Taking a Facebook break reduces level of stress hormone cortisol, study finds

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A Facebook icon is shown on a Samsung Galaxy III mobile phone in this photo illustration in Encinitas, California, January 30, 2013.
A Facebook icon is shown on a Samsung Galaxy III mobile phone in this photo illustration in Encinitas, California, January 30, 2013. Reuters/Mike Blake

Taking a break from Facebook can reduce stress, according to a recent study. But people part of a group who abstained from the social media site have reported feeling “unsatisfied” with their lives, with some participants revealing they were “looking forward to resuming their Facebook activity.”

A University of Queensland research team looked into the effects of a short break from the social media platform on a person’s stress and well-being. The study involved 138 participants identified as active Facebook users. They were divided into two groups, with one group taking a break from the social media site for five days and the other group using it as they used to.

The research team assessed all participants, measuring their stress levels at the beginning and end of the study. Saliva samples were collected, and levels of stress hormone were measured.

Researchers found that stress levels fell among the group who took a break from visiting Facebook. Lead researcher Dr Eric Vanman confirmed that taking a break from Facebook for five days reduced a person’s level of the stress hormone cortisol.

Although participants showed an improvement in physiological stress by quitting the site, they also reported lower feelings of well-being. Vanman said in a news release that participants reported feeling more unsatisfied with their lives and that they were looking forward to resuming their Facebook activity.

Vanman explained that they felt less content from the resulting social disconnection of being cut off from their friends on Facebook. “We don’t think that this is necessarily unique to Facebook, as people’s stress levels will probably reduce anytime they take a break from their favourite social media platforms,” he said, then further explaining theories behind the findings. “Abstaining from Facebook was shown to reduce a person’s level of the stress hormone cortisol, but people’s own ratings of their stress did not change perhaps because they weren't aware their stress had gone down.”

The idea for the study came from Vanman's own experience of taking a break from Facebook. He reportedly found out he was not alone when he told his friends about his “Facebook vacations.” Some personal acquaintances admitted taking short breaks from the platform when they found it too stressful.

The study is published in the Journal of Social Psychology.

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