Feel like you’ve spent half your life on WhatsApp this past year? Group chats and messages have definitely played a part in keeping us all going during the pandemic (the memes alone deserve a mention).
But sometimes, an old-school phone call really does make all the difference – as former Olympic gymnast Beth Tweddle, 35, describes.
“We have WhatsApp groups and stuff like everyone,” says Tweddle, talking about staying connected with friends during lockdown. “Having those groups [really helps], and you can always pick up with your friends if something’s not quite right,” adds the mum-of-one; Tweddle and husband Andy Allen have a daughter, Freya, who turns two in May.
“So, occasionally you’ll get a message saying, ‘Are you ok today?’, and you’ll be like, ‘Actually, I’m a bit fed up today’. Then they give you a call, and by the end of that phone call you’re like, ‘Ok, I’m ok!’”
There’s a lot to be said for this, agrees Counselling Directory member and therapist, Kirsty Taylor. “Texting seems to be the go-to way of communicating these days, especially in lockdown,” says Taylor. “However, this risks us forgetting the value of actually talking to people and having a human connection. We might think it’s easier to send a text, but we get very little from this in terms of feeling truly connected.”
That’s not to say chatting via messages isn’t helpful, and of course it depends on the dynamics of particular relationships. But there are certain benefits we may miss out on if we always avoid actually having a proper chat.
“Conversations with people we care about trigger emotional and physical changes within our brain. They can help us feel good about ourselves, promote wellbeing, and remind us what it feels like to share thoughts, to laugh together, and to hear someone else’s voice,” says Taylor.
“There is a much longer wellbeing effect from having a phone call, than from the immediate but brief excitement and interaction of connecting via message.”
Breaking those worry spirals
Anxiety rates have been higher than ever during the pandemic. Being able to quickly message people can be a comfort and fun distraction. But if we are in an anxious spiral, reading something on a phone screen may not help us break out of that worry space in the same way talking can – as it literally breaks that train of thought.
“It can help enormously to talk to someone out loud,” says Taylor. “We can have a tendency to get stuck in spiralling thoughts, negative inner monologues, worry about the content or tone of a text message, and feel like we are going in never ending circles with our own thought processes.
“A cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) approach to helping people work through negative thought patterns often involves naming thoughts, recognising them, and beginning to recognise the spiralling thought process when it occurs. If we think about how we connect to others on the phone, we engage in conversation that allows for a two-way dialogue; a space to hear and be heard.
“If you are speaking to a friend or family member, there may also be a comfort and trust that allows you to say whatever it is that is on your mind, and sharing issues can really help to understand them and get input from someone else.”
Don’t forget the fun chats!
This doesn’t mean every phone call needs to feel like a counselling session. Everybody is emotionally exhausted – and it’s more important than ever to be mindful of our own capacity and needs, and hold healthy boundaries. And that’s ok – because being supportive does not need to mean trying to problem-solve each other’s worries all the time. Just checking-in and reminding each other we care is often most helpful for everyone, and a distracting chat about other stuff can be so beneficial.
“Of course, a phone call can be about laughing, having fun, connecting and enjoying yourself,” says Taylor. “The power of conversation is immense; it can help us feel good, release endorphins and leave us with a sense of wellbeing that would be harder to achieve from exchanging messages.”
Single-tasking for once
A phone call also requires more focus and attention – which, let’s be honest, can be rare these days. “We all lead busy lives and often use phones whilst engaging in multiple other tasks, so our concentration is probably not focused. It can be tempting to avoid picking up the phone to someone, because we might be tired or fear we will need to be fully engaged, so it feels easier to send a message,” says Taylor.
“However, it’s useful to remember that phone calls can be brief, and can just be a quick hello. You could even take control of this on those days where it would be nice to connect but it feels overwhelming, perhaps starting the call by saying you are just saying hello, and have a quick check-in. Phone calls don’t have to be long, they don’t have to be serious, and they don’t have to be at a time that doesn’t suit you, or a very regular thing.
“We live in a time when we connect more than ever in some ways via our phones, but we seem to have meaningful connections less than ever. There is nothing quite like the wellbeing we can get from a phone call, and the long-lasting effects of connection.”
For more information about Beth Tweddle Gymnastics, see bethtweddlegymnastics.co.uk.