I believe having healthy boundaries with your phone is necessary. I always keep my phone at arm’s length, but I still know I’m obsessed with my phone. There’s no reason I should always be on it, and yet my average screen time is often eight hours a day or more.
The dopamine hits that come from notifications popping up on my screen are real. But not all notifications bring me joy. I think we trick ourselves into getting addicted to checking our phones because most people communicate with work on our phones as well. So this week, I turned off all the beeps and pings that often bombard my phone and let the world go on without telling me about it.
The Issues With Notifications
About 6 months ago, I turned off every single notification on my phone. Nothing lights up my screen now.
Looking at others doing it, I used to think “fuck no, I obviously need to be able to see at least whatsapp. and maybe work emails…”
Here’s the difference it made 🧵
— Lauren Dudley📸 (@Lauren9Dudley) November 15, 2021
Receiving notifications constantly isn’t healthy. Often, just by receiving a text, we’ll automatically create a to-do list in our minds of who to reply to, emails to delete, and tasks to accomplish. Not to mention, most of us bring our phones with us everywhere we go, so it’s nearly impossible to escape these to-do’s.
Our brains are horrible at multitasking. The second we get a notification, we leave the task we were doing and explore the millions of responses, reactions, and remarks we can make to that notification. On average, it takes 23 minutes for our brains to refocus on a task once we’ve been interrupted. So our days go from just writing a quick response, to unsuccessfully attempting to focus and refocus on all the different tasks, notifications, and red bubbles that pop up.
Fight or Flight
While a buzz from your phone might not seem like the worst thing that can happen, it can trigger you in more ways than you’re aware of. Dr. Sanam Hafeez PsyD, a licensed psychologist and professor at Columbia University, states that receiving a single notification “sends our brain into overdrive, triggering anxiety and stress, and at the very least, hyper-vigilance, which is meant to protect ourselves from predators, not the phone… alerts from phones or even the anticipation of them, shuts off the prefrontal cortex that regulates higher-level cognitive functions, and instead, forces the brain to send emergency signals to the body.” In other words, it unnecessarily sends our brains into fight or flight mode, leading us to exhaustion or unnecessary stress.
There was a study done in 2010 in which 30 participants turned off their notifications for 24 hours. The study found that “notifications have locked us in a dilemma: without notifications, participants felt less distracted and more productive. But, they also felt no longer able to be as responsive as expected, which made some participants anxious.” One of the most meaningful results to come out of the study, however, was that two-thirds of the participants decided to change how they managed their notifications. An interesting part of this particular study was that it was initially intended for a week, but no one would agree to it, so they chose to shorten it to 24 hours.
Constantly receiving notifications creates a burden akin to feeling as though we always have to be ‘on.’ But when we combat this burden by leaving our phones behind, we feel disconnected from the world, which also creates stress. So there needs to be a happy medium between always having our phones, Apple Watches, computers, iPads, and whatever other technology that’s pinging and dinging all day on us and throwing it all away and moving to Iceland.
So this week, nothing was tossed or thrown, but I did limit my notifications. I turned off all my lock screen notifications, but kept the drop-down notifications, just so I didn’t have to open every app to find out who contacted me. I also allowed texts to still come through on my Apple Watch and my computer, but I silenced them when I was working. I don’t use either when I’m with friends, so I didn’t feel like those notifications needed to be dealt with.
On the first day, I’ll admit that I didn’t turn off my notifications until halfway through the day. I had just gotten to my hometown and I wanted to keep up with my friends and partner who weren’t with me, but also be present while I was at home. But when everyone online decided that one lunch date was the time to contact me, I began to warm up to the idea of going dark online pretty quickly. I was glad that I kept a buzz notification on my Apple Watch, just in case of emergencies, but keeping the notifications off my phone helped me not be tempted to even pick it up.
Days 2 & 3
These days were actually Christmas Eve and Christmas, so I was glad for the excuse not to be on my phone. These were the days that I also didn’t even sign into work or do anything of any importance, so there was no need to keep up with schedules and anything that I necessarily had to do.
