A variety of approaches can help ease the feelings of panic and unease many experience when text messaging
Maybe you’ve been there: impatiently checking your phone as you wait for a message, or feeling butterflies in your stomach as you hit send on a text.
Over 2.2 billion text messages are sent by Americans each year, and this number continues to increase. Research conducted in 2019 by the developers of the RescueTime app, revealed that half of phone pickups occur just 3 minutes after putting it down.
In a 2020 network survey, T-Mobile reported text messages (SMS) increased by 26% and multimedia texts (MMS) like pictures, GIFs, memes, or group threads jumped 77%.
It might come as little surprise that with 97% of Americans owning a cellphone and the don’t-leave-home-without-them devices treated like another appendage, a percentage of folks would experience anxiety when messaging doesn’t go as planned.
So what does text anxiety feel like and what can be done to quell those feelings of dread?
“What are the signs and symptoms of text anxiety?” you might ask. You could experience:
- a racing heartbeat
- shortness of breath
- distraction from other activities until you send or receive a reply
- ruminating thoughts as you reread and analyze messages
- impulses to repeatedly check your phone
- impulses to see when the person you are texting was last online
- procrastination in replying to others’ messages
“Texting comes with a lot of uncertainty,” explains Dr. Holly Schiff, a licensed clinical psychologist in Connecticut. “Specifically, we cannot predict how someone will respond to a text, if they will even respond at all, or how quickly they will respond.”
Face-to-face conversations — which our brains have long been accustomed to — allow us to pick up on myriad verbal and nonverbal cues.
Dr. Chloe Haaz Sica, is a licensed psychologist and owner of MontCo Therapy & Evaluation in Pennsylvania.
She says conversely with texts, there are “no facial expressions to lean on to indicate emotion, no body language to provide emphasis or to get a flair for one’s personality, and no voice to show tone.”
And this can prove problematic.
“When we take emotional and nonverbal cues away, communications become more ambiguous,” agrees Dr. Raffaello Antonino, a counseling psychologist and clinical director of Therapy Central in London.
“So although texting may seem more immediate and efficient than in-person communication, it is more complex to process as it is easier to misinterpret,” he adds.
Those who already experience anxiety in other areas of their lives might be more likely to feel panic and uncertainty around texting.
For instance, individuals who deal with social anxiety “may find texting challenging, as it is a social communication at its core,” states Sica.
The more shy folks among us may also find texting particularly difficult, notes Antonino. “Introverted individuals, by definition, aren’t that sociable,” he says, “so they may find texting a bit intrusive.”
A desire to text doesn’t mean resigning yourself to a lifetime of related anxieties. Here are tips to help reduce feelings of:
Think before you type
How many times have you messaged something in the heat of the moment and instantly regretted it?
“Over-talkers in text conversations are often fueled by anxiety and insecurity. These texters [can] benefit from reeling themselves in and observing,” notes Sica.
“Observing helps them take cues from the other person and respond to messages rather than react to internal feelings of fear.”
Remember that people have other stuff going on
Just because someone doesn’t reply immediately doesn’t mean they’re:
- rejecting you
- ignoring you
Instead, they’ve likely been distracted — perhaps by a work call, putting their child to bed, or the TV.
Sit with your feelings
While it may sound counterintuitive, sitting with feelings of worry or concern can help you better understand your emotions and where they’re coming from. “Find comfort in the discomfort,” suggests Schiff.
“If you feel anxious about a text you sent, or you feel overwhelmed with other people texting you, sit with those emotions,” she adds. Schiff says you can self-soothe by:
Recognize texting for what it is
Sica recommends to “enter a text conversation with the mindset that texting is a gray area of communication and some nuance will be lost.”
Starting a text message conversation with the awareness that it might not be as clear-cut as an in-person discussion can help lower any expectations and better prepare you for crossed wires.
Use emojis to get your message across
If you’re sending a message that has the potential to be interpreted negatively — even if you don’t mean it to be — you can use emojis to both respond how you feel and lighten the tone.
“Emojis attempt to bridge the gap between in-person and text communication by adding flavor to the intentions or emotions,” Antonino states.
Save the big stuff for real life
Some things are best said face-to-face — especially if you know it might be a difficult exchange.
Schiff emphasized that, “If you want to have an effective conversation, try to do it in person!” She says having heavy conversations via text can create a whirlwind of problems and leaves you vulnerable to:
Keep things focused
If you text a friend for a specific reason, make sure you stick to that — and don’t veer off course into chat that could lead to unease or angst.
“Communication becomes easier and clearer when it is focused on a specific task with a clear beginning and end,” says Sica.
Ask for clarification
If you’re unsure how a message was intended, it’s always better to ask than draw conclusions yourself.
Antonino says “If you’re at the receiving end and are in doubt about the other person’s intentions, there’s nothing wrong with asking for more information or context.”
Pro communication tip
In his book “The Four Agreements,” Don Miguel Ruiz suggests asking this simple question when communicating to avoid taking things personally or making assumptions:
“What do you mean by that?”
It allows the other person to clarify or perhaps rethink the delivery of a text.
In-person conversations allow us to observe verbal and nonverbal cues from another individual and obtain an immediate response. However, text messaging doesn’t allow for these and where ambiguity resides — anxieties can arise.
Texting anxiety can sometimes be overwhelming for some people, but various approaches can help ease feelings of uncertainty and stress.
And remember: Texting isn’t the only form of communication available. So if messaging stresses you out, don’t be afraid to go the old-fashioned route and pick up the phone.