Back to the Basics Guide: Fostering Real Human Connection in a Virtual World

  Saturday, March 5, 2022
Contributed by Kailey Lentsch, MSW

It’s no secret that social media has changed the way we communicate and interact with one another. This is especially true among younger people, but changes in social interaction can be seen across every generation and demographic. According to Statista Research Department (2022), 223 million Americans have at least one social media profile. That is about 82% of the population. Furthermore, the average person spends about two and a half hours on social media each day (Fotuhi, 2020).

While technology and social media have created new avenues for us to communicate with people around the globe, they have also brought new challenges. Specifically, we are seeing more and more people who do not know how to interact with others in-person appropriately or effectively. We have also seen a significant correlation between social media use and mental health issues. Social media impacts our levels of anxiety and depression, self-esteem, feelings of belonging, ability to focus, and sleep quality (Mammoser, 2018; Miller, 2022). 

How Does Social Media Impact Social Skills?

More interaction through social media has led to less face-to-face interactions. This has revolutionized the way we communicate with others. We now take advice and get recommendations from influencers instead of trusted friends. We look at a few pictures instead of listening to someone describe their experience and think we have “caught up” with a friend.  We are brave behind a screen and type things we would never say to someone’s face. We sit next to each other on the couch sharing memes instead of having a conversation. 

Less face-to-face interaction also means we don’t have the help of nonverbal communication such as facial expressions, eye contact, and tone of voice (Rappa & Jameson, 2021). When we don’t have those nonverbal cues, we are more likely to misinterpret a person’s emotions and what they are trying to communicate. Nonverbal communication is the first language we all learn. As children engage with social media at a younger age, they reduce their in-person communication which hinders the development of important social skills (Rappa & Jameson, 2021). Later in life, this impacts their ability to make meaningful relationships, work as a team, or participate in job interviews.

How Does Social Media Impact Mental Health? 

Anxiety and Depression

There has been a correlation between social media use and anxiety and depression, but a recent study found that the less a person uses social media, the less depressed they are. The participants in the study did not have to eliminate social media use, only reduce it, but those participants had better mental health outcomes in several areas – social support, fear of missing out, loneliness, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, autonomy, and self-acceptance (Mammoser, 2018). When increased social media use leads to anxiety or depression, it is likely due to constant comparison, fear of missing out, and feelings of isolation. 

Self-Esteem

Research has shown that social media use can lower a person’s self-esteem. In fact, one study found that “60% of people using social media reported that it has impacted their self-esteem in a negative way,” (Silva, 2017). As we scroll, we are constantly comparing ourselves to others. Whether it is about our physical appearance, socioeconomic status, experiences, or talents, seeing other people’s lives on display causes us to question if we measure up. 

Feelings of Belonging

Social media has given us access to our nearly all our friends’ and acquaintances’ activities. We are acutely aware of every party we are not invited to, every funny meme we missed, and every TikTok trend we didn’t try. We often rely on social media to connect us with others, but a sense of belonging is only produced when we receive enough communication and engagement from others (McNamee, 2014). When we don’t receive as many likes or comments on our posts as we expected or when we see our friends post events that we weren’t invited to, our sense of belonging suffers. 

Ability to Focus

Our brains can undergo physiological changes; this is known as neuroplasticity. This is a good thing; it means that we can break bad habits and change for the better. However, this also means that our brains can change for the worse as well. People who are heavy social media users “perform worse on cognitive tests, especially those that examine their attention and ability to multitask,” (Fotuhi, 2020). The part of the brain that is responsible for concentration can actually shrink with increased social media use. For children, this constant interruption and poorer concentration causes homework to take much longer and contributes to stress (Miller, 2022).

Sleep Quality

Sleep is extremely important for our physical and mental health. People who get inadequate sleep are about two and half times as likely to experience frequent mental distress than people who get six hours of sleep or more each night (Blackwelder et al., 2021). Social media use can cause or exacerbate sleep disturbances and deprivation which is linked to depression, memory loss, and poor academic performance (2022). Research has shown that 60 percent of teens look at their phones before bed and they get about an hour less sleep than those who do not look at their phones before bed (Miller, 2022). 

Addiction

Not only can social media cause all the above-mentioned issues, but it can also be highly addictive. Our brains release dopamine, a “feel good” neurotransmitter, every time we receive a like, positive comment, or follow request. This is the same chemical that our brains release when we enjoy pleasurable activities like sex or eating good food (2022). The more times we get a dopamine boost from social media, the more our brains begin to rely on that experience to feel good which leads to a physiological and psychological addiction to social media (Sternlicht & Sternlicht, 2022).

