Years ago, I took a break from all social media for nearly two months. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, but I freed up a lot of my time. Sadly, I don't know that I could do it again — I'd be worried about missing important news and life updates from friends. If you're thinking about quitting Facebook or taking a break, you're probably wondering whether quitting Facebook is worth it. According to a new study, taking a Facebook break can reduce stress after only five days off the platform.
Why is Facebook so stressful, anyway? From the study's abstract: "Our results suggest that the typical Facebook user may occasionally find the large amount of social information available taxing, and Facebook vacations could ameliorate this stress—at least in the short-term." Basically, our Facebook feeds give us a ton of information, and that can become a double-edged sword.
Researchers from the University of Queensland studied 138 Facebook users — about half stayed on Facebook, while half took a five-day break. The researchers analyzed saliva samples to measure levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. Those who gave up Facebook saw a drop in cortisol after a few days — but there were downsides. “While participants in our study showed an improvement in physiological stress by giving up Facebook, they also reported lower feelings of well-being," study co-author Dr. Eric Vanman said in a press release about the study. “People said they felt more unsatisfied with their life, and were looking forward to resuming their Facebook activity.”
I can identify with the findings about not being on social media and how it affects well-being. When I took my break from social media, I did feel less stressed because I had time to finish everything on my to-do list, but I also found myself incredibly bored. When I logged back in, I had hundreds of notifications, and I looked at all of them. Even though your cortisol levels drop, you may found yourself less satisfied with life if you quit Facebook for any period of time.
"Facebook has become an essential social tool for millions of users and it obviously provides many benefits," Dr. Vanman was quoted as saying in the press release on the study. "Yet, because it conveys so much social information about a large network of people, it can also be taxing." He continued, "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.”
Of course, 138 people is not a large sample size, so these results are not a sure-fire bet — leaving social media may not give you any measurable reduction in stress — but it's interesting food for thought. Other studies have previously found wellness benefits stemming from taking a break from social media, and humans certainly got along fine for thousands of years without it, so it's not as if it would be harmful, either.
People have been pledging to quit the website in the aftermath of the allegations about Cambridge Analytica, a Trump-affiliated firm that allegedly mined data from millions of Facebook users. (Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a statement outlining the steps the company will take to prevent data breaches.) But if you do take a short-term break, be prepared for reduced stress levels, but also expect a possible decrease in happiness. It seems like all of that mindless scrolling actually has an effect on us, both good and bad.