Anxiety from getting phone notifications isn’t weird and is very real especially in a global pandemic

One more ping from your phone and you want to smash it? Does staying connected 24/7 come at a cost? And is there anything we can do about it?

It’s day 185 under lockdown, September 17 and we just celebrated our 6th monthsary with the community quarantine. This means for the same amount of time, we have been more reliant than ever on our smartphones and other gadgets for signs of life outside the concrete of our homes.

Our daily personal interactions were reduced to likes, shares, comments, and if we’re lucky, some 30 minute, laggy, catch-up video call. A number of the Philippine workforce, who society considers as lucky ones, were allowed to work from home with emails and chat apps as our temporary office spaces. And unexpectedly, in our homes, the lines of work/study, family, and self which used to be compartmentalized have all blurred into one overwhelming sack.

Of course, because we are in the time of COVID, where bad news lurks everywhere, our screens have also become the harbingers of the bad–bad news, bad governance, bad situations, and a lot more than the usual obituaries.

With the influx of online hyperactivity comes the absolute need to be constantly attached to our gadgets and soon enough, you’ll find that the ping that we nonchalantly check every so often has become our personal nightmare noise barrage.

Anxiety from Phone Notifications Isn’t Weird

I’ve known for a while now that I personally am an anxious little human bean. The slightest ticks set me off. But the phone has been my refuge for the most part of my life. So to my surprise and utter dismay, the work from home life–marketed as the key to sustainable work-life balance–has set me off to despise my phone, especially every time it pings.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t particularly dislike my family, my friends, my workmates, or anyone who tries to get in contact with me and as I said earlier, my phone has been a source of happiness, for the most part, so why the sudden disdain? Of course, by virtue of getting hooked on the interwebs, I took to Google.

I came across this 2017 study on smartphone addiction from the Radiological Society of North America. In the study, research suggests that smartphone addiction can cause a significantly high imbalance in the brain.

The study tested individuals with a diagnosed smartphone addiction and saw that the higher they score on smartphone addiction, the greater the severity of mental health issues like depression and anxiety. And in those with much more severe dependencies to the gadget, the two were often intermixed with other mental health disorders.

In addition to building mental disorders, receiving notifications are actually found to trigger our fight or flight response especially when we’re used to getting high-intensity information from notifications. The fight or flight response supposedly only kicks in in the event of a calamity or a sudden grave situation, so there’s definitely bound to be some damage dealt when you tap into such extreme cognitive functions as often as notifications come our way.

Medical practitioners call this process the ‘switch cost’ or our mind’s ability to switch from one task to another. And because our responses to receiving notifications bank on staying alert and then get interrupted by something that triggers the fight or flight response, switching from our current task to checking notifications creates a disruption in our thinking pattern, causing us to spend more time and brain energy to deal with everything at once.

Scott Bea, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic told CBS, “We think it interrupts our efficiency with our brains, by about 40%,”.

What You Can Do

Psychologist Dodgen Magee urges people to seek out meaningful content instead of just bingeing on what’s available. And lucky for us, a lot of content creators have emerged with meaningful content for us to consume.

Tanya Goodin, founder of digital detox movement Time To Log Off, suggests firmly distinguishing the boundary between screen time that is helpful and screen time that is harmful. 

Helpful screen time is used for purposes that create a positive reaction from you like workout videos, cooking recipes, etc. If you use your phone because you’re “bored or anxious, it’s not helpful.” The same principle must be applied to checking the news.

Goodin also recommends that people set up their morning and afternoon routine in place of what used to be the commute going to and from work. Like a log-on and log-off routine. 

Another helpful tip Goodin suggests people try is to use different devices for different purposes wherever possible. “Use your laptop as a work device and your phone as your play device. So you put one device away when you’re on another.”

Related: Rewatching favorite shows and movies helps relieve stress and anxiety

Pandemic Era Anxiety

Being stuck in a pandemic is new territory for most if not all of the world’s population, so understandably, anxiety for the unknown is at an all-time high. Coupled with a few dashes of nation-wide political issues in a quarantined state, it’s without a doubt one of the worst recipes for mental wellness.

There’s a lot of arguably shitty things happening around us and as humans in quarantine, being innately social creatures, we’re rendered dependent on our smartphones as lone doorways of connectivity in virtually everything.

So the anxiety you’re getting from your phone right now? Very understandable and human. And in times like these, we should consciously choose to see our smartphones as tools for humanity and try harder to see yourself as independent from your tech.

Log off a few hours a day by turning off your notifications or go ahead and turn off your phone whenever possible. Curl up with a book or two which I believe this cozy season was specially made for. Reside in the world beyond blue light once more.

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