How to Get Back to Reality

The introduction of the Metaverse to the world will bring even more changes and challenges as the distinction between human interactions and virtual interactions become more blurred. If you are feeling lost in a virtual world, join our 10-day journal challenge that will guide you back to reality. Each day will show you how you can get back to the basics and develop genuine community using biblical principles. 

Step 1 - Image-Bearer vs. Image-Driven

We live in a world that is image-driven and this is especially true of social media. We judge others’ value by the image they portray, and we stress over our own image and how others view us. We place more emphasis on how we look in our profile picture than how we look to God. God sees us as His chosen, beloved children who were made in His own likeness.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

You have been created in the image of God. You are set apart from the rest of creation as unique and valued. You were made to reflect God’s own character and likeness; don’t distort His image by obsessing over your physical appearance. As an image-bearer, you are called to show God’s goodness, love, grace, and kindness to a broken and fallen world. This is only possible if you learn to identify the godly character traits and talents God has put within you. Take some time today to consider your personality, skills, knowledge, and talents. 

  1. What godly character traits do you possess? (ex. Kindness, patience, compassion, generosity, merciful, joyful, etc.)
  2. What skills, knowledge, or talents has God blessed you with that you can use to reflect God’s character?
  3. How can you use your personality, skills, knowledge and talents to show others your true self, the you that reflects God’s image?

Step 2 - Identity in Christ vs. Comparison

It is hard to scroll and not compare yourself to others. People put their money, vacations, life hacks, picture-perfect moments, and even their bodies on full display on social media. As we scroll, we think all those other people have their lives put together, that they are more successful than us or better looking than we are. What we fail to remember is that social media isn’t real life. It is filters and backdrops and snapshots of a person’s life. People don’t typically post the pictures of themselves with no makeup, or the stories of how many times they yelled at their kids, or how many times they spilled their drink trying to get that perfect “cheers” boomerang. We compare what we feel and know on a daily basis to what we see in one moment of time in someone else’s edited photo. 

But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. 2 Corinthians 10:12

When we play the comparison game, we always lose. Satan taps into our natural competitiveness and longing to be accepted and deceives us by making us think our acceptance is based on how we measure up to other people. God says when we compare ourselves in this way, we are without understanding. Instead of rooting our identity in who social media says we should be, we must learn to find our identity in Christ – He says we are loved, chosen, redeemed, and created for good works (Romans 8:35-39, 1 Peter 2:9, Titus 2:14). 

  1. How have you been comparing your real-life to other’s social media? (ex. Talents, physical appearance, success, experiences, financial status, etc.)
  2. Read Romans 8:35-39, 1 Peter 2:9 and Titus 2:14. Who does God say you are?
  3. How does feeling secure in your identity in Christ help your relationships?

Step 3 - Satisfaction in Christ vs. Satisfaction in Likes

We have started measuring our worth and satisfaction based on how many likes or comments we get rather than finding our worth and satisfaction in Christ alone. The hit of dopamine we get every time a notification pops up makes us believe the lie that our joy, worth, and satisfaction come from social media. We have bought in to the notion that someone taking one second out of their day to tap a heart on our picture shows their genuine affection for us and we crave to have more hearts tapped and comments left. These superficial relationships always leave us wanting more. 

For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. Psalm 107:9

If you are searching for validation, worth, joy, or satisfaction in likes and comments, you will be left hungry. Christ is the only one who can satisfy your soul. Who can satisfy you better than the One who made you? What can give your brain a bigger boost of dopamine than worshiping the One who hardwired your brain with praise and thanksgiving?

  1. Think about when you feel the most satisfied in life. What brings that feeling of satisfaction?
  2. Consider when you feel the least satisfied in life. In those times, where are you seeking satisfaction?
  3. What “good things” has God filled your soul with that bring more satisfaction than likes?

Step 4 - Joy in Christ vs. Joy in Scrolling

Scrolling social media has become a distraction from our real lives and a habit to fill our time. I would dare to say it is no different than “drinking the pain away” or eating out of boredom. It doesn’t necessarily bring joy, rather it distracts us from what is unenjoyable or unpleasant in our lives. Social media was created to bring people together, but in his crafty ways, Satan has used it to bring division, new ways to bully others, and to steal our joy.   

