Does a Facebook break reduces the stress or increases it? Social networks entered our lives promising us that we could easily connect with everyone at anytime. Finally, the implicit promise that hooked us is that we would not be alone anymore. They promised to erase instantly the phantom of unwanted loneliness that plagues modern times marked by individualization.
However, social networks brought also some “adverse effects” that nobody warned us about. Eric Vanman, a professor of psychology at the University of Queensland, realized this. This psychologist recognizes that he has been a Facebook user for 10 years but that as his number of online friends increased, he began to feel more overwhelmed by social pressure.
Then he experienced the need to disconnect from social networks for a few days. Immediately he felt a sense of relief but as time was passing that state was transformed into the uncomfortable feeling that something important was being lost. That feeling pushed him to access again, beginning the cycle once again.
Vanman spoke with his fellow psychologists about this situation and discovered that exactly the same thing was happening to them. Therefore, they decided to further investigate the matter.
A Facebook break reduces the level of cortisol, the stress hormone
The researchers recruited 138 active Facebook users. Half of them were asked to completely abandon Facebook for five days, while the other half continued to use the social network normally.
The participants filled out surveys on their satisfaction with life, stress level, mood and loneliness experienced, both before and after the experiment. Thair cortisol level, a physiological measure of stress, was also monitored through saliva samples.
The Psychologists discovered that the brief rest from Facebook had a positive impact on the level of stress. These people reported feeling less stressed and their cortisol level actually decreased during those days that remained disconnected. Interestingly, they also spent more time with their friends. On the contrary, in the group that remained connected to the social network, the level of stress was stable. These results lead us to ask ourselves: Why does Facebook keep us stressed?
The ingredients that make of Facebook an “explosive cocktail”
– Constant feedback seduces us
This is not the first study that alerts us of the hidden dangers of social networks. On the one hand, there is the problem that social networks provide constant feedback, a continuous flow of updates, comments and “likes” to which we become addicted. That fuels the fear of losing what is happening, a phenomenon known as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), which causes anxiety.
Living thinking about what might be happening in the digital world generates a state of apprehension that is unhealthy and closely resembles the one experienced during addiction or generalized anxiety disorder.
– The ascending social comparison sinks us
A study conducted at the University of Cologne adds fuel to the fire. These psychologists found that social networks like Facebook feed the phenomenon of “social comparison”; that is, the tendency to compare ourselves with those who are “above us”, so that the success of the others ends up being a “proof” of one’s own failure. It is a very dangerous mechanism that feeds envy and the feeling of inferiority.
In this regard, Zygmunt Bauman said that social networks were a trap because they have made that “the driving force of behavior is no longer the, more or less, realistic desire to maintain the level of the neighbors, but the idea, hazy till exasperation, to reach the level of celebrities.” It is a toxic mixture, where these unrealistic expectations constantly clash with the wall of reality, exacerbating the feeling of failure, helplessness and dissatisfaction.
As a result, many people feel inadequate, which generates an excess of worry and stress. In fact, another experiment conducted at the Benedictine University in Arizona revealed that actually “knowing” a person before on Facebook, does not reduce the stress at the moment of being face to face, but on the contrary, it increases it. These psychologists believe that it is because we compare ourselves with that person, who normally publishes an idealized life on social networks, which generates the sensation of not being up to the task.
It is worth clarifying that the phenomenon of comparison is not only based on the images that the others upload on social networks, but in an even more perverse mechanism: the number of shared and “like”, something that many assume as a direct symbol of the level of social acceptance, extroversion and success in life.
Therefore, it is not difficult to make the point and understand why taking a Facebook break can reduce stress and anxiety.
Vanman, E. et. Al. (2018) The burden of online friends: the effects of giving up Facebook on stress and well-being. J Soc Psychol; doi: 10.1080/00224545.2018.1453467.
Appel, H. et. Al. (2015) Social Comparison, Envy, and Depression on Facebook: A Study Looking at the Effects of High Comparison Standards on Depressed Individuals. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology; 34(4): 277-289.
Rauch, S. M. et Al. (2014) Face to Face Versus Facebook: Does Exposure to Social Networking Web Sites Augment or Attenuate Physiological Arousal Among the Socially Anxious? Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking; 17(3): 187-190.