The Surprising Health Benefits of Texting
By Denise Foley for Completely You
Did you know that adults send and receive an average of 41.5 text messages a day? That’s a lot of sentence fragments and Internet slang. LOL.
But if those messages have smiley faces, or Web shorthand like HAYT (i.e., “How are you today?”) or <3U (i.e., “I love you”), it could be good for your mental health.
That’s the counterintuitive finding of a group of University of California Berkeley researchers who learned that people who felt depressed, isolated or alone felt more connected and cared for when they received text messages asking them about their moods and the positive things they experienced and reminding them to take their medications. “When I was in a difficult situation and I received a message, I felt much better. I felt cared for and supported. My mood even improved,” wrote one participant in the study, which looked at a group of depressed patients in a cognitive behavior therapy group at San Francisco Hospital.
So why do I say this is counterintuitive? Other than the fact that I’m a texting curmudgeon -- I do it, but I hate it -- other studies have focused more on what’s bad about the practice. Teens who do it to excess are more likely to have sleep problems, feel depressed, do poorly in school, do drugs, become binge drinkers, fight and have sex. States are cracking down on texting while driving because it’s a potentially life-threatening distraction. And we’ve all seen the YouTube video of the busily texting woman plunging into the Mall fountain. Ouch.
This study, published in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, proves that modern technology can not only be used for good, it should be. Loneliness -- scientists call it social isolation -- can be dangerous to your health.
University of Chicago social scientist John Cacioppo studies the biological effects of loneliness. He’s found that it can lead to atherosclerosis -- that’s hardening of the arteries -- which itself spawns high blood pressure and problems with memory and learning. Lonely people’s immune systems are also less effective at fighting off viruses and other invaders.
Feeling lonely can even be deadly. In Cacioppo’s latest study, published in January, older people (50 and older) who felt lonely were more likely to die over a six-year period than those who didn’t feel lonely.
It takes a second to type “R U OK?” with your thumbs. Who would have thought it might save somebody’s life?
Denise Foley is Completely You’s “News You Can Use” blogger. She is a veteran health writer, the former deputy editor and editor at large of Prevention, and co-author of four books on women’s health and parenting.