It’s no secret that scrolling through endless images and announcements of engagements, vacations, new babies and job promotions can make you feel like you’re not accomplishing anything. But it’s pretty much impossible to log off forever and never look back.
Here’s the good news: There might be a sweet spot when it comes to the amount of time you spend on social media. Keeping your use down to just 30 minutes a day can lead to better mental health outcomes, according to research being published in December in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania looked at social media use among 143 undergraduate students in two separate trials. One trial occurred in the spring and the other a few months later in the fall.
The study authors monitored the participants’ social media use for a week across three platforms ― Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat ― to get a baseline. Then researchers gauged the students’ mental health based on seven different factors: social support, fear of missing out, loneliness, self-acceptance, self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.
Next, the authors separated the students into groups and conducted the experiment for three weeks. One group was told to keep using social media as usual; another group was tasked with limiting social media use to 10 minutes per platform a day. Researchers then looked at how the students fared in the seven categories after the experiment.
When study volunteers cut down their social media use to 30 minutes per day total, they experienced a “significant improvement in well-being,” exhibiting reduced loneliness and depression, the authors wrote. Anxiety and FOMO decreased in both groups, which researchers said could be due to increased self-monitoring during the experiment portion of the study.
“It is a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely,” lead study author Melissa Hunt told ScienceDaily. “Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.”
“When you look at other people’s lives, particularly on Instagram, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.”- Melissa Hunt, lead study author
There are a few caveats with this study: The participants only used iPhones in the experiment because the devices can track and provide objective social media app usage data. The study also only monitored students who used Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, so it doesn’t reflect experiences with other social media platforms (shoutout to anyone who goes down the negative rabbit hole known as Twitter). The study authors also don’t know if these findings could be replicated for another age group.
All that aside, there is something to be said for limiting social media while still being realistic about the fact that you’re never going to ditch it entirely. Research has shown that excessive Facebook use can contribute to increased depression and loneliness, and a 2014 study found that social media use can create social comparison, which can lead to lower self-esteem.
Bottom line: We can all benefit from a little break. The marriage status updates, dog filters, sarcastic tweets and food porn photos will still be there when we go back.
Clarification: Language in this story has been amended to remove the age range for the undergraduate students participating in the study, which the study authors did not specify.