Dealing with Device Anxiety: 9 Tips and Tricks

Have you ever noticed how often you check your phone in a day? In an hour? Every time the phone dings or lights up, and you notice, you tend to check it, no matter what you were focusing on beforehand. It’s our nature now to make sure we never miss a conversation or update. This has a lot of benefits, yes, but for many, including me, it causes anxiety when it happens too often or distracts from the task at hand. I notice it most when I feel my phone vibrate on my desk at work – I’m immediately distracted, whether I want to be or not. Here’s a few tips and tricks I’ve found over the years to minimize that distraction. Am I always great at taking my own advice? It depends on the day. Maybe this will help someone out there today.

My name is Brittney, and I’m a Millennial. *Audience in unison* Hi, Brittney!

I started my online journey when I was 11 and created my first Hotmail account with the help of my computer-savvy older cousin. I was also part of the population who was 14 when Facebook allowed 14-year-olds to join. From there, I don’t know if I could tell you how many different username/password combinations I have or how many applications I’ve logged into. Forget even thinking about the number of stores or online services I’ve given my precious Hotmail address to.

It’s overwhelming to know how much of my online presence is exposed to advertisements and communications coming at me instead of to me. The worst part is that I now get these online advertisements even when I’m not trying to be online. The invention of the mobile phone – no, the smartphone – has changed the way everyone works, acts, connects with others, and even communication itself has changed (helloooo emoji).

I could go on for days on this topic thanks to my background in Information Science, but I’ll get to the point for you readers who are tired of my rambling.

The smartphone is a tiny computer that we carry with us everywhere. Its main purpose is to keep us connected all the time – we can always contact emergency services or say “Hi!” to the friend who lives across the country. It’s inherently a good thing, but when we become addicted (yes, I said it) to knowing what every notification is telling us, it makes those who are already anxious even more anxious.

Am I a scientist who has researched this phenomenon? No – but I’ve experienced it, so I feel like I feel qualified to write on it.

I feel as though, if my phone lights up, I have to glance at it. I literally just did as I typed that last sentence. It can be a problem if you don’t try to control it. Parents limit how much children use electronics, but when you’re an adult who has to self-regulate, it gets challenging to remember to limit yourself. I work in IT – I literally build a mobile application – I am required to have my phone on and with me to do my day-to-day job. It makes things a lot harder for me to be regularly distracted.

I have also found that if I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, my phone notifications piling up add to that stress and make my already-present anxiety much worse. Are these notifications important? Rarely. Do I treat the non-important the same as the important mentally? Yes. It’s too much and I’m overwhelmed to the point where I want to throw the phone or take off the smart watch or whatever it is that’s buzzing.

For my mental state, I’ve had to learn to block out these distractions. Here are 9 tips and tricks that limit notification and device anxiety:

Physical Limitations

This category seems like it would be the most straightforward – it’s the most common type of restriction parents put in place for their children regarding device usage. Just make it harder to get to, and it’ll be too much of a hassle to use it. I often even forget about my device when it isn’t within arm’s reach.

The Drawer Trick

Take all your devices aside from the ones you need for your task and put them in a drawer nearby while you work or handle the task you’re procrastinating. Yes, you can still get to it easily, but unless you’re waiting on a specific phone call or message from someone, you’ll most likely forget about the phone. Out of sight, out of mind.

This is/was my favorite tactic while studying. If I see my phone, I “remember” to check it. It’s probably even subconscious at this point. If the screen lights up out of the corner of my eye, I check it. If I feel it buzz, I have to glance at it. This doesn’t exactly mess up my day, but it pulls my focus to something other than the task at hand. This jumps in the way of my productivity and makes me more scatterbrained.

This, of course, isn’t totally effective all the time. I use a computer to work, so I can’t put the work-related chat tool in a drawer (I wish), and I still have some distraction, but at least, it’s a start with handheld devices.