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10 

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11

God has graciously given us hobbies, friends, passions, and talents that can bring us joy as well as grow deeper connections to other people and to God. Not only has Christ given us those good gifts, but He gave Himself so that our joy may be full. He doesn’t want us to simply coast through life, Jesus came so that we would have an abundant life, full of joy and hope in Him. 

  1. Think about the people God has put in your life that bring you joy. What is one enjoyable thing you can do this week with at least one of those people? (Something face-to-face!)
  2. Consider your hobbies, talents, and passions. What is one thing you can work on this week that will bring you joy?
  3. Reflect on Psalm 1:2 and Psalm 37:4. How does delighting in God’s Word bring you joy?

Step 5 – Contentment vs. Fear of Missing Out

The FOMO is real. Social media is essentially a crystal ball that we gaze into to learn the whereabouts of our closest 1,057 “friends.” Every vacation someone takes makes us feel like we haven’t received the break we deserve. When we see photos of our friends together, we wonder why we weren’t invited. When others share their lavish, exciting, or exclusive experiences, we wonder why we aren’t good enough to have the same kind of experiences. Nearly every post we see leaves us feeling more and more discontent with the lives we’ve been given. 

But godliness with contentment is great gain, 1 Timothy 6:6

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s. Exodus 20:17

God makes it clear that we are not to covet, or long for the things that others have. When we desire what others have, we are telling God, “The life you gave me isn’t good enough.” We get so caught up in what others have, that we neglect to reflect on all we have been given and respond with proper thanksgiving. As we learn to find contentment in the life God has given us, we will grow in our dependence on Him and strengthen our faith – that is a great gain. 

  1. In which areas of your life do you find yourself coveting your neighbor the most?
  2. Make a list of things you have that you are thankful for. Spend time in prayer thanking God for those blessings.
  3. Read Philippians 4:4-9. When you are feeling discontent, what “lovely” things can you think about?

Step 6 - Humility vs. Competition

The days of using social media to catch up with old friends are seemingly gone. Social media is now everyone’s personal platform. Whether it’s professional or personal, we tend to see more posts that spur on competition with one another rather than connecting us with one another. If you post photos of your vacation, I’m going to post photos of mine. If your kid did something you’re proud of, then I’m going to post about something my kids did. Social media is the world’s largest game of “one-upper.” 

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself. Philippians 2:3

Humility may seem impossible on social media; after all, it was created as a way to share more about ourselves. But we can be humble by not engaging in posting wars to try to determine who has the better life. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t share your vacations or proud parent moments, but rather that you should check your motives before you post something. Are you genuinely just excited to share that part of your life with others or are you sharing it to make yourself look better than someone else or brag about your experiences? When we choose to post on social media, we should consider other’s feelings first. 

  1. Do you tend to post things on social media to connect with others or to brag to others?
  2. Have you ever been part of a “posting war”? If so, how did it make you feel?
  3. If you are posting about someone else (spouse, children, friends, etc.) do you consider how they would feel about the post first?

Step 7 - A Platform for Christ vs. A Platform for Yourself

It used to be that only the rich and famous had a platform to stand on, but now, social media has given everyone a voice. We have all seen how one video going viral suddenly makes a name for someone or how a tweet from ten years ago ruins someone’s career. Whether we like it or not, and no matter how small or large our following is, if we have a social media account, we have a platform. More often than not, we see people use this opportunity to talk about themselves – how unfair their boss was, how amazing their new outfit looks, what new amazing multi-level marketing gig they got. We have been given an amazing opportunity to share our faith that didn’t exist just a few years ago, yet we rarely take it. 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:4

Our spiritual lives and our virtual lives don’t have to be separated. In fact, they should overlap. In all that we do, we want to focus on God’s will and share the gospel that has been entrusted to us. This means, we should use whatever platform we have, no matter how big or how small, to point others to Jesus. If you choose to be on social media, use it to fulfill God’s purpose for your life and make His name known. 

  1. Have you ever considered yourself to have a platform on social media? Why or why not?
  2. How can you personally use social media for God’s glory?
  3. What reservations do you have about using your platform to make Jesus known?

Step 8 - Genuine Community vs. Virtual Community

Over the past few years, but especially since COVID shut things down, there has been a debate over online church. Some claim that it is just as beneficial and interactive as attending church in person. Some would make the same argument about online relationships – that they can be just as fulfilling as relationships with people you see on a regular basis. But the problem is, as long as we are hidden by a screen, we are never fully ourselves. When we can’t hold hands with the grieving or hug the ones celebrating, we miss out on a level of closeness that simply cannot be found in online relationships. 

