Limiting Social Media Use Improves Psychological Wellbeing and Reduces Anxiety and Depression

Cutting back on social media use can improve psychological wellbeing.

Researchers at Iowa State University found that students who limited social media use to just 30 minutes a day has lower scores for depression, anxiety, loneliness and the fear of missing out. 

“This study breaks new ground by finding that after just two weeks of limiting

social media usage, the self-monitored group showed significant improvements in

their psychological well-being. It surprised me to find that participants’ well-being did not only improve in one dimension but in all of them, including, anxiety, depression, loneliness, fear of missing out, and negative affect decreased while positive affect increased,” Ella Faulhaber, PhD, author of the study and a student in human compute interaction at Iowa State University told Theravive. 

The “positive affect” refers to students feeling more positive emotions and having a brighter outlook on life. 

“In today’s world, social media has become an omnipresent phenomenon. Whether you’re on a university campus like I am, or waiting in line at a grocery store, it’s hard to miss the sight of countless individuals engrossed in their phones, scrolling through social media platforms. Previous studies have highlighted the potential negative consequences of social media usage. As a result, we felt compelled to develop an intervention aimed at mitigating these adverse effects. We recognize the pervasive presence of social media in today’s society and acknowledge the potential negative outcomes associated with social media usage. Our intervention aims to address these concerns and promote a healthier, more balanced relationship with social media.” 

230 college students participated in the study. Half of them were asked to limit the amount of time they spent on social media to just 30 minutes a day. Each day, they were given an automated daily reminder. 

The other half of the students were asked to continue their social media use as normal. 

At the end of the two week experiment, the group who limited their social media use scored better on all psychological measures. 

The researchers also found that the psychological benefits could be seen in people who occasionally exceeded the 30 minute limit. The researchers say this suggests it’s not about perfection but about being mindful of limiting use. 

« What is interesting about this study is that we don’t actually know if the participants hit the 30 minutes or not. As I saw in the qualitative feedback, some participants indicated that they didn’t always hit those 30 minutes. One participant said: “I tried to limit my social media use to 30 minutes but sometimes I went over the 30 minutes and my usage time was closer to an hour”. The point is not hitting the actual number of 30 minutes perfectly, it is getting as close as possible and trying. On average, just over the course of two weeks, people trying to limit to 30 mins a day saw a significant improvements in their psychological well-being, on many dimensions,” Faulhaber said. 

“The power of this study is that it is practical but ultimately, it does indicate that awareness can be powerful enough to get someone to actually change their behaviors in a way that does have an impact on their everyday life. It was really fascinating to see how many changes the participants became aware of when changing/limiting their social media usage. 30 minutes is not a magic number; self-limiting and paying attention are probably the secret ingredients to the success of this experiment!” 

She argues the experiment proves that people can take control of their social media use and in doing so, reap the benefits of improved mental wellbeing. 

“We can make recommendations to individuals wanting to use social media less, such as creating awareness. Users can set a timer and become aware of their usage. Most people don’t even know how much time has passed when they are aimlessly scrolling,” Faulhaber said. 

“Next, I would call on people to give themselves grace. It is important to appreciate that it is not going to be easy to adhere to a time limit. Part of the design and character of social media platforms is to keep you engaged and keep

your attention. Lastly, I’d recommend that people not give up. This experiment shows: “this is doable!”. It also shows that if people try to limit their social media usage to 30 minutes, it is effective and research has shown that they feel better.” 

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