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Reducing time on social media can boost well-being

Image of an iPhone displaying several social media apps
dole777 | Unsplash

By Susannah Hollywood

New research says that reducing social media use can reduce feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety, while boosting the tendency to feel positive emotions.

Social media is now deeply embedded in day-to-day life, an intrinsic element of our connection to others.

Easily accessible from a range of devices, many people spend significant amounts of their time each day engaging on these platforms.

Use of social media apps can bring positive benefits, improving feelings of bonding and social connection, enhancing relationships.

However, there is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that high usage can be detrimental to our mental health.

Studies show that the more time spent on social media, the greater the risk of loneliness, ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out), social isolation and the development of anxiety and depression.

Most of the previous research in this area has focussed on the effects on psychological well-being of stopping social media use altogether.

However, many of these studies conclude that fully abstaining is difficult for some people and so may not be sustainable in the long term.

In addition, these interventions tended to rely on significant external supervision, something not practical in real life.

Researchers at Iowa State University recently conducted a study to explore the benefits of a more practical way of reducing the psychological risks associated with social media.

This involved evaluating the effects of limiting, rather than completely stopping, social media use, using only self-monitoring.

The 230 students involved in the study were randomly divided into two groups. One half of the participants was asked to limit social media use to 30 minutes per day.

This represented a significant reduction from the students’ usual usage, calculated as an average of 195 minutes per day.

The other half of the students made up the control group, who were left to use social media as normal.




The group limiting their social media use were sent daily reminders to do so via email but received no external oversight or checks.

Daily time spent on social media apps was managed and monitored by the individuals themselves.

The participants were evaluated on a range of psychological well-being dimensions, both before the study began and again at the end of two weeks.

There was no significant difference between the two groups, pre-test, however, results clearly showed that the group who limited their social media use gained significant improvements across multiple areas over the course of the study.

Scores for anxiety, depression, FOMO, loneliness, and negative effect (the tendency to experience negative emotions) were markedly lower in this group compared with the control group.

Scores for positive effect (the tendency to experience positive emotions) were higher in the group limiting their social media time.

These results show that psychological benefits can be gained by reducing social media use, without stopping altogether.

They also indicate that self-monitoring is an effective method of managing time limits.

The study investigators feel that both findings are practical measures which can be sustainably implemented in real life.

Researchers of this study acknowledge that it is not always easy to limit social media use, as these apps are designed with the aim of keeping users engaged.

However, they hope that these results will encourage young people to make efforts in this regard, given the potential mental health benefits that can be gained.


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