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Are Too Many App Notifications Bad for You?

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A push notification is an alert from a software application to the user’s device. For app developers, push notifications are a great marketing tool because it allows them to stay in contact with their audience. For smartphone users, push notifications help in staying on top of what is happening with the things we care about.

But too many of them can be troublesome.

I hate to admit this but every time I hear the unmistakable ‘ding’ of my notifications, I stop whatever it is I am doing to see what the fuss was about even though I already know that it’s probably from an app that I barely use. I get notified whenever a friend on Facebook added a photo to their story when someone I don’t know requests to follow me on Instagram, new show recommendations on Netflix, and a bunch of other updates from game apps that I used to enjoy but I’m still yet to uninstall. And whenever this happens, I take my phone, read the notification, open up Facebook and scroll through my newsfeed for a while.

And just like that, I get side-tracked from my task for the next couple of minutes.

Why People are Addicted to App Notifications?

Love it or hate it, there’s truly is something about receiving notifications that we can’t resist. We feel great when we receive them and have negative feelings of withdrawal when we don’t.

But why does this happen?

It turns out that receiving text messages and other app notifications trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter related to reward-seeking behaviors. Dopamine controls the “pleasure” systems of the brain and recent research has also suggested that it causes and facilitates seeking behavior. So dopamine is not just about fulfilling our physical needs, it also makes us curious about new ideas and fuels our search for fresh information. With the internet, we now have a way to instantly gratify our innate desire to seek which makes it harder for us to stop looking at our emails, stop scrolling through social media and stop checking our phones to see if we have new notifications.

Additionally, dopamine is stimulated by unpredictability. We have no way of knowing the exact time we receive notifications. It just happens! This is exactly what stimulates the dopamine system which greatly enhances its addictive effect.

Girl check phone notifications

The Negative Effects of App Notifications

Generally, too much of anything is considered to be unhealthy. Here are some of the most common side effects of too many app notifications:

  • Stress – A recent study by the Future Work Centre has revealed that email notifications are causing high levels of stress among media, marketing, and PR professionals who use push notifications as part of their day-to-day job. According to Dr. Richard MacKinnon, lead author of the study, “Our research shows that email is a double-edged sword. Whilst it can be a valuable communication tool, it’s clear that it’s a source of stress of frustration for many of us. The people who reported it being most useful to them also reported the highest levels of email pressure.”
  • Loss of sleep – Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for our physical and mental wellbeing. But how can we have a peaceful slumber if our phone is constantly alerting us of new notifications? It’s downright impossible.
  • A decrease in productivity – According to Microsoft Research, it takes approximately 25 minutes to get back on a task after being interrupted by a notification during a workday. These 25 minutes could have been spent doing something more productive!
  • Problems in the relationship – Do you feel annoyed that your partner is constantly on their phone when they are supposed to be spending quality time with you? Don’t worry, you are not being sensitive. A study by Brigham Young University examined how technology interferes with relationships and revealed that the majority of couples reported that phones, computers, and other devices were disruptive in their relationships and family lives. Furthermore, greater levels of device usage of one partner make the other more depressed and lower the latter’s overall life satisfaction.

How to Get Rid of Your Phone Addiction

If you feel like you are one of those people who is addicted to their phones, don’t worry. You can still overcome it! Here are some simple steps you can take to achieve digital wellness:

  • Create a schedule – This is the most basic thing you can do to wean yourself from your unhealthy phone usage. Set a fixed time when you are going to check your phone for notifications. Start with checking every 15 minutes, then try to do it every half an hour. The idea is to gradually increase the interval between check-ins until you are not constantly glued to your phone.
  • Turn off your notifications – You can turn off your notifications in your settings or if you feel uncomfortable with completely cutting yourself off, you can choose which apps you can turn off to cut down on distractions.
  • Don’t take your phone to bed – When you are about to sleep, place your phone away from you and set it on “Do Not Disturb” mode. This will stop your device from making any noise, vibration or lighting up when you receive notifications, alerts, text messages and calls. This is a sure fire way for you to get your needed sleep without any interruptions.
  • Clean up your home screen – The more apps you install, the more notifications you get until it becomes difficult to pick out the alerts that you actually care about. Delete the ones that you don’t use regularly and only leave the apps that you feel are necessary. A little bit of organizing will also help you immensely. Keep useful apps front and center and hide distracting ones in folders.
  • Seek help from apps – There are apps that exist that make smarter notifications for you. A great example is the BOLDFISH app that acts as a buffer between the user and digital addiction by limiting access to popular apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter in order to promote digital wellness. For more details, check out goboldfish.com!
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