Leave it Somewhere

This is like the Drawer Trick, but it’s a little harder to just grab your device. You also may not be able to hear it at a distance, which can have benefits. When I’m at home weaving or reading a book, I like to leave my phone in another room and go on with my plans. It makes it much easier to focus on the task at hand and minimize anxious thoughts. I’m not worried about losing my train of thought or having to answer an unexpected phone call – I can just be present in what I’m doing. I really love that.

This, of course, isn’t helpful for everyone – maybe you need your phone nearby in case of emergency or don’t have a safe place to just leave it. There are ways to work with those circumstances, and I’ll get to them later.

Charge Outside your Bedroom

I, personally, don’t follow this rule to-a-T like I should, but I’ve heard from friends that it helps their sleep patterns. The trick here is to plug your phone up where you can’t hear it or see it light up while you’re in bed at night. This helps keep you off of it before you pass out, off of it right when you wake up, and it keeps it from distracting you throughout the night with its flashing.

An easier version of this is to plug it up across the room. You can still see the light on it, but it won’t be so easy to reach over and check. This also helps if you like to hit “snooze” 4 times, like me. It makes you get up and turn off your alarm. (Bonus!)


Phone Settings

Your smartphone comes jam-packed with settings to make your life easier (that’s the point, right?), so why not use some of those settings to keep you off your phone at times when you don’t need it? I, personally, use an Apple iPhone on the latest update, so I can only talk to those settings, but I am sure Androids have similar features.

Use Vibrate

My very first cell phone (circa 2004) had a vibrate option. I honestly don’t think I’ve left my phone on “ring” longer than a day at a time since then. I’ve also reached the point, on multiple occasions, where I have turned my phone on true “silent”. No rings, no buzzing, nothing. My self control isn’t quite ready to just leave devices turned off – I still want people to be able to send me a message – but when my phone is set to true “silent”, you know I’ve had enough with technology for a while.

During the day, I doubt this will limit your distractions, but at night, this is a game-changer. My fiance has a job where he has to be on-call at all times. This definitely messes with me getting a good night’s sleep when he gets calls or texts throughout the night. This is even worse when he has to leave the phone on “loud” so it wakes him up. Do everyone a favor, and just sleep or go to work with your phone on vibrate at the loudest.

Do Not Disturb

One of the fancy additions to the newer versions of Apple iPhone software is the Do Not Disturb feature. It allows you to set an hour range where it’s harder to contact you and notifications are limited.

For example, at night (between 10pm and 7am on my device), people will have to call me twice for my phone to ring. The first call will make no sound, and my device doesn’t light up, but the second call comes in with my current phone volume settings. This means emergency calls can still come through, if needed. I know people who use this capability while at work or during major events to keep from being distracted. Luckily, this feature can be turned on at any time (not just with the time range) in your settings, and it will automatically turn back off after the scheduled time-frame the next day, if you have one.

If you have an iPhone, try this the next time you’re overwhelmed.

Turn off App Notifications

Get your mental energy back, and turn off application notifications. A major portion of applications on your phone don’t have an urgent alert for you, and you don’t need to be bombarded with information as frequently as they think you do.

So many stores have an app you can download to get points or rewards – these same stores are the ones that email you twice a day and send you information on the same sale via push notification. This isn’t drop-everything-and-deal-with-it information. It can wait until you have time to shop.

Game apps want you to keep coming back. Games are already addictive due to the fact that they give you repeated serotonin bursts when you win a level. Their notifications letting you know that “your lives have filled up” or “there’s new levels available” isn’t to actually help you feel better – it’s to get you back on their app, so you can boost their ratings, see advertisements, and make them more money.

Go in your device settings and determine what notifications you actually need to receive. Decide app-by-app if you even want to be regularly alerted by the app and what level of alerts are okay with you. You can say “yes, I want you to pop up for me, but I don’t want you to make a sound or vibrate my phone” to some applications, and you can say “yes, I want an alert if I’m on my phone, but no lock-screen alerts please” to others. This is completely customize-able.

I, personally, don’t let anything make a sound unless it’s a direct communication app (Messenger, iMessage, phone calls). Banking applications can push notifications to my lock screen, but I don’t want to hear a sound. Stores and games don’t get to notify me at all – I don’t have time for the distraction every day.

