate in a clinical context,” he added.

For the study, the researchers randomly selected 154 people ages 18 to 72 who used social media every day and were told to either stop using all social media for a week or just keep going. People in the study spent an average of eight hours a week on social media.

Those who took a break from social media had significant improvements in well-being, depression and anxiety, compared with those who continued to use social media, the study found.

Those who took a week-long break used social media for an average of 21 minutes, compared to about seven hours in those who didn’t, Lambert said.

The findings were recently published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

dr. Scott Krakower, a psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in New York City, thinks social media can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety for some people when they compare themselves to others on these sites.

“They may feel inadequate because they are not like the people they associate with,” he said. “You don’t know anything about them, but you still know a lot of information and you may feel like you’re being left out because of some of the things another person does, evoking feelings of inadequacy and lowering self-esteem.”

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Krakower doesn’t think that leaving social media altogether isn’t necessarily the best strategy for people experiencing negative feelings. It’s better, he believes, to develop a plan to manage social media usage, which may mean going to these sites less or taking frequent short breaks.

“I think if you suspect that the depression [and] anxiety is because you are online or you get upset watching things you notice on social media, and it hinders your functioning, then I think you should take a little break even if it is a day or two days, and see how you do without,” Krakower said.

“I don’t think you need to completely get rid of it unless you feel like you’re completely addicted to it, but I think you should keep an eye on it,” Krakower said.

Another expert said that staying away from social media is not the solution, but learning how to use these sites in a healthy way.

“While abstinence can indeed improve well-being, it may not be realistic, attainable, or even advisable in the long run,” said Melissa Hunt, associate director of clinical training in the Department of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Ultimately, our goal should be damage mitigation with these platforms, not abstinence,” she said. “These platforms have become an important part of everyday life for most people under the age of 30. The real challenge is helping people use the platforms consciously and adaptively.”

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