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Genesis 1:26

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

We have already discussed how we are made in the image of God, but the keyword in Genesis 1:26 is our. God has always been in perfect community with Himself as God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This means that part of being made in His image means that we were made for community – with God and with others. While social media can help us stay in touch with old acquaintances or friends who have moved away, it should not replace genuine, in-person relationships. God has graciously given us the church to help build community, we should be faithful to meet together and encourage one another as we go through life. 

  1. Why are in-person relationships important?
  2. List out the things you can do in-person that you cannot do through a screen that you value in your relationships.
  3. What concerns do you have about being truly known by others and engaging in genuine community? 

Step 9 - The Universe vs. The Metaverse: Finding Balance

We have spent some time considering how social media impacts our self-image, our relationships, and our ability to glorify God. I want you to consider each statement below. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these statements, you may want to consider how to find a better balance between your real-life and virtual life. 

I have used social media while at church.

(Exodus 20:3, Luke 12:34, Matthew 6:33)

I regularly spend more time scrolling social media than I do reading my bible or praying.

(2 Timothy 3:16-17, Psalm 119:105, Luke 18:1, Colossians 4:2)

I have spent more time working on content for my social media profiles than serving others. 

(James 1:27, 1 Peter 4:10, Galatians 5:13)

I have felt overwhelmed by social media but unable to step away from it. 

(Luke 5:15-16, 2 Peter 3:17, 1 Corinthians 10:13)

I have made my life seem perfect on social media even though in reality I am struggling with sin, grief, anxiety, doubt, or other spiritual or mental health issues. 

(James 5:16, Galatians 6:2, 1 Peter 5:6-7)

I have prioritized making myself “known” on social media rather than making Christ known. 

(Mark 16:15, Romans 10:17, Matthew 9:37-38)

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the statements above, know that there is grace and forgiveness ready to be poured out on you. Romans 8:1 says, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This exercise is not meant to bring shame or guilt, but to open your eyes to where you may be struggling to find balance in your life. 

  1. Where do you struggle the most to find balance between virtual reality and actual reality?
  2. Write out a prayer confessing the times you have prioritized social media over your relationship with God. Ask for forgiveness and ask God to help you put Him first.
  3. What satisfaction or fulfillment do you think social media can give you that God cannot? Why do you think you feel this way?

Step 10 – Breaking Habits

I want to give you some practical ways to help you break those bad social media habits. Below are just a few ideas of steps you can take to help bring balance to your life. 

Limit screen time. 

Parents can be quick to set parental controls to monitor their children’s screen time and the apps and websites they use, but often they do not set the same boundaries for themselves. As adults, we can be intentional about how we use our screens and how often we are on them. This may mean setting alarms, blocking apps or websites on your devices, turning off notifications, or simply putting your device away during periods of your day. 

Set yourself up for a good night’s rest. 

I don’t know how many times I have started scrolling before bed and all the sudden hours have past and I’m awake much later than I intended to be. If the temptation to scroll social media is strong before bed, try leaving your phone in a different room or at least on the other side of the bedroom. This may mean using an old-fashioned alarm clock in the mornings, turning on the “do not disturb” function, or finding a different activity to do before bed such as reading or meditation. 

Spend time outdoors and with people. 

If you find yourself sitting around the house on social media during most of your down time, try finding other activities to fill your time. Go for a walk, exercise, join an intramural sports team or book club, or find a hobby to help challenge your brain and grow your in-person interactions.

Set a good example. 

If you have children and feel like they are constantly wanting to be on social media, consider the example you are setting for them. Do your kids see you on your phone all day? To set a good example for your kids, you must model restraint, be intentional about taking breaks and putting your devices down, and showing your children focused attention so they see that your screens and social media are not the most important things in your life. 

Have accountability.

Like nearly everything in life, it is easier to break bad social media habits when you don’t try to do it alone. Talk to a friend, parent, counselor, pastor, or any trusted person who will check in on you, pray for you, and encourage you as you try to bring balance to your life. 

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

Finding a balance between virtual reality and actual reality will be difficult but Christ will give you the strength to do the things that will glorify God. It is His design for you to be in community with Himself and when you commit to building genuine relationships with others, He will be faithful to grow an affection and closeness within those relationships. 

