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Cutting social media use to only 30 minutes a day could help ease depression

In this photo illustration, the logos of social media applications, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, Signal, Telegram, TikTok, Twitter and Facebook are displayed on the screen of an iPhone on April 26, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo illustration by Chesnot/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Young people are using social media more, and their mental health is suffering.

But researchers at Iowa State University that focused on young adults and their mental health have found that using social media in moderation could help ease the symptoms of depression.

During a two-week experiment with 230 college students, half of the group were asked to limit their social media usage to 30 minutes a day and received automated, daily reminders. The other half of the group were asked to use social media as they normally would.

The study found that the monitored 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.’”

Essentially, they had a brighter outlook on life.

“It surprised me 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 behavior and improve their social media habits,” Ella Faulhaber, a doctoral student in human-computer interaction and lead author of the study, said.

The researchers found the psychological benefits of cutting back on social media extended to participants who sometimes exceeded the 30-minute time limit.

“The lesson here is, it’s not about being perfect but putting in effort, which makes a difference. I think self-limiting and paying attention are the secret ingredients, more so than the 30-minute benchmark,” Faulhaber said.

Many of the participants in the ISU study commented that the first few days of cutting back were challenging. But after the initial push, one student felt more productive and in tune with life. Others shared that they were getting better sleep or spending more time with people in person.

Paying more attention to how much time is spent on social media and setting measurable goals can help.

“We live in an age of anxiety. Lots of indicators show that anxiety, depression, and loneliness are all getting worse, and that can make us feel helpless. But there are things we can do to manage our mental health and well-being,” Douglas Gentile, ISU professor of psychology and study co-author, said.

The researchers say it’s also important to be mindful of how and when we use these platforms. Future research could further explore this, along with the long-term effects of limiting social media and what people do with the time they gain.

The study was published in the journal Technology Mind and Behavior.

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