You know that anxious knot you get in your stomach when you’ve sent a text and are worried about a reply? Or that itchy feeling you get when your phone is dead and you know you’re supposed to be getting an update? As many of us know, texting anxiety is no joke. But what you may not realize is that it’s not just about looking at your phone too frequently—for some, the anxiety associated with texting culture might be turning into a serious mental health issue.
What Is Texting Anxiety?
Texting anxiety is exactly what it sounds like: anxiety associated with messaging on a phone or other smart device. Sometimes it might even translate into physical symptoms including sweaty palms and jitters.
If you’re someone who struggles with anxiety already, it’s easy to see why texting would exacerbate that. Although texting has been around for almost 25 years, it’s only since Blackberrys and other smartphones burst onto the stage that texting really took over. Suddenly, it wasn’t the occasional, painstakingly written message popping up on your Nokia, it was being constantly accessible to everyone you know—friends, partners, even your colleagues and bosses. We’re expected to answer quickly, even engage in full conversations via text, wherever we are. And, with many of us having group texts with our friends, it’s easy to get major FOMO—and keep checking your phone, just in case.
If this sounds like you, here’s what you know about texting anxiety and how to combat it.
The Extent of the Problem
Constant text message conversations mean that you have endless opportunities to feel left out—you send something out into the world, and until you get feedback it’s easy to feel anxious. It's not in your head. In fact, in one survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 43 percent of Americans admitted to "constantly checking" their technology, and one-fifth of Americans associated their technology with significant stress. These were devices that we thought were designed to make our lives easier, but for many of us, they’ve been anything but. Combine text message anxiety with the stress of being constantly available and plugged-in to the world around you, sleeping with your phone near your head, and our often unhealthy relationship with social media—and you have a recipe for disaster.
How to Treat It
Sometimes the anxiety around texting is its own issue—while texting and phone usage might also compound already existing problems, such as anxiety or depression. In either case, you may want to speak with a professional, as there is a range of methods that people can turn to for treatment.
If you feel like you have problems controlling your phone use—or find that waiting for text responses or the pressure to send text messages is causing you anxiety—then there’s one simple step you can take. The first thing to try is, maybe unsurprisingly, using your phone less. It sounds flippant, but it may be a crucial part of many treatment plans and something you can try at home for free.
Setting designated times a day when you use your phone—during your lunch break, on the bus—and sticking to only those times can be a total game-changer.
This can be especially helpful if the people around you, like your partner or your children, feel affected by the amount of time you spend on your phone. Make an agreement to make shared time, like dinner or movie night, a phone-free space. If you can set down some solid boundaries about when you will and won’t text, you may find that it helps combat your anxiety—if not, you may want to consider seeking help. So many of us have trouble controlling how much we use our phones—they’re designed to hold our attention, after all—so there’s no shame in the struggle.
A Larger Movement
All of this is troubling—but there’s one fundamental truth that is perhaps the most troubling of all: The problem doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. When phones—and the apps and websites on them—are all competing for your attention, it becomes almost impossible not to get sucked into their anxiety-inducing ecosphere. That’s why we’re seeing groups like the Center for Humane Technology trying to deal with this problem on a more fundamental level; and some phones now allow you to track and curb your usage right in the settings. Hopefully, these are signs toward a larger movement of looking at the root of the problem—the technology itself. But until we see bolder, more progressive changes, we all need to try to establish a responsible relationship with our phones. And that might just start with curbing our texting.
While there’s a lot to be said for being able to communicate with friends and family all around the world at any time, there’s no doubt that the anxiety and stress that have come with that privilege can be crippling. If you feel like you have anxiety around your phone use, try putting up some boundaries as soon as possible. If that doesn’t improve your situation, never feel ashamed to get help—your phone just isn’t worth sacrificing your mental health.
De-Sola Gutiérrez J, Rodríguez de Fonseca F, Rubio G. Cell-phone addiction: a review. Front Psychiatry. 2016;7:175. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00175
American Psychological Association. Stress in America: Coping with Change. Published Feb. 23, 2017.