Living alone during a pandemic has made it very hard not to rely on social media and my phone to connect with my friends and family. Nonetheless, I could write a memoir entitled “I’m not ignoring you, I’m just overwhelmed” when it comes to answering text messages. And I find quite a few of my friends feel the same way. But why is our contact and connecting so anxiety induced? Why is texting something that once was glorified as the means to connect us with everyone around the world, anytime? Why is texting all of a sudden something which causes me to stress?
You’ve probably guessed it already, it’s exactly this: always being available. Most of us have their phone in close proximity when they go to bed and check it a lot during the day. A digital detox only lasts as long. And our relaxation time is interrupted by feelings of guilt as more messages built up and we purposefully don’t click on them, so they are not marked as ‘read’. We feel a sense of obligation to answer these messages, but simultaneously are afraid of how our response might affect the other person. It’s this struggle with a responsibility which causes us a great deal of anxiety and inadvertently leads us to let the notifications become a frightening pile of expectations. But not only does texting fulfill us with anxiety but sending the text and waiting for an answer can be stressful too. Why haven’t they answered? Did I say something wrong? Are they too busy?
I often feel the pressure to create nice, consistent messages that make sense to the other person and will thus be accepted as adequate. The fear of disappointing with this message is for some reason sometimes enormous. Receiving a notification can already be stressful. We’ve all heard before that the ping of a phone increases activity of chemicals in our body and brings us into a state of agitation. The sound is not confined to the digital device; this anxiety has a real impact on us, physically.
The only solution, it seems to me, is readjusting others` expectations and redefining the terms of that socially implied contract. Once you tell others why you act that way, “warn” them that you won’t reply immediately, and realise most of it is just in your head; you will feel relieved and less stressed to fulfill your obligations because it’s not the apps that cause the anxiety, but the social norms that each of them implies. But there’s still hope and room to flex these norms and make it okay to let messages sit in the inbox until you have the mental capacity to deal with them. And everything will probably feel a lot more relaxed when you don’t feel the social pressure to respond immediately.