Why Now May Be the Best Time to Take a Long Break from Social Media

  • An American Psychological Association poll states that 68 percent of U.S. adults say that the 2020 election is a significant source of stress in their lives.
  • As Election Day comes to a close, social media posts on your feed may ignite negative feelings.
  • Now may be a good time to take a break from social media.

Between loads of misinformation, the pandemic, and a tense election year, your social media feeds are likely to be filled with emotional, anger-inducing posts in the coming weeks.

According to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA), 68 percent of U.S. adults said that the 2020 election is a significant source of stress in their lives.

This is an increase from the 2016 election when 52 percent said the same.

One way to relieve election-induced stress may include avoiding social media for a while.

“Taking a break from social media during election week could be helpful for many people. Social media can be very polarized, and there is an abundance of misinformation about all sorts of topics,” Erin Vogel, PhD, social psychologist and postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, told Healthline.

“It’s very possible to stay informed and stay connected with others while still taking a break from social media,” she said.

While social media can have some positive effects on mental health, such as connecting you with others — which can give the sense of feeling supported and less lonely — Vogel said it can also lead to stress, depressive symptoms, lower self-esteem, and other negative outcomes.

In fact, one experiential study in 2018 of more than 100 undergraduate students at the University of Pennsylvania found that those who limited their time on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to 10 minutes per platform, per day, showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over 3 weeks compared to a control group which used the platforms freely.

“We often compare ourselves to the ‘highlight reels’ other people present on social media and feel worse about ourselves as a result. We can also accidentally spend a lot of time on social media, and feel as if we wasted our time,” said Vogel.

In addition, Laurie Santos, PhD, psychology professor at Yale University, said you can “catch” the emotions that others express on your feed.

When this happens, discussions can get heated and arguments can occur, especially those related to politics.

Misinterpreting people’s comments and tone on social media can also initiate arguments.

In 2017, researchers at UC Berkeley and University of Chicago found that “We may end up taking a very different idea of an argument while reading than that of while watching or listening to that exact same thing.”

Additionally, scrolling across content that makes you angry can add fuel to the fire.

According to a Pew Research study in 2018, 71 percent of social media users reported encountering content that makes them angry.

Moreover, the majority of social media users frequently see people engaging in drama and exaggeration, and jumping into arguments without having all the facts.

Political posts seem to get people especially angry.

A Pew Research Center analysis in 2018 of congressional Facebook pages found that the anger emoticon is now the most common reaction to posts by members of Congress.

“Given that emotions are running high, this might be a good time to take a break or at least reduce your consumption,” Santos told Healthline.

How to take a break from social media

The University of Pennsylvania study found that after participating in the experiment, both groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out, suggesting a benefit of increased self-monitoring on social media.

However, cutting down or eliminating social media altogether may not be as easy as it seems.

Experts share a few tips for breaking free:

1. Delete the apps

If you want to go cold turkey following the election, Santos said to make it tougher to access your favorite social media channels.

“Delete the apps on your phone so you have to be intentional about logging in. Or, find a few friends who’ll commit to a social media sabbath for a few days with you,” she said.

You can also tell friends and family who often encourage you to go on social media that you’re no longer on the channels and would rather discuss topics not related to social posts.

2. Take on a new habit

If jumping on your social channels is your go-to action when you wake up, finish work, or jump into bed at night, plan to do something else during those times instead.

Vogel suggests going for a walk, reading, or talking over the phone or via text with a friend or family member.

“At first, it may feel uncomfortable to spend less time on social media. Developing new habits takes time, but it is possible,” she said.

Santos agreed and said to replace scrolling with healthy activities like getting more sleep or engaging in breath-based meditation.

“Social media can feel like an easy fix with a low start-up cost, and that means we use it because it’s easy… a quick way to kill a few minutes when we’re bored. Make it easy to do something else by making a list of ways you’d rather spend your time when you have a few minutes here and there,” she said.

3. Scroll past political posts

If you still want to see the good parts of your feeds, Vogel said to make it a point to scroll past social media posts that aren’t helpful for you.

“If political posts are stressing you out, you might benefit from getting your information from other sources. You can focus on entertainment, relaxation, and connecting with others during your social media time,” said Vogel.

And don’t let fear of missing out on information lure you back onto social media.

“Just because the news cycle runs 24/7 doesn’t mean you have to be following it with rapt attention 24/7. We can be informed citizens while at the same time controlling our intake of the news media. The same is true for social media,” said Santos.

4. Find positive news to follow

Another way to stay on social media without being exposed to negativity is to take control over your feeds by following people and liking news and posts that bring you joy or insight you appreciate.

“Try to balance the negative information with the good stuff. There is joy and positive news out there if you look. In the midst of the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns, I followed the hashtag #COVIDKindness, which had lots of positive stories,” said Santos.

If unsettling posts make their way back into your feed and you start to experience negative feelings, she said take action.

“[I] suggest taking a break and making sure you’re paying attention to your body to notice when you need one,” Santos said.