Research into social media usage has been pretty mixed. Some studies have linked excessive use of networks like Facebook to depression and anxiety; yet others have suggested that those who are already feeling bad are more likely to seek out Facebook or Twitter, thus trapping themselves in a vicious cycle.
But new research from the University of Derby suggests the opposite, suggesting that just five minutes spent browsing your timeline could actually improve our wellbeing.
The study, led by psychology lecturer Zaheer Hussain, surveyed 163 Facebook users to analyse the way they use the site and to investigate whether there was a connection between low self-esteem and high levels of stress and Facebook use.
Users completed a survey before a five minute Facebook session, and were also asked to fill in a similar survey once that session had ended.
And research found that, rather than lowering self-esteem, as many other studies have suggested, the Facebook session actually increased self-esteem.
The study also confirmed the findings of other research – you’re more likely to have an unhealthy relationship with Facebook if you’re already feeling unwell.
Narcissism, low self-esteem and stress were all found to be significant factors in intensity of Facebook use, with stress the strongest of these factors. Unlike other studies, however, Hussain’s research suggests that the way we engage with social media may affect whether we feel better or worse at the end of those anxious browsing sessions.
“Users who browsed their close friends, chatted with them, or viewed positive content on social networking sites would display a momentary increase in self-esteem,” Hussain explained.
Putting a limit on how long you spend on Facebook might be a way to avoid negative side-effects, Hussain suggests – as might culling your feed of people who are likely to post negative things.
Re-evaluating feedback might also be a useful way to avoid falling into a negative cycle online – a 2017 study from Cornell University found that those with higher self-worth placed less value on Facebook likes than those with low self-esteem.