The Case for NOT Texting

Look, I get it. Trust me I do. It’s easier to text. You don’t have to catch someone at the exact right moment they are free. You have time to compose your thoughts, to phrase and rephrase. If you’re sending a message that gives news the other person doesn’t want to hear, there’s this comforting buffer in text. And if you’re saying something that takes some courage or nerve, text can make it little less scary. For some people standing up for yourself or saying no is difficult, for others it’s saying something loving and sweet that brings up anxiety. Texting instead of speaking in person is a way to avoid the intensity and uncertainty of such emotionally charged moments.

Avoiding anxiety might seem like a good solution, and indeed it does help — in the short term. But here’s the thing with avoiding: every time you feel nervous about something and then avoid it and feel better, you actually strengthen your anxiety in the long run. You feel anxious, you avoid the stimulus, and your nervous system quiets down, you feel relief. That experience of relief from the perceived threat is powerful; it makes quite an impact on your brain and nervous system. You will naturally have a tendency to repeat avoidance, because it worked. A few more repetitions of this and you will have trained your brain and nervous system to believe that emotionally charged conversations are indeed real threats and you find yourself avoiding more and more conversations. Soon you find yourself saying more and more over text, feeling more and more nervous about talking to people, and feeling increasingly disconnected and shut off from other people.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to decrease anxiety is stay with it, to do the scary thing in spite of the fear. Notice that you feel nervous, breath, and have the conversation in person (or even on the phone) instead of in the buffered safety zone of texting. Breathing through your anxiety and staying with the feared activity does the exact opposite of avoiding — with repetition, it trains your brain and nervous system to believe that the feared thing is actually not dangerous at all. Or at least, not as dangerous as you had previously believed. In the long term, this causes a decrease in anxiety and increase in self-confidence.

Of course this is all easier said than done, especially if avoidance has gotten its hooks in you already. If you can, the next time you feel anxiety about saying something difficult, and you feel the familiar pull to text rather than speak it face to face, try to stop and simply be with the anxiety for a moment. Remind yourself that no one ever died from anxiety. And see if you can choose the scary thing in spite of the fear you feel.