Fancy a social media detox? Giving up Facebook can reduce levels of cortisol, a key hormone related to stress, according to a new study.
However, the benefits aren’t quite so clear-cut.
Quitting the social network was also shown to lower study participants’ sense of wellbeing, too.
And, after the test period of five days, most of the volunteers were happy to check back in on Facebook again.
Researchers from the Australian Catholic University and the University of Queensland in Australia say the mixed results could indicate that temporary rather than complete breaks from Facebook are best for our overall health.
“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,” write the researchers.
With only 138 people involved in the study, and just five days of measurements, it’s a stretch to make any broad generalisations about all of Facebook’s 1 billion plus users.
But the research has some interesting points to make about the effects social media sites have on us – both the effects we know about and those that happen subconsciously.
For example, measurements of the saliva of the people who gave up Facebook showed that cortisol levels had gone down.
But the volunteers themselves didn’t report feeling any less stressed – maybe a sign that social networking prompts biological changes that we don’t immediately know about.
The sample of people was broken down into two groups, with one group quitting Facebook for five days, and the other group using Facebook as normal.
“While participants in our study showed an improvement in physiological stress by giving up Facebook, they also reported lower feelings of well-being,” says one of the team, psychologist Eric Vanman from the University of Queensland.
“People said they felt more unsatisfied with their life, and were looking forward to resuming their Facebook activity.”
Vanman says it’s the social disconnect of being off Facebook that could be leading to the lower levels of reported well-being. Quitting Facebook temporarily can be good to escape the overload of information, but it also cuts us off from our friends.
In other words – maybe we can’t live with Facebook and we can’t live without it.
Remember that large-scale social networks have only been around for 10 years or so. There are a lot of unanswered questions about how this instant access to hundreds of friends affects our mental and even physical health.
At the same time, it keeps us in touch with family and friends we otherwise wouldn’t see, maintaining emotional bonds that would otherwise get broken.
Vanman says he knows plenty of people who often take ‘vacations’ from Facebook, and the research was prompted by his own habits of taking regular Facebook breaks. Some of us seem trapped in a repeating cycle.
“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,” says Vanman.
“It then becomes stressful again after a while, so they take another break. And so on.”
The research has been published in the Journal of Social Psychology.