February 22, 2019

The Anguish of Non-Stop Family Texts

“I am not known for being especially easy to get hold of via text. I tend to keep my phone on silent as the high-pitched ping of an incoming message makes my cheeks flush with dread. I wish I could mute all my contacts’ notifications – sorry, mom, dad, and everyone I care about, but communicating with you makes me incredibly anxious. But, obviously, that’s not feasible. I do, however, mute text threads with more than three people, and I opt out of family threads entirely. It is a small gesture, but bowing out of these communal conversations eases my mind, even if I sometimes feel left out and lonely – not to mention guilty that I’ve made my family feel like an annoyance.

Yet I’ve found that ignoring my family for the sake of my sanity can be therapeutic. Smartphones seem to cause more trouble than they’re worth: these devices have opened up a universe of new ways for people (not just family) to bother us. One study from the American Psychological Association in 2017 found that constantly checking emails and texts contributes significantly to our overall stress. Nancy Cheever, professor of communications at California State University, Dominguez Hills, researches how cellphone use affects our moods, and says that being ‘constantly connected’ through email, text and social media guarantees that you’ll experience anxiety. The distraction seeps into your work life, too: as Scott Bea, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, told the Daily Mail last year, constantly checking your notifications can drop productivity by about 40 per cent.

Sometimes, it’s impossible to avoid texts from work, but you can give yourself permission to take a break from texting with family. Writing for Psychology Today in 2014, Theresa DiDonato, a social psychologist at Loyola University Maryland, said that constant texting can lead to ‘a cycle of mobile relationship maintenance’, in which ‘individuals begin to feel an overdependence’, potentially violating your sense of privacy and autonomy. The otherwise innocuous act of texting can then strain close bonds between loved ones, and even create feelings of resentment toward people who are probably well-intentioned, but unaware of the toll of their excessive communications on your psyche.”

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