Social media is now an embedded part of our society; everyone from your mom to random Instagram influencers uses it to stay connected with their friends, or to get noticed. However, researchers and psychologists have also noted that social media can have a corrosive effect on mental health. If you’ve been considering the benefits of a social media break, you’re not alone. Experts tell Bustle that giving up social media for a month might bring psychological benefits, though the impact depends heavily on how you use Insta, Facebook, Twitter and the rest — and what it means to you.
“Like anything, social media are not inherently good or bad, as that is up to the user,” psychotherapist Dr. Lisa Larsen, PsyD, tells Bustle. “Some people use them to stalk ex-lovers or promulgate troubling beliefs, while others use it how it was probably intended — to keep in touch with loved ones and friends.” Research indicates that while a moderate amount of social media usage may be fine, excessive dependence on it can be damaging, and mean you over-invest in the highly unrealistic presentations of others. “Using social media to the extent that it dominates your activities daily is not good,” clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow, PhD, tells Bustle. If you’ve noticed that you spend hours every day scrolling, retweeting or getting into arguments on social media, it may be time to switch off for a while. Here’s what might happen next.
1. It Can Improve Psychological Wellness
Science now shows that a month-long break from social media can have distinct, if small, psychological benefits. Researcher Sarah Eichmeyer of Stanford’s Economics Department was part of a research team in 2018 that published a study on Facebook de-activation. Her study followed people as they went dark on Facebook for a month, and measured what happened afterwards. “We find that being off Facebook left our participants feeling happier and less anxious, on average,” she tells Bustle. “But the overall emotional impact, while meaningful, is quite small.” Going off Facebook might make you feel better, but it won’t cause a complete psychological reversal.
The results, Eichmeyer tells Bustle, were actually unexpected. “It’s surprising to me that Facebook has a detectable impact on people’s happiness,” she says. “Our study shows that deactivating Facebook indeed causes people to be happier — although not by as much as correlational research might have suggested.” Her study also found that after a month off from Facebook, people used it significantly less — which, she says, might be an indication that they’d “broken a habit.”
However, Eichmeyer says her work also shows that social media has a lot to offer. “Our results leave little doubt that social media provides large benefits for its users,” she says. “Our participants’ answers in follow-up interviews make clear the diverse ways in which Facebook can improve people’s lives, whether as a source of entertainment, a means to organize a charity or an activist group, or a vital social lifeline for those who are otherwise isolated.” So taking a break doesn’t mean damning social media entirely; it can just mean re-evaluating the positive ways in which it can affect your life, and choosing to moderate your use to focus on those.
2. It May Reduce Negative Self-Talk
Social media often causes us to produce an idealized image of ourselves and our lives, and that can cause damage. “Young people often use social media to justify negative self-appraisal,” Dr. Larsen tells Bustle. “They look at other people’s profiles and exotic vacations with envy and think that they should be having that kind of life. I often remind them that those people may not be telling the truth, and they might not be as happy as they portray.”
Studies have found that negative self-appraisal, which is essentially poor judgement of oneself compared to others, can increase when you’re on social media searching for approval from others and absorbing unrealistic imagery. Some time off may reduce that — and therefore reduce symptoms of depression, which are also linked to negative self-appraisal.
3. It’s Enough Time To Evaluate Your Response To Social Media
One month may seem like a long time, but it’s actually a reasonable period for judging your own relationship with social media, experts tell Bustle. “Taking a month-long break is good for giving you perspective about life without social media,” says Dr. Klapow. If you’re not dependent on social media or rarely use it, a month will fly by and won’t give you pause — but, he says, if you’re a “daily user and consumer,” a month-long break can be useful for bringing perspective to your routine and how much time social media absorbs.
However, one month off isn’t a useful break unless you also contemplate how you’re feeling throughout and try to change your social media use going forward. “If you return to your old ways, then the month break is a temporary aberration from your routine,” says Dr. Klapow — and that might mean that all psychological benefits are erased.
4. It Allows People To Focus On Themselves
The essence of social media, experts tell Bustle, is in socializing — but that extensive focus on others can be burdensome and draw attention away from the self. Therapist Celeste Viciere, host of the Celeste the Therapist podcast, tells Bustle, “If you take a break from social media, it can allow you to focus on yourself. You are rewiring your brain.” Rather than devoting attention and time to those around you, which can be positive but can also be draining or upsetting, a month-long break from social media forces you to re-focus on yourself, and on face-to-face interactions with others.
Viciere says she recommends social media breaks for certain groups who may be struggling. A month-long social media fast, she tells Bustle, is particularly impactful for “people who may be struggling with insecurity, self-esteem issues or feeling as if things are not happening fast enough.” A break on social media can re-adjust priorities and drown out voices that encourage comparison rather than self-focus.
5. It Can Allow You To Re-Assess Your Online Behavior
If you’ve noticed yourself getting into severe arguments online and saying things you don’t mean, Dr. Larsen says, it’s probably a good time to take some time off from social media, as it can breed callousness. “I see people saying things they normally would not say to a person’s face in a very harsh way that can hurt one another,” she tells Bustle. “People can get worked up, unfriending people because of divisiveness and strong opinions.”
It may not seem real because it’s online — but the consequences for friendships and relationships that spill into offline situations can be serious. If you meant every word you said, that’s awesome — but if you find yourself getting carried away, whether your combatant is a stranger or somebody you know, a month-long break may help you step back from your behavior and evaluate what’s actually going on.
The benefits and costs of staying off social media for a month are highly individual. “In the end, I think everyone needs to decide whether to take a social media break for themselves – some will find that they are better off with social media, while others will find the opposite,” Eichmeyer says. “But certainly, a little bit of experimenting won’t hurt.”
If you’re not sure whether a month-long break would suit your particular situation, Dr. Klapow suggests that a day-break weekly, where you turn off all social media for one day, might be a more sustainable option — because you can do that for the rest of your life. “Taking shorter breaks will have a longer lasting impact on your overall consumption and use,” he says.
Either way, if you’re contemplating going off social media for your own health, it’s always worth doing it intentionally — and being aware of your own reactions and thinking as you turn away from Insta and Twitter, and go do something else. Social media isn’t the devil, but some time away from it can give you more awareness of the role it plays in your life.