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What Happens When You Quit, or at Least Really Cut Back, Your Social Media Use?


For many people, checking social media regularly and spending a lot of time on it is a part of everyday life. But what is the impact on your well-being if you just quit for a while, or at least significantly cut back? You’ll probably be at least a little bit better off, according to a couple of recent studies. Substantial research over the past few years has linked social media use with reduced well-being, sleep problems and increased loneliness, depression and mental distress.

Quitting Facebook for a Month

Researchers from Stanford and New York University wanted to take a rigorous look at the impact of completely quitting Facebook for a month. They recruited more than 3,000 regular Facebook users—people who used Facebook at least 15 minutes a day. The average time participants spent on Facebook was an hour a day. Participants completed extensive questionnaires, including information about their daily routines and general state of mind. Half of the participants were assigned to deactivate their Facebook accounts for one month. The research team monitored them to ensure they remained off the social media platform.

They found that while many people missed the interaction of Facebook, they also experienced benefits, including improved well-being. Those who quit had less online activity, including other social media, and they increased offline activities, such as spending time with family and friends and time alone watching TV. There was very little substitution of other online activities for the time they had been spending on Facebook.

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The study found that the largest well-being effects were on life satisfaction, anxiety, depression and happiness. The authors estimate that deactivating Facebook increased subjective well-being by about 25-40 percent as much as standard psychological interventions.

After the time off Facebook, participants were less knowledge about current news, so Facebook was an important source of news for many, but they were also less politically polarized without Facebook. As one participant noted in a follow-up interview: “I think I was in a better mood generally. I thought I would miss seeing everyone’s day-to-day activities... I really didn’t miss it at all.”

“I didn’t like it at first at all, I felt very cut off from people that I like,” another noted, “I use Facebook in a social aspect in a very big way.” Other participants mentioned especially missing posting for special family events and participating in online groups. However, the benefits were enough for some—after the study, 10 percent of those who had quit Facebook continued to abstain from Facebook for at least a week.

The authors concluded: “Our results leave little doubt that Facebook produces large benefits for its users, including as a source of (real) news and information, as a source of entertainment, a means to organize a charity or an activist group, or a social lifeline for those who are otherwise isolated.” However, the results also “make clear that the downsides are real.” Going without Facebook for four weeks improved well-being.

Reducing Social Media Use to 30 Minutes a Day

Another recent study, from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, looked at the impact of limiting the use of social media. The researchers recruited 143 undergraduate students and monitored their social media use for a week. The students were then randomly assigned either to continue social media use as usual for another three weeks or limit Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat use to 10 minutes each per day. After the three weeks, the group with limited use had significant reductions in loneliness and depression compared to the control group. Both groups showed decreases in anxiety and “fear of missing out” (FOMO) over baseline.

The authors concluded that the study strongly suggests that limiting social media use has a direct, positive impact on subjective well-being, especially decreasing loneliness and depression. “It is ironic, but perhaps not surprising,” the authors note, “that reducing social media, which promised to help us connect with others, actually helps people feel less lonely and depressed.”

While completely foregoing social media may not be a realistic option for many, using it in moderation may be a good approach–limiting the time you spend on social media and being mindful of how you’re spending your time on social media.



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