At one point or another, you've probably felt a little overwhelmed by your Facebook news feed. Whether you've found yourself scrolling through a thousand opinions on celeb gossip, a bevy of depressing news updates, or you're simply spending way too much time looking at your ex's vacation pics with their new SO, sometimes, literal hours can get lost in absorbing information that leaves you feeling, well, not so great. But does Facebook actually cause stress, or is it simply how you choose to engage with it?
Well, according to new research, it's very possible that your social media habits might have both negative and positive impacts on your mental and physical health, so the key to keeping it all in check is figuring out a balance, and yeah, maybe taking some much-needed breaks from your feeds from time to time.
Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia and Australian Catholic University recently carried out a study that illustrated pretty mixed results about how your level of engagement on social media sites like Facebook can affect the way you feel. In the study, which has been published in The Journal of Social Psychology, 138 participants, who all identified as active Facebook users, were placed into two groups: One group gave up Facebook for five days, while the other group was told to use Facebook as per usual. Before and after the experimental period, the participants' levels of perceived stress and well-being were recorded, in addition to their physical cortisol (aka a hormone that regulates stress) levels, which were collected via samples of their saliva.
According to the study's results, people who stopped using Facebook showed a physical drop in their stress levels, but interestingly enough, they didn't quite feel less stressed out.
While the participants' cortisol levels seemed lower in a physiological sense, those who took the five-day Facebook break apparently reported feeling less satisfied with their lives.
According to Dr. Eric Vanman, a researcher on the study who works at the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland, the people involved in the experiment likely felt less involved with their loved ones when they weren't interacting on social media, and this, he explained, is what probably led to those declined feelings of well-being.
He told UQ News,
People experienced less well-being 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.
He added that the participants didn't actually report feeling less stressed, even though their bodies said otherwise:
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.
The researchers pointed out that, in this way, your body might be in a kind of disagreement with your mind: What you think of as connecting with friends, might not actually be all that great for your physical body.
Now, this is obviously just one study, and a fairly small one at that, so it's important to take these findings with a bit of a grain of salt. If there's anything to take away from the research, though, it's this: Short breaks from social media every now and then could be good for you. The researchers wrote in 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.
Dr. Vanman also pointed out to UQ News that these findings aren't "necessarily unique to Facebook," but rather, social media engagement as a whole. And, according to Texas-based counselor, Heidi McBain, this whole social media stress thing is definitely real.
"Social media can cause stress when people compare their lives to what they are seeing people post," she tells Elite Daily.
It's important, Mcbain adds, to acknowledge that people are usually posting pictures of their "best selves," so those of us looking at these pictures need to realize there's usually more going on in their lives than what the picture is showing you.
Ashleigh Edelstein, LMFTA, a Texas-based therapist who works with teens, couples, and young adults, agrees with McBain, highlighting the notion that comparing yourself to everyone else's "highlight reels" can definitely be a cause of internal stress.
"Getting into that comparison trap is incredibly stressful, because it creates pressure to portray an impossibly perfect version of ourselves," Edelstein tells Elite Daily.
If you want to start incorporating little social media breaks into your own day-to-day, but you're not quite sure how to stop reaching for your phone whenever you're bored, McBain recommends taking mindful, deliberate steps to minimize your time on social media.
"Set timers for the amount of time you’re allowing yourself to look at [social] feeds," she tells Elite Daily. "Also, plug your phone in another room at night so you aren’t looking at social media right before bed."
Another easy trick, Edelstein explains, is to turn off notifications and, like McBain suggests, only log in at set times during the day.
"You may actually start to enjoy the peacefulness of a quiet phone," Edelstein tells Elite Daily.
Huh, imagine that!