The amount of time you spend on Facebook may have a physiological effect on your body, according to a study published in the Journal of Social Psychology.
Eric Vanman, the study’s lead researcher and an associate psychology professor at the University of Queensland, studied the habits of 138 active Facebook users who log on to the platform for at least three hours a day to understand whether avid social media use causes stress. He instructed half of the participants to quit using Facebook for five days and allowed the remaining half to continue their normal use.
Over the course of the five days, Vanman took samples of each participant’s saliva to measure the level of cortisol—the stress hormone—in their bodies. He also asked participants to report how they felt their stress levels and well-being changed across the five days.
Though participants who quit using Facebook produced lower levels of cortisol, they reported a decreased sense of well-being. Vanman suggests the reason is “FOMO,” or the fear of missing out. “These people felt cut off from their friends,” he explains. “Even though monitoring your friends can be a source of stress, feeling left out or out of the loop can actually make you more stressed.”
While Vanman’s study is the first to measure the physiological effects of Facebook use, numerous other studies on the subject have also found connections between social media and stress. For example, a study published in 2017 in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests Facebook use is correlated with a reduced sense of well-being and a decline in mental health. “Our results suggest that the nature and quality of this sort of connection is no substitute for the real world interaction we need for a healthy life,” the researchers explain.
In fact, Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, suspects that social media use may be partially to blame for the soaring rates of mental health-related incidents among teens and young adults. She notes that the upward trend in mental health challenges in teens correlates with the rising popularity of devices like the iPhone.
“If you already have the propensity to have mental illness and depression, then [social media] sometimes gives you that crutch to continue to self-isolate,” adds Kristina Macbury, the principal of Sarah Pyle Academy in Wilmington, Delaware.
So how can we strike a balance between healthy Facebook use and Facebook use that causes unnecessary levels of stress? Vanman suggests that while you don’t need to quit Facebook altogether, “taking Facebook vacations can help you seek out more meaningful connections with people in real life” (Mejia, CNBC, 5/28/18).
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