New research suggests that temporary breaks from Facebook and social media may be the best approach regulating the mixed effects that such platforms can have on psychological and physiological well-being. The study, by scientists at the Australian Catholic University and the University of Queensland, tracked 138 people over a five-day test period, with half of the participants abstaining from Facebook, according to Science Alert.

“The typical Facebook user may occasionally find the large amount of social information available taxing, and Facebook vacations could ameliorate this stress – at least in the short-term,” according to the study.

Tests of the participant’s saliva found lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, after the break from Facebook. However, they didn’t report feelings of reduced stress during the test period.

According to University of Queensland psychologist Eric Vanman, one of the scientists involved in the study:

“While participants in our study showed an improvement in physiological stress by giving up Facebook, they also reported lower feelings of well-being. People said they felt more unsatisfied with their life, and were looking forward to resuming their Facebook activity.”

He suggested that this incongruity may be due to the psychological stress of feeling disconnected from friends and social life, offsetting the perceived physiological benefits.

With social networks still a relatively new feature of our social lives, only a few studies have seriously examined their effect on health and well-being. One 2015 study found that quitting social media had a positive effect on happiness. The authors of that study explained:

“Instead of focusing on what we actually need, we have an unfortunate tendency to focus on what other people have.”

In that study, participants abstaining from Facebook reported feeling less lonely, more enthusiastic, and more decisive.

A 2016 study found that social media use at bedtime can result in disturbed sleep patterns, which in turn can have profound effects on mental, emotional, and physical health.

The more recent Australian study was limited to a small number of participants, so the results should be taken with a grain of salt. However, it does suggest that as social media becomes increasingly central to social life in general, it may be performing an important function in keeping users connected to others. In many cases, social media helps to maintain connections that would otherwise be lost over time. Despite some of the negative effects, it may be best to take temporary breaks rather than quitting altogether.

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