Social media has become one of the dominant ways we connect. But is it helping or hurting our emotional life? Online social applications can be great tools for staying in touch and connecting. But are we really connecting?
When I first joined Facebook, I was excited that I was able to catch up with many people I went to high school with. But with all the emotional toxicity that has built up over the years on social platforms, I’m thinking that I would rather have the good old fashioned high school reunion and be able to personally connect in real life.
I’m concerned that we are losing real connected relationships. Our online interactions are giving us the impressions that we are connecting. But the opposite may be true.
Revealing Our Social Dysfunction
Let me say this upfront: social media is not evil, but it is revealing many evil patterns that exist in our modern relationship interactions. It gives room for unhealthy relational patterns to run wild. The format pulls people into portraying a life that is inconsistent with who they really are, while kicking up emotional patterns that are unhealthy.
I recently heard about a local seminar, which addressed the subject of personal happiness. As many flooded this topic in high demand, the application was very simple. One of the top action steps given for experiencing happiness and emotional health: GET OFF SOCIAL MEDIA.
Sounds really simple, but social media has become a main staple to the modern lives of people.
A Fabricated World
We all know social media is not a real world, but our hearts and minds can easily forget this as we mindlessly scroll through piles of content.
The fabricated nature of social media can lead us to form inaccurate opinions and perceptions about ourselves and other people, in a way that hinders emotional health.
It can lead us to skip the meaningful moments of connection and discovery, where we can develop real interactions and we can get to know the true heart of someone else.
With that in mind, here are twelve reasons why social media is not helping you live spiritually and emotionally healthy. (I had to narrow it down from even more.)
1. Social Media Conditions You for Unhealthy Expectations
Social media posts create a false conditioning with your emotions. If you get a bunch of views or “likes” on a certain post, a rush of dopamine hits, leading you to want to create more activity that can regain that feedback. The problem is, the affirmation you are receiving is not even based on real relationship connection.
This sets people up for unhealthy expectations of what it means to be “successful.” The more likes you get, the better. On the flip side, you will easily get hooked into discouragement when there is not that much engagement or positive feedback. But at that point, it doesn’t matter, because the system has already hooked you in.
Unfortunately, online interactions become a driving force for how people feel about themselves. Is it a coincidence that depression and suicidal tendencies are rising as the increase of social media accessibility has?
2. Social Media will Condition You for Impatience
One of my biggest frustrations has become how short the attention span is becoming. We are becoming increasingly impatient and social media encourages that impatience.
As you feverishly scroll through content, you are subconsciously being trained to consume information at light speed. This conditioning can flow into every part of your life.
This pattern is driving content creators to develop material that is flashy, entertaining and super quick. But it’s encouraging us to live with chronic impatience and shallow relationship interactions.
It says a lot about our society when everything has to be quick, flashy and summed up in a social meme.
So when it comes to learning things of depth, there’s no room for it in our lives, unless someone can sum it up in a 30 second sound bite. Preachers, teachers and churches are having to dumb down the rich content of the Scriptures to bite sized pieces that have been stripped of the richness. Its like processed food. You lose all the nutrients, but you are deceived into thinking you are receiving nourishment.
This attention span issue is a major problem for Christians, because you cannot gain revelation from God while consuming content at hyper-speed. No wonder a growing mass of believers are struggling with getting anything out of the Bible. They complain that they are not receiving anything from God. But God’s Word and His power does not operate in a microwave. He downloads in a slow-cook, marination process.
3. The Online Setting is Not Healthy
On average, people in the United States across all age groups check their phones 46 times per day. For many, that’s just getting the day started.
Most jump into social media during gaps of the day. It’s like the cigarette break for people who don’t smoke. But they are ingesting an emotional nicotine, a potent mixture of addictive content that floods your system while the damage slowly sets in.
Many never step back to think about the setting of social media. Is your mind designed to click a button that suddenly launches you into a social setting of thousands of people’s opinions, behaviors and beliefs? Add to that, hitting this button at least 46 times a day? Should you have 46 sudden social interactions a day?
Every time you open a social media app, you are jumping into a room full of people you know or somewhat know, with a sudden hit of their strong opinions, critiques or rants. You are hearing things from people you didn’t ask for. But you are getting it anyway.
In addition to this, you are flooded with the traumas of sudden calamities and catastrophes, as the news organizations know you won’t pay attention unless it’s reported in shocking ways.
4. Social Media Awakens the Comparison Monster
Every week I am working with someone who is bound by the chains of depression, which was intensified by the poison of comparison. Unfortunately. social media is the one of the greatest playgrounds of comparison.
But it’s not even real comparison, because all the feeds are filled with people’s front stage presentation. Even posts that are meant to be “authentic” are dressed with certain postures and phrases to present a branding or an image that over time, begins to wear thin.
I spend most of my work behind the scenes and trust me, everyone’s going through a lot right now. No one’s got it all together and everyone is getting deeply challenged in some area of their life.
But when you are struggling and open up your social media app, it can be easy to feel that everyone you are watching is doing so much better than you. So you have some choices:
- Beat yourself up for where you think you are not doing well.
- Find people who seem to be doing worse that you, in attempts to make you feel better about yourself.
- Push hard to promote an image of yourself that is fabricated, in the hopes that you can appear successful.
- Let people who seem to be doing well, be an encouragement for your life.
- Close the app and go have some authentic interactions in person or by phone.
I am not saying I have the answers. All I am seeking to do is open awareness of what people are battling.
