A new study at Trent University found that people become anxious, depressed, and angry when they constantly receive computer-generated notifications on their phone.

The university developed an app called NotiMind that tracked notifications and had users select their mood throughout the day. Fifty participants used the app over a five-week period.

The results were surprising. Those in the study reported being in a bad mood when their phones sent automated messages and those that were more work-related. When friends and family sent messages, their mood improved.

Of the 500,000 notifications sent during the study, more than a third of them resulted in a negative reaction. Fortunately, there is an easy solution to the problem.

First, let's take a look at why notifications can change your mood.

According to the research, it's all about our perception of self. When we receive work messages or automated notifications, it reminds us that we're just another entry in a database, some random person in a maze. We all have a desire to be noticed and recognized. When we constantly see a small message on an iPhone all day that could have been sent to anyone on the planet, it makes us feel less important.

When we receive messages from friends and family, it reinforces the idea that we matter to others, that our phones are there to help us be social and connect on a deeper level.

Here's my solution.

For at least one day, pay attention to the notifications on your phone. I found I was getting notices about the weather (from an app called Sunshine, no less), spam, and other messages sent by email that were obviously broadcast to a large group, and Slack posts by a bot that told me arcane details like someone joining a new channel. I turned them all off. Then, I found a few more settings--one related to notifying me when my phone needs an update and another that told me when the battery is getting low.

Next, I turned off all email notifications. To be honest, email is now an afterthought for me. I am buried under an avalanche of unimportant messages. Everyone I know and work with all day uses Slack, Facebook, or texting. Every email was just telling me I wasn't that important, even though there's a part of our brains that gets a small reward of dopamine when we open a positive, personal email. I never get those anymore.

So, after turning off all of the computerized settings, the ones that are just automated reminds and not from actual living people, I did notice my reactions to the notifications started to change. I knew the soft buzz or chime on my phone meant there was a human sending me a message, often a note about having lunch later or reminding me to pick up some milk on my way home from a coffee shop. It made me feel less stressed.

It's amazing how perception works. For one full day and evening, I started seeing my phone as less of an impersonal piece of hardware and more of a device for making social connections. It was as though Facebook, texting, and Slack came alive--I knew when my phone buzzed it meant there was an actual message from a living person. It worked.

Will you try it? If you adjust notifications and find you are happier or less stressed, please send me an email so we can compare notes. I'll probably read it later.

Published on: Oct 4, 2017