Man with texting anxiety in Fort Lauderdale, FL

Texting Anxiety: Why do we Hate “k” Texts so Much?

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

By Dr. Rachel Christopher

Are you constantly seeking reassurance that your friends aren’t mad at you? If so, read more on how to manage Text Anxiety from a therapist that gets it (to learn more about anxiety therapy in Fort Lauderdale, click here).

Check out the following text message exchange.

You: Hey, I’m feeling pretty sick today. I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to the party tonight. 

Friend: k

Here’s another one:

Roommate: Please remember to lock the door. 

You: Sorry, I thought I did! 

Roommate: k

The horror! On a scale of 1-10, how anxious would either of those conversations make you? Take a moment and really check in with yourself.

It seems the world is broken up into two camps of people- those who know exactly why those messages could prompt anxiety and those who don’t.

Those who carefully punctuate their texts to ensure they can’t possibly be interpreted as angry, and those who will respond quickly and efficiently and not worry about the interpretation.

Those in the first camp also tend to read into texts they receive and are hypervigilant for any frustration on the other person’s end. Often, the person in the second camp hasn’t given it another thought and went merrily about their day.

To alleviate the anxiety related to the text, some folks will send another text asking, “Are you mad at me?” Keep reading to find out why sending that text is a bad idea.

“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.” — Kahlil Gibran

Why is text anxiety so hard to deal with?

Anxiety flourishes in ambiguity. So, when we receive a vague text, like “k,” the information required to give that message context is missing. This frees our brain up to run wild and make up whatever meaning it would like.

In other words, your brain may fill in the missing information with a story that the person on the other line is angry because we are missing information about their mood.

Why would our brain put us through that? If we have zero information about the mood of the other person, why do we seem to err on a more negative side of things by assuming we’ve upset them? The uncertain nature of the text causes a stress response because humans are naturally averse to ambiguous situations in which we cannot accurately anticipate a threat.

Basically, the mind assumes that uncertain things are threatening. 

This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Picture us as early humans: If we’re standing outside two entrances to a forest where one is dark and gloomy and the other is bright and cheery, we’re likely going to pick the bright & cheery one. We know most forests have creatures that could harm us (e.g., bears), right? And although the entrances in this example lead to the same forest, the mere fact that we can see more clearly in one versus the other means we can see threats more clearly. 

Does assuming the worst work for us in the modern day? Well, not always. Imagine every vague text as a gloomy forest. If you did, this means that you’ll be more likely to respond to every vague text message as threatening. And that might not be the most workable way to treat ambiguous text situations.

At best, you’ll be working overtime to get clarity; at worst you’ll experience a lot of unnecessary stress which could cause problems with the people you’re texting.

What do we do about text anxiety?

Why easing your anxiety actually makes you more anxious

A lot of folks have noticed that just sending an “Are you mad?” text to their friend or partner and receiving reassurance helps ease their anxiety. Unfortunately this quick fix often makes anxiety worse over time.

By giving in to that urge to confirm that they aren’t mad, you’re actually robbing your brain of the opportunity to learn that you can tolerate this anxiety. The more you avoid riding the wave of anxiety and let it pass, the more intense your anxiety will become over time.

You know that feeling you get at the beginning of a rollercoaster, and you’re slowly moving up the big uphill climb? Your nerves and excitement are rising, and then peak as you crest the top. Riding an anxiety wave is just like that. If you had hopped off the rollercoaster, you would never know what it feels like for the anxiety to pass and the fun to kick in. 

How do I endure it? 

These “Are you mad?” texts can be fine to send from time-to-time, but as a long term solution, they make anxiety worse. 

How do we ride the anxiety wave? You can start by first noticing that you’re experiencing a wave of anxiety. Adopt the curious, non-judgmental mind of a scientist. Where do you feel the anxiety in your body? Is it a tightness, a heaviness, or a buzzing sensation? How long does it last?

Try to think flexibly about what may be occurring for the other person. Are they busy? Have they been stressed about something else lately? Pro tip: you don’t have to believe the alternative thought(s), it’s a good start to simply practice conjuring up alternatives. 

Let me give a personal example. In college, I had a close friend who would text, no joke, like this:

Me: Hey, wanna grab coffee?

Them: Yes. When.

Me: 3:00?

Them: Ok.

And THAT was how she made plans. It worried me at first, making me wonder if she really wanted to spend time together. Fast forward eight years and I was a bridesmaid in her wedding! That’s just how she sends text messages. I asked her about it once, as we became closer. She laughed and said “I just want to be efficient!”

Finally – ask yourself, whose responsibility is it to tell you if they’re angry? You can’t read minds, and you definitely can’t read much tone via text. 

Conclusion

Text-based communication is our main link to the rest of the world. By learning how to deal with the anxiety that can arise from it, we can keep setting boundaries and communicating our truths without fear of ambiguous responses. Think back to text conversations at the beginning of the blog.

What did you rate your anxiety as? If it was higher than a 5, it might be a good idea to talk to a therapist about the anxiety. You can schedule a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation with me below.


Fort Lauderdale, FL Psychologist Dr. Rachel Christopher

Dr. Rachel Christopher is a therapist in Fort Lauderdale. She is a postdoctoral fellow and an expert in working with teens and young adults. She specializes in depression therapyanxiety therapy, PTSD and trauma-related issues, self-esteem, perfectionism, stress management and more.

Call 954-488-2933 or email today to discuss how our services can help you.

Copyright © 2024 The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale, LLC

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