I was bored today and felt the dopamine draining from my veins. I often get alerts every hour, if not every 15 minutes, so going four days without any alerts was starting to drain me. It was also the day after Christmas, so everything was a bit wonky anyway. I started to miss waking up and having an immediate to-do list that came from having 20+ notifications every morning.
This was a travel day that required a lot of precision and communication. I was again grateful for skimping out on the challenge a bit and still getting alerts on my watch when someone texted me. It was another day that I realized how unsustainable turning off your notifications forever could be.
As it always is with the end of the weekly challenges, I fell back in love with this idea. I was reunited with my partner, so I no longer felt as though I needed to check for his texts often; I was signed on at work, so I was automatically being updated when things changed; and once I got tired of both, I simply went to my room and relaxed. I’m starting to see how comforting it can be to be ‘off the grid.’
I really enjoyed the quiet that came with this challenge. There’s no need for me to be everywhere or respond to everyone and I almost can’t now. This week was a forced break from my phone and the constant pressure I put on myself and others around me to constantly respond and be on their notifications. I also learned to give grace for response times. If it’s so unhealthy to constantly be on our phones, why would I want or expect others to always be on theirs?
Turning off all notifications is a gift one gives oneself.
— pamplemousse (@CushieButt) December 20, 2021
I really didn’t love the idea of doing this challenge at first. I needed to be on call, my partner and I weren’t together, and I love the notification dopamine rush. But after just two days, I fell in love with this challenge. It felt nice to be present and not constantly looking at my phone. Before I did this challenge, it didn’t matter how important the text or email was – if I received a notification, I would open my phone and deal with it. This week, I only responded to people when I felt ready and alert, leading me to have more meaningful conversations and create more quality work.
I did miss a few things and once I came back to my phone, I was a bit overwhelmed. Nothing fell through the cracks, but I did feel a real lack of connection and knowledge that comes with keeping up to date with every notification. If your work is 100% online or you aren’t with your partner all the time, but still want to communicate 24/7, turning your notifications off probably isn’t the best idea. It is a major inconvenience. But once you work out a system, or even limit the apps that notify you on your lock screen, so you’re not constantly bombarded with alerts, it’s easy to get in the rhythm of a non-notified life.
For the Future
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I don’t think it’s sustainable for everyone to always keep all of their notifications off. Let’s be honest, this world is digital. We joke that we have the world at our fingertips, but we really do. I know that if anyone I love is ever hurt or in danger, I’ll know about it within the hour. Heck, when the world was ‘ending’ and COVID started, the first time I heard anything was from a group chat with my friends. And work apps like Asana and Slack are meant to be on your phone to add convenience, so when you delete those notifications, you lose that ease.
However, I think it’s sustainable to use the iPhone’s ‘do not disturb’ feature a lot more than most do.
If you have an iPhone, Apple has made a conscious effort to create new categories for your optimal focus. The newest iOS update lets you customize your phone for different situations — work, focus, driving, fitness, mindfulness, and more. You can choose what apps are available to you during those times and you can choose who can reach you. This helps you keep your focus, but also allows you to get notifications from a select group of people. If you’re a working mom, you can always let your kids notify you, but you don’t need everyone else to be texting away at you. These new features are amazing for those of us who love our phones, but maybe don’t love how they make us feel.
I think I’ve used that feature maybe ten times in total since I’ve gotten a phone. If notifications have been proven to be bad for our brains, why would we not pause them whenever we can?
This challenge has inspired me to make a New Year’s resolution of turning on ‘do not disturb’ at least three times a month. Consider doing it too. Choose times when it makes sense and you can benefit from it. Maybe when you’re on a date with your partner, or you with your girls and catching up, or if you do have a deadline to meet at work and you know that one more ping or addition to your to-do list will make you spiral. Start practicing it and you’ll start to realize just how unimportant it is to see every notification every single time one comes your way.
Have you ever turned your notifications off for a time? How did you like it? Comment below!
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