  1. What is one practical step you can take to break your social media habits?
  2. Out of all the things we discussed throughout this challenge, which area is the most difficult for you? Which practical step from today would best help you overcome that struggle?
  3. Who is one person you can ask to help keep you accountable?

Breaking the habit of scrolling and realigning your identity and worth in Christ will take time; but will have a huge impact in your social interactions and your mental health. If you find yourself struggling to get back to reality, share your journal with one of our trained coaches or therapists, or schedule a one-on-one session for more help. 

References

Blackwelder, A., Hoskins, M., & Huber, L. (2021, June 17). Effect of inadequate sleep on frequent mental distress. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 23, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2021/20_0573.htm 

Fotuhi, M. (2020, December 11). What social media does to your brain. NeuroGrow. Retrieved February 23, 2022, from https://neurogrow.com/what-social-media-does-to-your-brain/#:~:text=Changes%20in%20Attention,information%20is%20at%20your%20fingertips.&text=Compared%20to%20moderate%20to%20light,in%20the%20face%20of%20distraction.

Mammoser, G. (2018, December 10). Social media increases depression and loneliness. Healthline. Retrieved February 20, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/social-media-use-increases-depression-and-loneliness

McNamee, D. (2014, May 12). How does facebook affect our sense of belonging? Medical News Today. Retrieved February 23, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/276656#:~:text=%E2%80%9CSocial%20networking%20sites%2C%20such%20as,producing%20a%20sense%20of%20belonging.

Miller, C. (2022, February 3). Does social media use cause depression? Child Mind Institute. Retrieved February 20, 2022, from https://childmind.org/article/is-social-media-use-causing-depression/#:~:text=In%20several%20studies%2C%20teenage%20and,who%20spent%20the%20least%20time.

Rappa, N., & Jameson, R. (2021, December 15). The impact of social media use on social skills. New York Behavioral Health. Retrieved February 23, 2022, from https://www.newyorkbehavioralhealth.com/the-impact-of-social-media-use-on-social-skills/

Silva, C. (2017, February 22). Social Media's impact on self-esteem. HuffPost. Retrieved February 23, 2022, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/social-medias-impact-on-self-esteem_b_58ade038e4b0d818c4f0a4e4

The social dilemma: Social media and your mental health. Here's How Social Media Affects Your Mental Health | McLean Hospital. (2022, January 21). Retrieved February 20, 2022, from https://www.mcleanhospital.org/essential/it-or-not-social-medias-affecting-your-mental-health

Statista Research Department. (2022, January 31). Social media usage in U.S. Statista. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/273476/percentage-of-us-population-with-a-social-network-profile/#:~:text=Share%20of%20U.S.%20population%20who%20use%20social%20media%202008%2D2021&text=This%20equals%20approximately%20223%20million%20U.S.%20social%20media%20users%20as%20of%202020.&text=According%20to%20estimates%2C%20the%20number,4.2%20billion%20in%20January%202021.

Sternlicht, L., & Sternlicht, A. (2022, January 1). A new age of digital addiction - what the metaverse means for mental health and Digital Addiction. A New Age of Digital Addiction - What The Metaverse Means for Mental Health and Digital Addiction : Family Addiction Specialist: Addiction Counselor. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from https://www.familyaddictionspecialist.com/blog/a-new-age-of-digital-addiction-what-the-metaverse-means-for-mental-health-and-digital-addiction

Wellum, S. J., Morgan, C. W., & Peterson, R. A. (2017). Esv Systematic Theology Study Bible: Theology rooted in the word of god: English standard version. Crossway. 

About Kailey Lentsch, MSW

Kailey Lentsch is the Chief Editor of JournalOwl. Her goal is to incorporate her knowledge of mental health and evidence-based techniques with sound biblical theology to provide readers with well-rounded, Christ-centered information and advice.

Prior to becoming a writer, Kailey worked as a community social worker providing counseling and case management for clients. She also taught special education in the autism unit for two years. Kailey stepped away from the classroom to focus on her growing family and to better serve her church and community through volunteer work.

Kailey is a graduate of The University of Central Florida with a master’s degree in Social Work and a certification in Children’s Services. She currently is enrolled in theology courses to expand her Bible knowledge and follow 2 Peter 3:18 by growing “in the grace and knowledge” of Christ.

Kailey and her husband are Florida natives and enjoy spending time with their three kids. They love being outdoors or doing anything sports related.

Health Disclaimer

JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.

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