"Text Back" Anxiety Is Real — Here's How To Fix It

Photographed by Natalia Mantin.
"So do you want to grab a drink next weekend?"
You fire off the text message, flip your phone over so you can't watch the screen obsessively, and wait. Five minutes goes by without your phone buzzing. Your heart rate starts to increase as you imagine all of the possible scenarios to explain why you're not getting a text back. Did you come on too strong? Did you misinterpret their flirty banter? Do they actually, totally hate your guts?
Finally, your phone buzzes, and sweet relief washes over you. You flip over your phone, but your heart sinks. It's only your mother texting you to remind you to wish your grandmother a happy birthday today. And you're back to square one — anxiously freaking out because your text message has gone unanswered.
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This exhausting dance is one that most anyone with a cell phone and an active social life has gone suffered through through at least once in their lives. "It's a particular kind of suspense anxiety," says Brandy Engler, PsyD, a clinical psychologist. "And I have watched it drive my clients crazy.
A lot of it has to do with our desire to micromanage other people's timelines. "We figure that since we are someone who would text back immediately, that everyone else should, too," says Kelley Kitley, LCSW, a clinical psychologist. "But it's not something we can change about another person. People follow their own timelines when it comes to these things."
But it's easy to turn these negative, anxious feelings around. First, remove your ego from the equation. "That's where a lot of the anxiety comes from," Engler says. "The ego is what gets you saying things like, 'Oh, they didn't text back because they didn't like me.' In reality, the reason they're not texting back could have nothing to do with you." She says that by removing yourself and your actions as a factor in why they're not texting back, you'll cut through your anxiety. "The term 'jumping to conclusions' is used in cognitive distortion, meaning that we create these stories in our minds that might not have anything to do with reality," Kitley says.
If you can do that, then you might also be able to find the excitement that's buried in the anxiety and lean into it. "If you take anxiety down a few notches, you tend to have excitement," Engler says. "Ideally, that's what you want out of the dating experience, for it to be exciting and fun." It's all about how you structure the waiting. Remember what it was like when you were little, and you had to wait for Christmas morning or your birthday? That was positive waiting — it made you eager for what was to come without having you jump to negative outcomes. "There is uncertainty, and there is suspense," Engler says. "If you embrace that in a way, you can embrace the enjoyment of the not knowing."
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And remember — everyone goes through this nervousness. "We're all looking for connection and validation, and you can get that in a second with a text message," Kitley says. If you can try to take a breath, put your phone away, and reframe the anxiety in your brain, you'll be able to ride it out without getting angry at mom for getting your hopes up when she texts you instead of your crush. It's not her fault okay? Give mom a break.
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