I’m in a handful of ongoing group chats, but I’m not the most prolific responder. As much as I love staying in touch with childhood friends, keeping up with family, and planning group outings in one ongoing stream, the long threads can be overwhelming, and if I look away for just a few hours, I can easily miss a whole slew of notifications in the meantime. Seeing your texts pile up like that can feel stressful, and can exert a subtle mental toll.
“Our friends mean so much to us, and now we feel the need to constantly stay connected,” Mike Brooks, Ph.D., author of Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World, tells Thrive. “On top of that, our culture has an ‘always-online’ expectation, so we fear we’ll miss out if we look away.”
Brooks says that fear of missing out is what causes us to constantly check our devices — and our group text threads — so we feel underlying pressures to stay up to date with every message that comes our way. “We also fear that we’ll offend someone if we’re unresponsive,” he points out. That, in turn, adds another level of pressure to our texting habits.
Brooks is concerned that our constant need to keep up with our chats can take away from other aspects of our off-screen lives. “If we’re always on, other things are getting pushed out, from our sleep to our in-person social interactions,” he says. It’s vital to set boundaries with our texts, and if we do that successfully, Brooks points out that those boundaries can even take the stress out of the group chat.
If you feel overwhelmed by a constant influx of group notifications, here are three ways to alleviate that stress — without isolating yourself from the group entirely:
Mute notifications (and befriend the “Do Not Disturb” feature)
For those of us who constantly feel flooded by notifications (guilty!), Brooks encourages us to “mute notifications” on group chats — which means you’ll only see the new messages by going to the chat on your own. “You want to be in charge of when you check your phone, instead of your phone telling you when to check it,” he says. The mute feature will let you control when you’re seeing your messages. Plus, if you really need a break, turn on your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” setting, Brooks suggests. “By using the ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature, you’re setting aside islands of time for yourself,” he adds. “If you need to focus on a specific task, let yourself disconnect entirely.”
Own your texting habits
“Don’t apologize for setting the boundaries that work for you,” Brooks urges. “It’s okay to tell the other chat members that you can’t devote your full attention to the conversation for the next hour, or the next day.” Brooks says you should feel free to tell your more text-heavy friends that you’re a lighter responder, whether it’s because you’re prioritizing a certain project, or you’re just trying to feel less tied to your devices.
Remind yourself that it’s OK to miss out
Most importantly, Brooks wants us to be comfortable with the idea of missing out. “We need to carve out times where we’re off,” he notes. “Our most valuable resource is our undivided attention, and when you’re constantly being bombarded with notifications, we can’t be as present as we’d like to be.” Brooks says having a constant-reply mentality can cause a build-up of stress, so it’s important to remind ourselves that occasionally opting out of the conversation is healthy –– even if it’s just for a few hours. “Small changes can make a big difference in the long run,” Brooks points out. “Your well-being comes first.”
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