Cutting Down on Social Media Can Increase Happiness

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Cutting Down on Social Media Can Increase Happiness

Jim Windell

             How much time do you spend on social media every day? Is it 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour? More?

            If it is an hour or more, then consider what you are neglecting. And think about what impact such activity may have on your mental health.

            Since we are just coming out of a pandemic which forced most of us to be locked down in our homes and in front of our computers for months on end, it is highly likely that many of us became social media junkies. Thanks to social media channels like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, these social media sites were a way to stay connected to friends and family. They ensured that we still felt connected to other people. Additionally, they distracted us from the stress brought about by the pandemic, which caused many people to experience anxiety, insecurities, and hopelessness.

           But, of course, social media consumption has its drawbacks, too. Heavy use can lead to addictive behavior that manifests itself in, for example, a close emotional bond to the social media. In addition, fake news and conspiracy theories can spread uncontrollably on social channels and trigger even more anxiety.

            However, what if you reduced the amount of time you spent on social media each day and instead used that time to increase your physical activity? Would that have a positive impact on your well-being?

            That’s what a new study that comes from Ruhr University Bochum in Bochum, Germany wanted to find out. The study conducted by a team from the Mental Health Research and Treatment Center at Ruhr University Bochum headed by assistant professor Dr. Julia Brailovskaia, recruited a total of 642 volunteers. Dr. Brailovskaia and her team assigned participants randomly to one of four groups of roughly equal size. The first group reduced their daily social media consumption by 30 minutes during an intervention period of two weeks. Since previous studies had shown that physical activity can increase well-being and reduce depressive symptoms, the second group increased the duration of physical activity by 30 minutes daily during this period, while continuing to use social media as usual. The third group combined both reducing social media use and increasing physical activity. A control group didn't change their behavior at all during the intervention phase

           Before, during and up to six months after the two-week intervention phase, the participants responded to online surveys on the duration, intensity and emotional significance of their social media use, physical activity, their satisfaction with life, their subjective feeling of happiness, depressive symptoms, the psychological burden of the Covid-19 pandemic and their cigarette consumption.

           The results of the study showed that both reducing the amount of time spent on social media each day and increasing physical activity have a positive impact on people's well-being. In particular, the combination of the two interventions increases one's satisfaction with life and subjective feeling of happiness and reduces depressive symptoms. It was found that the effects last for a long time. For instance, even six months after the two-week intervention phase had ended, participants in all three intervention groups spent less time on social media than before (about a half hour in the groups that had either reduced social media time or increased their daily exercise, and about three-quarters of an hour in the group that had combined both measures). Six months after the intervention, the combination group engaged one hour and 39 minutes more each week in physical activity than before the experiment. The positive influence on mental health continued throughout the entire follow-up period.

           According to Dr. Brailovskaia, “This shows us how vital it is to reduce our availability online from time to time and to go back to our human roots.”

           She added: “These measures can be easily implemented into one's everyday life and they're completely free – and, at the same time, they help us to stay happy and healthy in the digital age.”

            To read the original paper, find it with this reference:

Julia Brailovskaia, Verena J. Swarlik, Georg A. Grethe, Holger Schillack, Jürgen Margraf. (2022). Experimental longitudinal evidence for causal role of social media use and physical activity in COVID-19 burden and mental health. Journal of Public Health; DOI: 10.1007/s10389-022-01751-x



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