How Your Group Chat Can Hinder or Help Your Mental Health
As most of us have been quarantined and observing social distancing for more than a hundred days, keeping in touch with our family and friends through video chat and texting has been essential in maintaining our mental health, our social connections, and an attempt at creating some sense of familiarity. More and more people are turning to a plethora of group chat apps like Whatsapp, GroupMe, House Party, Facebook Messenger (to name a few), to stay connected with their social circles. Group chats are an easy way to get many of your closest people together at the same time (and let’s be real, saves you from re-typing again and again). But what happens when these group chats stop being a time saver and transform into a time sucker? Why do you feel so bad when you don’t return a response right away? Here are 10 ways that group chats can hinder or help your mental health.
Hinder: Communication overloadHere’s the scenario: you say good morning via text to a close group of friends, drink your coffee, open your laptop and start your work from home day. Three hours later, your Whatsapp icon shows a startling number of 157 notification waiting for you to read. You finally respond: What did I miss?
“As much as we need to be digitally connected right now, it’s a constant influx of stimulation,” says psychotherapist Sara Notenboom. “Being plugged in all the time can wreak havoc on our nervous systems in that we are constantly scanning our digital interactions [and] catching up to 50-100 missed messages at a time is anxiety-inducing for many people.” She also addresses the anxiety associated with group chats. “You may start to worry if you let so much time elapse between your responses, whether your peers will be upset with you. Thoughts like ‘am I behind?’ or ‘will everyone think something poorly of me if I haven’t responded’, increases a time-sensitive pressure and anxiety that is associated with group texting.”
Pro tip:Go into your group chat settings and try turning off your notifications. This can help to alleviate your phone from constant buzzing — and your need to check it.
Help: Vital social connectionsRight now we are all in a global pandemic that requires us to socially distance ourselves from our loved ones and peers. Of course we are looking to digital technology to help us virtually come together. Psychotherapist Notenboom agrees that digital communication “is one of the ways that we can keep connection with our family, friends and peers, especially in a time like this quarantine [and] finding ways to do that, when we can’t be together, is very important.” Sara notes that digital communication can also help to “regulate our nervous systems, by being able to reach out to the ones we love and saying to them “hey I’m here, I need you to see me and hear me.” She goes on to explain, “when we look back at evolutionary psychology being part of a group was actually a part of our survival, and we are still wired for that type of thinking, and needing to belong. This would explain why being disconnected from a social group is so distressing.”
RELATED: 15 ways to keep your friendships healthy and thriving.
Hinder: Unhelpful noiseSometimes you just want your friend’s opinions on your life choices. Whether you're thinking of a new apartment or you want to eat another bag of potato chips, you throw your daily news out there to you friends looking for solid input and advice. But sometimes their advice is really not that helpful, and your friends might not answer in the way that you had expected or were seeking. This is totally normal, as you can’t control people’s reactions. Know that what you do have control over is how you respond to their response. Do your best not to take what others do or say personal, as their response usually has very little to do with you.
Pro tip:If you’re going to share news about your life with your friends, check your expectations at the door. Understand that they are going through their own unique set of circumstances, and if their response is less than enthusiastic, give them the benefit of the doubt that they may just be having a bad day.
SEE ALSO: 13 signs you have victim mentality.
Help: Important social informationGroup chats can also be very beneficial in keeping up with your social circle’s events. With our state of social distancing, we may not be having many traditional social events like getting together for a barbecue or going out for a concert — but your group chat can keep you up to date on birthdays, what the plans are for celebrations (drive-by parade?) — including any details you may need to know. Through images and videos, you can continue to follow along with the milestones and offer support digitally.
Hinder: Dealing with no responseYou text your day-care moms group chat, asking if anyone knows of a good grade school tutor (because you have completely given up on teaching your children any more educational curriculum). And no one answers. Ouch! Don’t feel too badly about this, and try not to place too much emotional value into your group chat responders. There could be a variety of reasons why no one answered your text. Psychotherapist Notenboom says, “Different relationships come with different types of group chatting, texting, and a different set of expectations." She suggests allowing yourself to empathize with peers and encourages you to be understanding of why they may not be answering your text. Again, it likely isn't personal — people get busy, sometimes people don't have the answers you're looking for and everyone has a different relationship with their technology use.
