Last month, U.S. surgeon general, Vivek Murthy warned in a press statement that social media is an important driver of youth mental health crisis and it should be urgently addressed. Two of the main concerns of the report were young people are using social media almost constantly, and their mental health is suffering.
In a new study, researchers at Iowa State University found a simple intervention which could help address mental health crises among the youth. In a two-week experiment involving 230 college students, the researchers asked half to limit their social media usage to 30 minutes a day and received automated, daily reminders, according to ISU’s press statement. This group scored significantly lower for anxiety, depression, loneliness and fear of missing out at the end of the experiment compared to the control group.
They also scored higher for “positive affect,” which the researchers describe as “the tendency to experience positive emotions described with words such as ‘excited’ and ‘proud.’”
In the statement, Ella Faulhaber, a PhD student in human-computer interaction and lead author said it surprised her to find that participants’ well-being did not only improve in one dimension but in all of them. “I was excited to learn that such a simple intervention of sending a daily reminder can motivate people to change their behaviour and improve their social media habits”
The researchers also found that psychological benefits from cutting back on social media exceeded the 30-minute time limit. “I think self-limiting and paying attention are the secret ingredients, more so than the 30-minute benchmark,” Faulhaber said in the statement.
Notably, self-limiting worked better than imposing restrictions. The researchers said that when people feel their freedom is taken away, they resist. Moreover, eliminating social media could lose some benefits such as connecting with family and friends.
In the statement, the researchers suggest some practical ways to cut back on social media use. First, create awareness. You can set a timer to identify how much time you spend on social media. Two, recognise that it’s not easy to stick to a time limit. Finally, don’t give up when it gets tough. It will have real benefits. The researchers also said that it’s important to be mindful of how and when we use these platforms.