Communicating over text can be tricky, especially when talking about serious topics. Here are some tips on minimising anxiety when it comes to sending potentially stressful texting.
Pretty much all of us have been recipients of that terrifyingly ambiguous text: “We need to talk.” Whether it’s coming from a partner, your boss or a parent, the seriousness of this particular message can make your stomach drop to the floor. It’s even worse if you then don’t hear from the person who sent you this text straight away, or if the time you arrange to talk is hours or even days away.
The uncertainty this kind of text causes can be a serious trigger of anxiety, as so many of us worry about things we can’t control. But sometimes it’s difficult to know what to say over text other than “can we talk?” Having a difficult conversation via message is less than ideal and saying anything more than the fact that you need to talk might mean that the discussion starts to unravel digitally.
This is often the case with break-ups, as a 2018 survey of 500 millennials found that 69% of people had been on the receiving end of a break-up text, even though relationship experts consistently advise against having conversations like these over text.
So what is the best way to go about arranging a difficult conversation in the digital age? A viral Instagram infographic might have the answer. The post was shared by The Depression Project, a charity that helps people struggling with depression to understand what they’re going through and learn how to manage it, while dealing head-on with the stigma against mental health issues like depression.
Alternatives to texting someone “we need to talk”
In the post, they explain that the ‘we need to talk’ message often triggers people’s anxiety and offer some alternatives. For example: “Hey, when you have a moment would you mind meeting/calling me to discuss [insert topic]?”
Another alternative they suggest is, “Hey, I’ve got a couple of questions about [insert topic] – do you mind giving me a call when you have time to discuss it?”
The post explains that there are three ways in which these alternatives will help reduce anxiety. Firstly, they provide context about the subject matter which they explain will help minimise worry and prevent overthinking. “If it’s a difficult subject matter, please minimise the “wait time” between when you inform them and when you have the discussion,” they add.
Crucially, it’s not just the way these kinds of messages are phrased that are important but their timing too. As anyone who has experienced anxiety will know, generally, the longer you have to think about something that you’re worried about, the more stressed you will become about it.
They also advise that you should reassure the person you’re texting where possible, to prevent them from assuming the worst and catastrophising. Catastrophising is an irrational thought process in which people believe something is far worse than it actually is and it’s a common symptom of anxiety.
Finally, The Depression Project advises that you should “make yourself available” if you’re going to send a text informing someone you want to talk about something difficult. “Someone may want to have the conversation as soon as possible to prevent their anxiety from spiralling out of control,” they explain.
Many Instagram users commented on the post to say how helpful it was. “This is so important! I get so much anxiety and it really is worsened when I have to wait before talking about things.” one commenter said.
“Thank you for adding (insert topic) because when someone says ANY of those sayings without any context, my worst case scenario skyrockets,” another user added.
So next time you’re thinking about how to approach a difficult conversation, try to think about all of these things before you send a potentially anxiety-inducing text. There are plenty of alternatives to ‘we need to talk’ and opting to use one might save you and whoever you’re speaking to a whole lot of stress.