You look at your phone and there are 50 unread Whatsapp messages. You barely bat an eyelid. In this new era of digital-only interaction, group chats have become frenzied hubs of hour-by-hour activity.
For some, these small but regular interactions with friends are curbing those feelings of anxiety, isolation and boredom we’re experiencing while in lockdown. But for others, the constant flow of messages is having the exact opposite effect, preventing any respite from the C-word. Throw in some questionable memes and fake news about a COVID-19 “cure,” and the anxiety can bubble into frustration at those who we know, deep down, are just trying to help.
The way friends and family are using Whatsapp – and the way we’re reacting to it – can tell us something about how each of us handles uncertainty, explains psychotherapist Lucy Beresford. When life feels out of control, sending information, GIFs, jokes and distractions can make us feel proactive.
Me: i wanna be added to a groupchat— Carmen (@cxtsncxffee) March 26, 2020
*Someone adds me to a groupchat*
Me: *mutes it within 2 minutes*
“For the person sending material, they can feel both purposeful (which can flatter our ego) as well as momentarily in control. It’s also a way to feel like you’re staying in contact, even though the contact is actually quite impersonal,” she tells HuffPost UK.
However, if you’re on the receiving end of unexpected or unwelcome material, it can “arouse the very sense of helplessness we’re trying to avoid.”
Something the sender thought was a good connection can, unintentionally, end up driving a wedge between members of a Whatsapp group.
“We can also feel guilty, for being annoyed, or for not finding the material hilarious or useful,” Beresford adds. “And of course we get stressed, believing we need to respond ASAP – and perhaps more wittily than the previous responder. Gah, who needs the pressure?”