By basic definition, communication is a two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which we use words, sounds, signs and behaviours to express or exchange information. More than just that, communication is a fundamental life skill, just as important and vital to human experience as is learning to read and write; if we do not learn to communicate we fail to develop an ability to adequately express our feelings and to interact with others in a productive/fruitful/prolific way. This sounds silly; of course we all know how to communicate… right? In basic theory, yes, but if you just take a moment to really think about it; what are the forms through which we communicate? How do we let people know things, how do we pass on information and/or “talk” to people (I say “talk” here because let’s be real, most of the time it’s through messenger or snapchat, isn’t it?). Think about this, and you will notice something missing; real talk.
Technology has had an undeniably massive impact on the ways in which we communicate. Imagine going a whole day without your mobile phone. Not just the thought of being disconnected from your group chats and snapchat streaks, but really think about all the things you use your phone for; think about all the ways you rely on that little (some not so little) techy box in your pocket. A lot of us use our phones to keep up-to-date with our student email accounts and blackboard, if you didn’t have your phone you may miss assignment deadlines, deadline or lecture time changes, you may even turn up for a lecture that turned out to have been cancelled. You had plans to meet someone, but oh no, you’ve been called into work… how do you let them know you will not be showing up in the New Bar at 5? Imagine the chaos and freak outs on campus if the eduroam wifi and all of the computers and even blackboard were to crash.
I am by no means accusing everyone of hiding behind a screen and using digital messages to tell people important things, but it cannot be denied that these new forms of technological communication have made us lazy. The ways in which we communicate and “talk” to each other have changed, and some of the more straightforward and fundamental ways of communicating, as in actually talking face-to-face and listening, have been overshadowed and pushed aside by newer and seemingly easier methods of communication: texting, messaging, snapchatting etc.
Have juicy gossip from last night that you’re just dying to share with that one friend you know will absolutely love it? You snapchat them, or message them, don’t you? Instead of making the effort to meet up or go see them. This is totally ok of course because meeting up with someone each and every time you have a bit of news for them just is not always convenient. At the same time, is it not nice to chat face-to-face and really get stuck into a real proper conversation? Even apart from idle gossip, and more importantly, we sometimes rely too much on technology based social media forms to tell people things that we fear may be too awkward to say in person. It isn’t too uncommon to hear of someone ending a relationship with their partner through text message, that being just one of many possible examples…
Psychologist Liraz Margalit, in an article for Psychology Today, wrote about The Psychology Behind Social Media Interactions to explain why it is we feel it easier to use digital forms of communication as opposed to talking to someone face-to-face;
“Studies have found that day-to-day interactions are based almost entirely on nonverbal communication… we are continuously processing wordless signals like facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, body language, eye contact… These nonverbal signals… enable us to infer the other person’s intentions, as well as how involved they are in the conversation, whether they are stressed or relaxed, if they are attracted to us, and so on… Nonverbal signals add a level of depth to the interaction… online interactions… are founded on minimal constrained social cues… Hence, it is easier to hide our emotions behind an email, a Facebook post or a tweet.”
This very interesting article also reminds us of what we are missing out on by relying in social media forms of communication by explaining how face-to-face interaction is considered a ‘synchronised’ form of communication that can portray to us a lot more than just words in a text message can;
“One person is silent while the other speaks, one nods while the other explains, and one knows the other isn’t necessarily finished speaking even if they’re silent; we can tell when our counterpart is processing information. Synchronized behaviour is impossible online, as we cannot see the other person. If a person asks, “Are you there?” in a messaging platform and does not receive an immediate answer, there is no way to ascertain whether the other person has not answered because they are not there, because they do not feel like speaking at that moment, or because they are angry with the ‘speaker’.”
There seems to be this whole big stigma around talking about things. Whenever somebody is told to “talk about it,” the whole prospect is made into such a huge ordeal, and it provokes this universal sense of dread and anxiety; “talk to her about it, are you kidding me? That makes it very serious” or “say it to him? No way. That would be weird, wouldn’t it?” I don’t mean major “ok, you should sit down, I have something to say” type talks, I mean simply saying things how they are instead of playing these mind games with ourselves where we assume what the other person is or might think, before we’ve even said anything or made any effort whatsoever to actually find out. This constant and almost instinctive tendency to make assumptions about what others around us are thinking or feeling is toxic and can be so awfully damaging and negatively consequential, yet we do it all the time because it’s what we do, it is the way things are; that we don’t really properly talk about things and instead make assumption upon assumption upon assumption until both people, or group of people, eventually, after spending much too long silently debating and thinking and assuming and overthinking, figure out what the other/others is thinking/feeling about something. Of course we talk loads, to friends and together we dissect and tease apart all the details to try and come up with explanations, reasons, signs and hidden messages, but we seem to forget that there is another way; to just say it out straight. Ask your friend if she is upset or mad with you, and you’ll get your answer without tormenting yourself trying to analyse her every move and look and word… then you can begin to work on a solution to the situation, if there even is a situation, it may turn out that it was all just in your head and/or a little bit of a misunderstanding. Ask the person where you stand with each other; there comes a point when you can no longer tip toe round these things in the hopes that what you’re assuming is right. Isn’t this how so many people get hurt? One assumes it’s more than what it is and the other assumes it’s not a thing at all and then something happens and because there wasn’t any real talk or upfront-ness or honesty, someone is inevitably left hurt and/or disappointed? These are examples, of course, but the same problem lies at the heart of them all: lack of communication, and proper communication at that.
