Want to de-stress? Delete Facebook, study suggests

If Cambridge Analytica didn't put you off Facebook forever, this might: a new study says that quitting the social media network can drastically lower your stress levels.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal — also known as the largest data leak in Facebook history — caused the social network to lose around a million daily users from the United States and Canada.

If you're not one of these users, and the thought of your personal data being used to manipulate voters is not enough to make you abandon the platform, perhaps this new study will change your mind.

Researchers at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia — led by Prof. Eric Vanman, who is a senior lecturer at the university's School of Psychology — wanted to investigate the impact of quitting Facebook on the users' stress levels and overall well-being.

The results, which have just been published in the Journal of Social Psychology, may convince you to #DeleteFacebook — if not in protest, then out of concern for your health.

Cortisol levels dropped

Prof. Vanman and his colleagues examined two groups of active Facebook users, comprising 138 study participants in total. One group was asked to refrain from using Facebook for 5 days, while the other group continued to use Facebook as usual.

The researchers took saliva samples from the participants both at the beginning and the end of the intervention, in order to measure their levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Prof. Vanman sums up his findings, reporting, "Taking a Facebook break for just 5 days reduced a person's level of the stress hormone cortisol."

Cortisol is known to soar when a person is stressed. In fact, the hormone is considered to be the key player in stress, regulating how our body responds to it.

Too much cortisol can compromise our immune system, making us more vulnerable to infections, impairing our memory, and predisposing us to obesity, among other things.

Further negative effects of chronic exposure to cortisol over prolonged periods of time may include "impaired cognition, decreased thyroid function, and accumulation of abdominal fat, which [...] has implications for cardiovascular health."

However, staying away from Facebook might also make you sadder — at least in the beginning. As Prof. Vanman says, "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."

Findings may apply to all social networks

Prof. Vanman speculates on what may have led to these results. He says, "People experienced less well-being after those 5 days without Facebook — they felt less content with their lives — from the resulting social disconnection of being cut off from their Facebook friends."

"Abstaining from Facebook," continues Prof. Vanman, "was shown to reduce a person's level of [...] cortisol, but people's own ratings of their stress did not change — perhaps because they weren't aware their stress had gone down."

Finally, he suggests that the findings may apply to all social media networks. "We don't think that [the findings are] necessarily unique to Facebook," he explains, "as people's stress levels will probably reduce anytime they take a break from their favorite social media platforms."

"Facebook has become an essential social tool for millions of users and it obviously provides many benefits. Yet, because it conveys so much social information about a large network of people, it can also be taxing."

Prof. Eric Vanman