Disheartened by the recent Cambridge Analytica media scandal, many people have aligned with the #deletefacebook movement as a form of protest. But, besides sending a clear message that your privacy matters, foregoing Facebook might actually be for the better — at least for your mental health. According to a recent study carried out by Australian psychologists, even a few days of staying away from the social network lowered cortisol levels, the stress hormone.
The team at the University of Queensland enlisted 138 Facebook users who had used the app daily, aged 18-40, of whom 51 were men and 87 women. The participants were split into two groups: one that took five days off Facebook and the other which continued using the app business as usual.
Saliva tests were taken before and after the study in order to monitor cortisol levels. Almost every cell contains receptors for cortisol and so the hormone can have lots of different actions depending on which sort of cells it acts upon. These effects include controlling the body’s blood sugar levels and thus regulating metabolism, acting as an anti-inflammatory action, influencing memory formation, controlling salt and water balance, influencing blood pressure and fetal development.
Cortisol, which is released by the adrenal glands, is important for helping your body deal with stressful situations, as the brain triggers its release in response to many different kinds of stress. However, when cortisol levels are too high for too long, this hormone can hurt you more than it helps.
Reporting in the Journal of Social Psychology, the team found that those in the ‘no Facebook’ group had lower cortisol levels, and hence felt less stressed. However, participants in the same group also reported lower life satisfaction. Those who continued to use Facebook as usual “reported an increase of their well-being.”
“Our results suggest that the typical Facebook user may occasionally find the large amount of social information available taxing, and Facebook vacations could ameliorate this stress,” the authors note, before adding: “at least in the short-term.”
“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,” said study co-author Eric Vanman, a psychologist from the University of Queensland.
“It then becomes stressful again after a while, so they take another break. And so on.”
One big study limitation is the small sample size. It would be a stretch to make generalizations across a social network numbering one billion users. But, even so, the study is intriguing because it shows how social media is permeating our lives — to the point that our life satisfaction depends on how much social media we consume.