All of these communication complications are a huge contributing factor to a very self-destructing habit we all fall victim to: Overthinking, or the art of creating problems for oneself that may not even be there; a concept most, if not all, of us can understand and relate to. How long do you spend mulling over and retouching your next Instagram post, making sure you look okay and trying to come up with the perfectly witty caption? How often do you check your phone when waiting for a reply from the person you’ve bravely sent that message to, to see if they’ve “read” it yet? And does it grate on your nerves to be ‘left on read’? Think back on the number of times you’ve screenshotted a conversation, sending the screenshots on to friends or even into group chats, to decipher just what this person is saying and to come up with the best reply. Things become so much more intense when dealing with a crush; do you find yourself going over and over conversations and situations, trying to figure out the hidden meanings, or if there even is any at all? “What does he mean, ‘hey you’? As in, does that “you” mean something, or?” or this unwritten rule that says there is an ideal waiting time before opening a snapchat or message; “Wait, no, I can’t open his snap yet, he only sent it like two minutes ago. Opening it now would make me look way too eager oh my god.”. We have all, at some point, fallen victim to at least some of these classic examples of overthinking.
We waste so much time and energy tormenting ourselves, over-analysing and overthinking situations and assumed hidden meanings in messages and looks and assumed-to-be-ignored messages (I mean, yes it said they opened the message, but any number of things could be the reason for them not reply straight away)… It is exhausting, and we could all do with giving our poor, spun out minds a good rest, a break away from this almost constant anxiety and worry; our minds are constantly ticking away and keeping up with it all is just too much sometimes. We are constantly switched on to an endless stream of technological communication and we don’t realise the toll it takes on our heads. It is perfectly okay, in fact it is extremely healthy, to just switch off and take a break from it all for a while. Pick an evening you know you’ll have free to spend by yourself; turn off your mobile phone, pick your favourite movie and tub of ice cream and just chill out for a few hours, take a long nap, go for a long walk alone, take a long bath and concentrate on nothing more than breathing and letting your mind and body rest.
A few things to remember when you feel yourself falling victim to over thinking…
The next time you find yourself beginning to get worked up, worried and/or anxious about something that has been nagging away at you in your mind all day or even all week, just remember these few little but very important and true things;
- Ask yourself; am I 100% sure that this is true? If your worries and stresses are being caused by something, some thoughts or doubts in your mind that you cannot even say for sure are true, then don’t let predictions and assumptions that may not even hold up in reality be the cause of you upsetting yourself. Until you know anything for sure, try to let it go, be patient and see what unfolds.
- Overthinking is not going to bring you to any sound solution or realisation.
- Think about all the things that are bigger than this, because if it is not a life or death situation you’re worrying about (I sincerely hope that it is not), then there are so many things that are bigger than the worries and stresses you have right now, and that can be a very comforting thought.
- Redirect your busy mind’s energy into working on something productive. Instead of staying stuck up in your mind thinking, thinking, thinking, try doing! Read, write, study, play music, work out… whatever works for you.
- It will pass. Just think, that whatever is on your mind right now will eventually be dealt with and be done with and may even be completely forgotten about in time.
- If it’s eating you up, get it off your chest. Seeking support from friends and getting fresh perspectives and different views on the situation may help a great deal. So, try talking about it.
- Sometimes, if not most of the time, especially when it comes to overthinking things, it is best to let things happen. Worry and anxiety stem from a strong desire to control situations, to will them to bend in your favour, but the reality is that no amount of worry or stress is going to change the outcome. What will be will be. Surrender to the universe and trust that things will unravel and develop in their own time.
- Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said that “if you are depressed you are living in the past, if you are anxious you are living in the future, and if you are at peace you are living in the present.”
- Trust that what is meant for you will not pass by you, at least not easily.