5. Having Constant Access to Someone’s Day is not Healthy
Reality TV shows paved the way for people to engage more into the personal, every day activity of other people’s lives. It heightened the curiosity in people’s hearts to know an inside scoop.
In all honesty, it gave us permission to be nosy.
We then create judgments without any context and can form inaccurate perceptions of where someone is at in their life.
6. Social media can be destructive for your emotional state and Mood
People are more digitally connected than ever, giving the lure that social connection is at an all time high. When in reality, a growing number are more lonely, depressed and isolated than ever before.
Here’s a major problem. Most people go on social media when they are bored or looking for something to make them feel better; only to go online and get more irritated by the latest political rant or post from a friend who is clearly being passive aggressive. You were already in a challenging emotional state. Now you are on a slip and slide.
Before you go on social media, do you ever check your personal state? Do you even ask if you should go on? If you went to a physical gathering of friends, you would emotionally prepare yourself to interact. But we never do this on social media. We mindless jump in and wonder why we feel like garbage.
If you are down and struggling, social media is the last place you need to go. The best place is to actually interact with someone, voice to voice. Your heart needs real and nurturing interaction.
Besides, when was the last time you went on social media and said to yourself, “I feel so great and refreshed!”
Yeah I can’t remember either.
You have to guard your heart and emotions. This means staying out of being dragged into the online drama that wants to pull you in and steal your energy to things that should not matter or are not your problem.
7. Healthy Communication Cannot Fully Occur
Maybe I am just extra sensitive, but it bugs me watching the constant, unproductive arguing that people do online. Christians can be just as notorious. I am watching way too many believers act like jerks and ruin relationships, simply because an online interaction went sour, usually over some stupid theological or political argument.
I’ve had some really mean interactions with people in person, but nothing compares to the vitriol people can spread online.
When are we going to learn that an online comment section is not going to change someone’s heart?
It’s almost a guarantee that if you jump into the hornet’s nest of arguments, you will be taken the wrong way, relationships will be hurt and unnecessary damage will be done.
Communicating Your Problems Online
Social media is also not the place to pour out your personal problems. As much as you might be tempted to use that platform to help heal your heart, let me warn you that the negative outweighs the positive.
When you have problems in your life, you need personal love, connection and direction, not social attention. Yet it’s so much easier to post a sob story to attract the attention of people, rather than doing the hard work of connecting in more concrete ways that will help you get healthier.
In a way, social media can feed a victim mentality, because sharing a victim story gets attention. It conditions us to make connections with people in the wrong way. If you post your victim perspectives and get attention for them, you will return to that pattern when you feel empty down the road.
Sadly, I’ve even watched highly respected leaders spew their problems online. It reveals their cry for help has reached such epic levels, the only place they knew to turn to was an online social platform. It shows they don’t have confidants to share with in safety. Christian leaders are lacking help for their lives on personal level, and this ongoing trend of social media venting is becoming more common.
8. Social Media Empowers Cowardly Behavior
It’s easy to post words in a comments section about someone. But you would never say those things to them personally.
The classic dysfunction is the passive aggressive post. Instead of going to the person with the issue, it’s easier to cloak it under the guise of personal opinion post. Taking those pathways teach us to avoid real conflict resolution and real relationship interaction.
9. Social Media is Addictive
As if I haven’t already established some important points to consider, the very nature of online content is designed to pull on your addiction pathways.
Social media is junk food for your emotions and thinking. It’s the junk food of relationship connection. Most know it’s bad for them, but they can’t stop. And just like junk food, the designers of social platforms are setting the applications up in such a way that you become addicted to scrolling, commenting or engaging.
That is why I recommend regular social media fasts as a part of a negativity fast.
10. Social media feeds emotional intensity.
You can gain followers, attention and even influence by becoming extreme in your approach. If you express yourself outrageously, through anger or brash intensity, you can gain followers.
Unfortunately, many people who get attention on social media, are those who express themselves outrageously or in extreme ways. You may gain influence, but you can also lose the value of loving people in every day, ordinary ways.
But that doesn’t get people’s attention.
11. Social Media Will Steal Your Time
During times of social media fasts, I have found a compounded increase in available time for things that are important in my life. Margin increases exponentially. When I am normally triggered to reach for my phone, I can instead reach for a book or do something that I know will refresh me.
12. Social media will condition you to become more shallow.
Social media interactions show we don’t know how to talk to each other anymore. On top of it all, we are accepting the shallow end of relationships.
A shallow life comes along with a fast paced life. You stop seeking God and developing quality interactions, as you only have time for the quick and shallow.
What Should I Do?
A growing number of people are taking social media fasts or are unplugging all together.
If you resonate with some of the things i am sharing with you and more, here are some steps to consider:
- Have times during the day where you check social media and limit it to those times.
- Detox from social media for a period of “fasting.” I have found this to be incredibly helpful.
- Unplug completely. This cold turkey approach may give you withdrawal symptoms, but it could be really good for you.
- Schedule your calendar each week with appointments to talk to the people that mean a lot to you. This includes spouses, children, friends and mentors. The people that matter most to you should be in your schedule, so that you do not lose touch with real interactions you need to have with them.
- Take out your phone right now and give someone you love and respect a call. Leave them a message or just tell them you wanted to share your love for them.
- Do a negativity fast, which includes unplugging from social media. This will help re-calibrate your heart for love, compassion and grounded social interactions.
- Use the extra time to restore habits that truly fill you and refresh you, like going for walks (without your phone) or doing something kind for someone (without humble bragging about it online.)
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