This is also something to think about when saying “I agree to receive push notifications” upon app download – it automatically gives that application full notification rights (sound, lock-screen clutter, light up your screen). I recommend saying “no” and manually granting notification rights later on in Settings.

Turn Off Email Pushing

iPhones have a setting where your email is always searching for new emails to come through. Yes, this wastes battery and runs up your data usage, but that’s another discussion. The default setting is to make a sound or vibrate every time you receive emails through this “push” capability. This means you can get new emails up to every second of the day, depending on how popular your inbox is. To me, it’s crazy to think about how many “dings” you have to live through. Turn that off.

I recommend switching your email settings to “fetch” new emails when you request them instead of “pushing” them to your phone. What does that mean? It means that when you open the Mail app, and you refresh the screen (swipe down from the top), your email will then start loading new messages. Keep in mind, I’ve missed an urgent email or two this way, but it reduces my notifications (and those silly red number bubbles) greatly throughout the day. I recommend it.

Another thing you can do is to change those default email notification settings to be silent and not-allowed-on-the-lock-screen using the technique above.


De-cluttering Applications

Because I’m not the first person who has struggled with all of these things, there are magical people on the internet who have developed applications and tools that make de-cluttering your online exposure easy to do. Here are a few of my favorites.

Email De-cluttering: Unroll.me

There’s an email tool I’ve been using for YEARS to de-clutter my inbox and unsubscribe from email lists called Unroll.me.

Unroll.me takes a look at all of your email subscriptions (even the ones you didn’t know you were subscribed to) and lets you choose what to do with each one. The options it gives are: Unsubscribe, Keep in Inbox, or Add To Roll Up.

If you add something to your “roll up”, you’ll get a single email every day with any emails that came from subscription lists on your “roll up”. So instead of getting 3 emails from Lululemon, you’ll get one email with all three Lululemon emails along with any Nordstrom emails (and other lists you’ve “rolled up”) that you received that day.

I enjoy my inbox being full of useful notes to me instead of a mix of broadcast information and important reply-needed mail. I feel less anxious when there’s 10 emails instead of 40 on a given day.

News Summary Emails

Another major notification category for me is News apps. I ended up deleting most of the single-news-source mobile apps leading up to the 2016 presidential election – it was just too much all the time. I now subscribe to a couple summary-focused daily news emails to make everything easier to deal with. I read them in the morning before heading into work and I feel like I know more about the world than I did when I went to bed. Definitely recommend.

I won’t tell you which ones you should subscribe to, but I’ll tell you about the ones I do.

The first I found is The Skimm – it’s a seemingly-non-partisan way to learn about US, Global, and Entertainment news quickly every morning. There’s some humor involved, but I’ve never noticed it to be scandalous – you could probably share this one with those under 18 without worries that they’ll be exposed to any negative language or themes. This one does seem a bit girly – my fiance unsubscribed to this one after a few weeks, but all my friends love it.

The one I follow for fun is Betches Sup – this one, however, is a bit more adult-rated. It’s also definitely partisan. I can’t promise it’s for everyone, but it’s raunchy and hilarious. I find it a lot of fun to follow to spice up the news. It also covers US, Global, and Entertainment stories.

I know there’s more options out there, and I definitely recommend checking them out. I’m all about people being informed and de-cluttered.


I realize this post is much longer than my usual posts, so I’ll stop here for now. If I come up with any other ideas to share with you all, you know I will!

I’m also excited to hear about any new applications or tricks to curbing device and notification anxiety. I’m sure things are popping up all the time, and research is constantly changing what we know about stress and its factors.

As always, feel free to share what you know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Dealing with Device Anxiety: 9 Tips and Tricks

  1. fitlifewitherica says:

    Thank you for these tips. I really need to get a better grip on controlling my settings on my phone. I do not want to a prisoner to technology but I am too very often distracted by my phone and social media apps.

    Like

    • lifeinplanning says:

      Even after writing this post, I keep finding myself falling into the “notification trap” and having to re-evaluate my settings every couple of months. It’s so easy to forget and let them pile up!

      Like

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