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Saturday 30 September 2023 Dublin: 13°C
# live a better life
Do you really need all those notifications?
Let’s see if a cull is needed. Plus, a chance to reflect on how the week has gone so far.

#LIVE-A-BETTER-LIFE-banner-image-final (1)

IT’S DAY FIVE of the first week of Live A Better Life.

Give yourself a clap on the back for making it this far – you’re doing great.

This week, it’s been about monitoring our behaviour, and seeing how we react to small changes in our phone usage (next week, we’ll have five more challenges for you).

Today, we’re going to be looking at what makes us look at our phones.

shutterstock_610541609 Shutterstock / perfectlab Shutterstock / perfectlab / perfectlab

Some of the biggest things that draw our attention to our phones are notifications.

These can include:

  • Social media notifications (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc)
  • Message notifications (Whatsapp, iMessage, etc)
  • News app notifications (, The Guardian, etc)
  • Miscellaneous app notifications
  • Calendar notifications

Dr Larry Rosen, professor emeritus at California State University and the author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, told us that looking at our phone can bring about different emotions for us.

“If you are using the phone to gain pleasure then that causes your brain to produce pleasure chemicals including dopamine and serotonin which make you feel good,” he said.

“If, however, you are using your phone because you feel you need to keep up with your virtual worlds then you are already producing chemicals that make you feel anxious (cortisol, adrenaline, etc) and you need to check in to remove those chemicals that make you feel anxiety.”

Can people feel anxiety when they try to cut down on their phone usage?

“They absolutely do. Some call that anxiety ‘fomo’ or fear of missing out but it is not as strong as a fear but more on the level of an anxiety,” said Rosen.

When we removed phones from students in a study those who were light users of their smartphone did not get more anxious over a 60 minute period where they were not allowed to do anything (to induce boredom and the urge to check in). Those who were moderate users of their smartphones showed no change in anxiety until about 30 minutes into the period and then showed an increase that leveled off. Those heaviest smartphone users showed an increase in anxiety within 10 minutes which kept increasing throughout the hour-long period.

When it comes to ‘how much is too much’ regarding checking your phone, he added: “There is no rule. When you are doing it out of a need to feel less anxious then it is important to stay aware of the anxiety level and monitor ‘checking-in’ behaviour.”

Why cut down on notifications?

Notifications draw your attention to your phone, which can mean you are picking it up more often than you want – or need – to.

You might need some of these notifications, but others not so much. Are there some you can cull?

shutterstock_190086896 Shutterstock / Sinseeho Shutterstock / Sinseeho / Sinseeho

First, you’ll need to check what notifications you already receive.

If you have an iPhone, go to Settings > Notifications, and you’ll find a list of all your apps and a description of the type of notifications you get for them. Do you really need all of those notifications?

If you have an Android phone, go to Settings > Sound & notification > App notifications, then look at the apps and see which ones you don’t need a notification from.

Take the time to think about what sort of notifications are the least intrusive, and what apps actually send you useful notifications.

What to do about notifications

As we’ve pointed out, notifications can take different forms. Let’s take a look at the most common, and see what we can do about them.

Message notifications

Whatsapp and Viber are two popular messaging apps. But getting 60 notifications from your Gals or Lads message group can be a bit of a strain.

You have the option to mute messages in both these apps, meaning you can receive messages but without the notifications constantly popping up.

News alerts

If you have a news app like, you’ll notice that most of them (like us) offer news alerts.

Take note of how often you’re getting notifications – are you getting them too frequently? Do you need more than one a day? Are they giving you information you need?

For example, we only send alerts for breaking news that we feel it’s essential you need to know. Other news apps might send a number of alerts a day.

If you decide you don’t need the notifications/news alerts, each app should offer you the ability to switch them off.

Miscellaneous alerts

You may use a range of apps that offer alerts – fitness apps, food log apps, banking apps, health apps.

Take note of which ones send you alerts. Do you really need all of them?

Here’s a more in-depth look at the types of notifications and alerts we get on our phones, and how to cut down on them.

How did monitoring your phone use go?

On Day Two, we asked you to monitor your phone use for the rest of the week. How did you get on with that?

  • Did it provide you with new insights into your phone or app usage, how and when you use your phone, and elements you would like to change?
  • Did you change anything as a result?
  • Are you happy to stop monitoring now or will you continue to do so?

Tell us in the comments.

Catch up on the Live A Better Life series so far>

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