Why Are Notifications So Stressful? A New Study Has A Way To Make Them Less Overwhelming

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While you might not consider yourself overly attached to technology, devices like smartphones, iPads, and even laptops play a key role in all of our lives. Let’s be honest, friends: No matter how deep in the zone you are, the second your phone buzzes, you’ll instantly snap out of focus, and your mind will wander to whether or not that cutie finally answered your DM, or if that dream job actually responded to your email. It’s understandable why you’d want to keep lines of communication flowing at all times, but constant notifications can be so stressful when you’re just trying to check things off of your to-do list on any given day.

Social media, and the internet in general, obviously weren't always around, but these days, they provide you with nearly all forms of entertainment, and even your news updates. They also help you stay connected with loved ones, and ensure you get the invite to the latest social event in your area. So where’s the happy medium that squashes the FOMO, but allows you to get sh*t done without sacrificing your mental health?

It sounds like a no-brainer, right? More social media, more problems, and if that’s the case, the only way to forgo FOMO for good would be to take a permanent hiatus from Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and whatever else you may use. In theory, scrapping any app or feature that makes a ping to notify you of something (that includes email accounts, text messages, and phone calls, BTW) would make life less stressful, and a lot more quiet. Unfortunately, though, a complete disconnect from technology just isn’t realistic in today’s world. A partial disconnect, however, just might be doable.

Instead of signing up for a bunch of notifications, scheduling them in bulk might help you feel less stressed.

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Business Insider reports that senior behavioral researcher, Nick Fitz, and his colleagues at Duke University's Center for Advanced Hindsight, have been trying to find ways to improve smartphone notifications and make them less distracting for people on any given day. The team presented their latest findings, which have not yet been published in full online, at a recent American Psychological Association conference. For one thing, Fitz told Business Insider, he and his team found that the average person receives anywhere from 65 to 80 notifications per day. That’s a lot of noise and information flowing in on top of work and, you know, life outside the digital world.

In order to pin down a healthy balance between all of those alerts and real life, the researchers analyzed four groups over the course of two weeks. The first group was told to check their phones however often they usually do on a normal day; one received a batch of notifications every hour; another received three scheduled batches of notifications throughout the day; and the last group turned off all notifications entirely. Business Insider reports that, while a constant stream of notifications seemed to make people in the study “feel stressed, unhappy, interrupted, and non-productive,” having zero notifications come in didn't do much good, either, presumably because of good ol' FOMO. Three batches of notifications per day was, according to the outlet, "the sweet spot" for people in this research.

The goal now, Fitz said, is to create a system that's able to send these batches of notifications at the best times (like when you’re not in the middle of a work project, a term paper, etc.), so that the effects of these interruptions aren’t so, well, disruptive — which is why product development and consultancy firm, Synapse, will be releasing an app called Daywise in the coming weeks, that will allow people to regulate and schedule batches of notifications in a way that suits them and their own individual schedules.

But reorganizing your notifications isn't the only way to find balance between social media and real life.

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First of all, though, let's talk about the reasons why people are so concerned with checking their phones and receiving notifications on a constant basis. On the one hand, Clarissa Silva, a behavioral scientist, relationship coach, and creator of Your Happiness Hypothesis Method, tells me in an interview with Elite Daily, it could be a situation of “vanity validation.” In other words, you might be seeking self-validation from electronic likes on Instagram or a thumbs-up on Facebook, rather than, say, an actual pat on the back for your hard work in real life. But it could also just be a case of you having a genuinely insatiable need to be in-the-know 24/7. Either way, Silva says, this digital dependence is far from healthy.

Now, that brings us back to the dilemma of finding the happy medium between artificial and real life. If scheduling notifications to come throughout the day at specific times seems tedious or even a little extra to you, Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, tells me in an interview with Elite Daily that another approach is to simply practice mindfulness here, by becoming more aware of when and why you check your notifications or go online, so you don’t end up scrolling sheerly out of habit.

In addition to being more mindful of your behavior, sociologist and author of Start-up Your Life: Hustle and Hack Your Way To Happiness, Anna Akbari, Ph.D., says it’s really all about self-control.

“Virtual profiles and the platforms that host them must be approached like a drug: seductive, fun, powerful, and dangerous,” Akbari tells me in an interview with Elite Daily. “Use them responsibly.”

When it comes down to it, no one can regulate your social media use, or tell you to stop checking your email after refreshing the page dozens of times. You have to be the one to make those decisions. If it doesn't bother you that your phone will, at times, vibrate nearly 100 times in one day, that's awesome. But if you find push notifications to be more distracting than anything else, consider the alternatives. There are plenty of upsides to having technology at your fingertips all day every day, but when the noisiness of it all becomes too much, just remember the digital world can always wait. Checking your phone every five seconds is really not worth the extra stress.