A Case Against Notifications
How push alerts can lead to ‘headline stress disorder’ and what to do about it.
The average smartphone user in the United States receives 46 app push notifications per day. Forty-six interruptions as we go about the business of being human. Working, caring, connecting, moving, resting. These micro-moments take our attention, our intention, and in many cases, our ability to think rationally and replace them with stress hormones.
And even though we may not want to check them, we may not mean to click on them, we often do. They can be very hard to ignore.
I’m sure you’ve seen it. You’ve probably done it. You’re sitting with someone, in the middle of a conversation, when a sudden glow or ping draws both sets of eyes to the phone sitting on the table next to them.
“Oh no,” they whisper, as they begin to scroll.
You grab your phone to hop onto whatever app might provide you with the update they just saw.
So you’re both, now, operating from the more reactive, primitive parts of the brain, rationality out the window. Hearts racing, muscles tense. And anyway, what was it you were talking about in the first place?
Of course, we need to be aware of what is happening in the world around us. We need to be informed. But do we need to watch every atrocity, get every catastrophic update, in real-time?
No. We do not.
Psychologist Steven Stosny coined the term ‘headline stress disorder’ to describe the tension and anxiety that can result from being bombarded by constant updates and notifications. He wrote, “For many people, continual alerts from news sources, blogs, social media, and alternative facts feel like missile explosions in a siege without end.”
And, friends, he wrote that back in 2017. Pre-pandemic. Pre-George Floyd. Pre-Capitol insurrection. The Pre-’s could go on and on.
Here, in the present day, we are not doing great. In the October 2021 iteration of the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey, nearly one-third of adults (32%) who responded said sometimes they are so stressed about the coronavirus pandemic that they struggle to make basic decisions — as…