Writing is a very therapeutic and self-reflecting practice for me that allows me to learn a lot more about myself.
Until I started my research for this article, I did not know there were, in fact, plenty of blog posts, articles and even peer-reviewed journals out there on the phenomenon of texting anxiety. Although I didn’t feel I was entirely alone in suffering from texting anxiety, I didn’t think the problem was relevant enough to grant clinical terms, such as textiety and textaphrenia.
Textiety refers to the anxious feeling one gets from not receiving or sending text messages.
Text messaging is an essential part of communication that is a quick and convenient method to stay connected with our friends, family, and acquaintances. Despite being a useful mode of communication, the expectation to be reachable and responsive 24/7, literally, can be very stressful and overwhelming to some.
Mental health professionals are starting to see anxiety around texting show up in their offices more often, and it’s part of a new area of research and treatment related to mobile devices and online communication.
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In the professional world, it is generally acceptable to respond back to an email within a 48-hour period, unless the email is urgent and requires immediate response. As communication has become increasingly instant, I assume the expectation has changed, but I appreciate it as a general guideline.
However, there is no generally agreed upon response time for responding back to text messages that aren’t urgent. Almost everyone with a smartphone, including myself, are attached to our phone constantly. Does that grant immediate response to a text message? Or, is it considered acceptable to respond back if it’s within a few hours period? Or, is it okay as long as it’s within the same day, and not the next day? What if I don’t remember to respond back for a few days? What about my relationship to the person?
There isn’t really any set protocol or guide available for what is considered acceptable texting etiquette, and that is the real problem. We are bestowed with this communication method without any general rules on how to utilize it, in different the contexts and in relation to the people we are communicating with.
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I do enjoy receiving texts. It feels good to have people reach out to me. However, the expectation I feel, the expectation that I need to respond right away throws me in a loop of delaying response, forgetting to respond, remembering when it’s too late, feeling anxious I might have offended the person, then either apologetically responding back or deciding to just forget it.
This has created a cycle of anxiety-fuelled texting experience.
I have stopped apologizing to friends because what is the point if I’m going to continue to do it again? Luckily, most of my close friends are understanding and forgiving. A friend of mine jokes about expecting a response within 3-4 business days, while another friend of mine is even worse than I am and we accept each other’s texting flaws. If it is really important, I can call or text her multiple times until she responds, which she almost always does.
But I don’t share that understanding and close bond with everyone I communicate with via texting. Not everyone can say, ‘oh, that’s just Mehret‘ or text me jokingly that they expect a response within 5 business days. Then, I’m left with the nagging sense that there are messages left unattended to and people left on ‘ignore,’ weighting on my subconsciousness.
I don’t necessarily forget to respond, either. It is rather the expectation of when and how I should respond, which is entirely uncertain to me, that takes too much energy to deal with. Before I know it, the time has gone by, and the textiety starts to set in.
Now, I can talk on the phone for hours, and in person for days. The expectations are pretty clear to me in such modes of communication despite not always excelling at them.
Unfortunately, I cannot completely forge texting as a mode of communication since it is entirely too useful. Thus, I have come up with the following three ideas, as part of my personal policies, to manage my textiety:
- Respond back to non-urgent text messages in bulk at certain times of the day, such as in the afternoon or right before bed.
- Give yourself a 48-hour time period to respond back to non-urgent text messages, and stick to it. If corporates can survive with that rule, so, too, can my friends, family, acquaintances and whoever else.
- Don’t expect others to respond to you right away, either. Apply your rules to them as well.
. . .
I find our texting culture a bit ridiculous. The entitlement we feel to people’s attention and emotional labour to be available and responsive 24/7 is very absurd. I feel truly grateful to the people in my life who have taught me that it is okay to respond to a text message in a few hours, days, or even months.
I didn’t realize how unnecessary constant texting was until I got in touch with an old roommate, who is not exactly the texting type. Our communication began via email, and it was normal for us to respond back after a month or so, which made our communication genuine and through. I had time to respond, indefinitely, without feeling guilty or anxious, and that meant I responded when I genuinely had something I wanted to share back.
This is my ideal way of communication, where there is something important that needs to be communicated, not communication for communication sake.
What are some other practical ideas for managing textiety?