Going on a 'Facebook Vacation' Can Lower Stress, but It's Complicated

Apr 4, 2018 at 11:38 a.m. ET
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When Facebook first became widely available more than a decade ago, it seemed like a really positive development — an easy way to keep in touch with friends and family from around the world. Sure, it still accomplishes that, but we're also realizing Facebook can be a source of stress for a lot of people, between concerns of privacy and prompting some serious FOMO when your friends are out on the town and you're draped in your weighted anxiety blanket on the couch.

The good news is, according to new research out of the University of Queensland, quitting Facebook for less than a week can help you feel less stressed.

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“Taking a Facebook break for just five days reduced a person’s level of the stress hormone cortisol,” research team leader Dr. Eric Vanman of the university's school of psychology said in a press release. “Abstaining from Facebook was shown to reduce a person’s level of the stress hormone cortisol, but people’s own ratings of their stress did not change — perhaps because they weren't aware their stress had gone down."

But before you delete your account, the study also found that though the participants' stress levels improved, they reported a decrease in their overall well-being.

“People experienced less well-being after those five days without Facebook — they felt less content with their lives — from the resulting social disconnection of being cut-off from their Facebook friends," Vanman explained.

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He added that he doesn't think this phenomenon is unique to Facebook and is likely true for other social media platforms.

The study — published in the Journal of Social Psychology — had 138 participants that were split into two groups: one that gave up Facebook for five days and another that carried on posting and checking as usual. They all provided saliva samples, which were used to measure levels of cortisol.

Vanman got the idea for the study because of his own tendency to step away from Facebook for periods of time.

“When I told colleagues about my ‘Facebook vacations’, I found I wasn’t alone,” he said. “Others admitted that they took similar breaks from Facebook when they found it too stressful or overwhelming — quitting Facebook for several days or weeks but then reconnecting."

This was the case for one of Vanman's students, who had her friend change her Facebook password so she would stay off the site, but after two months, decided she wanted to return to the platform.

Overall, Vanman said that quitting Facebook to lower stress only to go back on again because you miss people is all part of the cycle of social media use.

“Facebook has become an essential social tool for millions of users and it obviously provides many benefits. Yet, because it conveys so much social information about a large network of people, it can also be taxing," he explained. “It seems that people take a break because they’re too stressed, but return to Facebook whenever they feel unhappy because they have been cut off from their friends. It then becomes stressful again after a while, so they take another break. And so on.”

So, what does this mean for you and your Facebook account? Really, that's up to you. If logging on makes you feel stressed, that's totally valid and know that you don't owe anyone updates about your dog. But if keeping up with friends and family on Facebook makes you feel happier and more connected, that's completely legitimate too. Either way, remember to take care of your mental health and recognize when you need a break from anything — including social media.

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