A 2017 telecommunications survey revealed that 68% of millennials admit to texting “a lot” on a daily basis—over 20% more than Gen Xers. Christened by the press as "the anxious generation," it makes sense that millennials have become emotionally allergic to phone calls, which are more confrontational and don't allow you to passively avoid someone or fully think out exactly what you want to say. I once briefly went out with someone two decades older than me, and he enjoyed calling me on the phone just to chat. Whenever I saw his face pop up on my screen, I was instantly filled with a sense of dread, like I was in trouble. Why can't he just text me?? I would think.
So anxious millennials have become hooked on texting as their primary means of communication. But according to mental health experts, being glued to your phone can wind up damaging your relationships, potentially causing your mental health to suffer later.
"Non-verbal cues are a huge part of the way we communicate, especially with our significant others," explains Sal Raichbach, PsyD, a psychologist at Ambrosia Treatment Center. "When texting is the primary tool for communicating, connections with others are built on a framework of incomplete communication. Without non-verbal cues, it’s difficult to pick up on the emotions behind someone's words." Repeated miscommunications can cause aggravation and friction in relationships (romantic, platonic, and professional), which might not happen if it weren't for constant texting.
"Communicating by text, though convenient, oftentimes allows for misinterpreted meanings between people," agrees psychiatrist Nivea Briggitte Calico, MD, founder and director of East Village Psychiatry in New York. "How many times have you 'misread' the tone in your friend's email or text?"
Not to mention, attending to your phone nonstop "takes you out of the present moment and out of your physical environment," says Calico. Like in meditation, learning to live in the present and be mindful of your physical surroundings is essential for maintaining a stable, happy mood. Constantly texting can allow the real-life present to completely pass you by, leaving you, as Calico says, "to miss the beautiful blue sky above you or the cute dog being walked on her leash." Fewer cute dogs, less general happiness. Not worth it.
Benefits of Going on a Text Detox
Mental health experts agree that if you're at all frustrated or unsatisfied with the state of your relationships, going on a "text detox" can be extremely beneficial. According to Calico, the perks of putting yourself on a temporary no-text cleanse in favor of phone calls and in-person communication include increased connectivity with yourself and your surroundings, improved phone skills, and more fulfillment and enjoyment by actually hearing people's voices.
"Giving up texting can help you appreciate your relationships and be more mindful of what you say and how you say it," adds Raichbach. "Texting makes it extremely easy to get in touch and have a conversation, but it also makes people take conversations for granted. "
Tips for How to Do It
So how can you transition from texting everyone you know all the time to just… not? It sounds awkward, to be sure. Luckily experts have some advice.
"As with anything that you wish to change, assess the situation properly, define your personal goals, and be realistic about the time needed to see true change," says Calico. Start slowly so your goal obtainable—no need to send a press release or dramatic announcement that you're going cold turkey on texting to everyone you know. For example: If you only text people as your means of communication, consider texting only to coordinate meetups or appointments (date, time, place). Outside of this, all other communication should be via phone call.
If you're in a relationship, Raichbach suggests talking it out with your partner and setting healthy boundaries when it comes to communicating. "It's okay to check in with each other, but if you’re in the habit of texting one another so often than it prevents you from working, accomplishing tasks or socializing with others, then it might be time to discuss setting a limit," he says. Work with your partner to set boundaries—e.g., keeping your phone off at work or limiting check-ins to twice per day. "Little changes in the way couples communicate can have significant impacts on the quality of their relationship," says Raichbach.
In the end, this isn't so much a proper detox as it is an invitation to improve the quality and authenticity of your relationships. "As for true rules, there are none," says Calico. "They are for you to set for yourself."