Pro tip:When no one responds to your text, don’t be afraid to bring attention to it in a friendly way. Just give them a nudge, and remind them that you’d appreciate any solutions to your question. “I see no one knows of a good tutor, thanks anyway!”
Help: Comic reliefThese days we are all being emotionally tested. We are juggling work, romantic relationships, kids, and trying to do the right thing in the fight against racial injustice. Having a group chat is a perfect way to get some comic relief out of these trying times. Your son’s best friend ran naked through their Zoom meeting, and your sister had a hilarious mishap with her boss. Your friends and family can share their hectic days, and you all find the humour in it. The funny can help everyone relieve the stress and anxiety we are facing during these times. After all, laughter is the best medicine!
Hinder: Emoji's aren't enoughDo you text through emojis? Maddening to some, and delightful to others, emojis have been developed to add more flavour to our texting and sexting. “I think emoji’s can be helpful to a certain extent, just in terms of putting emphasis on your words. But are they enough? Never,” says psychotherapist Notenboom. “You lose a lot of contextual cues in group chat, where we infer visual cues or tone. While emoji’s can help emphasize a feeling or idea, they are definitely not enough. Getting that face to face and eye-contact communication is very important.”
Pro tip:If you are starting to feel lost in a world of smiley faces and peaches, try stopping with the texting and actually call up the person you’d like to speak with. Sometimes a voice interaction is the very thing that you needed.
Help: Setting boundariesSetting a time where you allow yourself to be online, or communicate with your group chat is a good idea. “You need to give yourself a time where you can shut yourself off to digital communication,” says Notenboom. “Disconnect after 5PM, and give yourself time to engage with yourself and your interests, your family and your real-life relationships. Engage in activities that center on self-care, recharging, and connecting with the people you love. And understand that you need to set these boundaries for yourself first.” Setting this type of intention with your group chat is helpful because it also lets them know why you may not be responsive right away.
RELATED: How to set healthy boundaries with your mom.
Hinder: Follow the leaderDo you ever find that one or more people are driving the communication in your group chats, and there’s little room for you to share your thoughts? “In life generally, we have people who tend to be more dominant, just in terms of their temperament and just in the way that they present themselves to the world,” says psychotherapist Notenboom. “Also, depending on the nature of the group chat, individuals may have more anxiety and need a stronger amount of external validation. I find these tend to the types of people who need more, and who also contribute more to the group chatting. This is versus the people who engage in chat, and leave for a certain amount of time, and then come back to check in on the group. What they are saying is ‘yes I’m here, but I don’t need to be seen as much in this setting.’” Sara also considers what these relationships look like in real life. “I’d also be curious to look at the dynamics outside of the group chat when you’re connected in person, and what does that look like? Do we see the same patterns of dominance and passivity in our real-life social spaces?”
Pro tip:Know that your voice is as important as everyone else in your group chat. If you are feeling like you’re not heard, work on finding your voice, in real life and digitally.
SEE ALSO: 10 signs you're actually the top.
Help: Acknowledge and name your feelingsYou texted your friends in your group chat, and you wrote something you fear may have offended someone and it’s weighing heavily on your emotions for the entire evening. Know that it happens more often than you think, and a simple solution could be to acknowledge what you’re feeling instead of silently suffering. “When you are able to acknowledge ‘this is my moment of suffering,’ that all humans experience suffering at times, and that it’s really normal to feel threatened when we feel disconnected, it means being able to empathize with yourself,” says psychotherapist Notenboom. “Try posing some questions to yourself such as ‘what would I say to someone in my position right now? What words of support would I say to them, if they were outside of me, and can I now say this to myself?'” When you are able to stop a negative whirlwind of self-doubt, you are showing yourself a loving kindness and engaging in self-care.
RELATED: 10 affordable self-care strategies for your mental health.