Overcoming Notification Anxiety: Tips for Finding Peace in a Digital World

Does it feel like your heart skips a beat every time your phone buzzes? The good news is that you’re not alone. Although notification anxiety has existed for a long time, the term has become popular recently as more companies have started implementing tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Google Chat, and other similar services. Many of these tools were created to be asynchronous (think email) but became popular as an instant gratification tool for communication. Those who aren’t able to answer immediately are guaranteed to feel the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out).

Understanding Notification Anxiety

Long before Salesforce haunted us, there were earlier iterations of this type of collaborative software that we used in our everyday lives. I can’t be the only one that remembers the distinct sounds of AOL instant messages or the noise of a door closing and opening as the members of my buddy list came and went for the day. The invocation of those memories alone reminds me of silly fights with junior high school friends or the desire for a long-awaited reply from a crush. I had no idea back then that I was experiencing notification anxiety.

Notification anxiety is precisely what it sounds like. It is the feeling of dread or angst when you experience any notification. Notifications can include any of the following:

  • Text Messages (SMS).
  • Emails.
  • Internal Communications (Slack, Teams, GChat, etc.).
  • Alarms.
  • Calendar Alerts.
  • External Communications (Telegram, WhatsApp, etc.).
  • Push Notifications. 

Because these notifications can disrupt productivity and rest, they can leave us feeling stressed, burned out, and ready to throw our phones and laptops right out the window. 

Workers may feel more distressed by notifications when there is an expectation that they will respond immediately. That stress is compounded when employees work in cultures steeped in drama, authoritarianism, or toxicity. If you don’t get along with your colleagues or you’re dealing with a micromanaging boss, a notification popping up might be a bigger problem than disturbing focus and concentration on work. A notification pop-up could mean the difference between a peaceful and productive workday and a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. It is impossible to know which one it is until you click the notification and read the message. By then, your heart is already in your throat. 

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The Impact of Digital Distractions on Productivity 

Research has shown time and time again that consistent interruptions in one’s workday lead to a lack of productivity. How can your employees focus and concentrate on their tasks if they are bombarded with internal communications notifications all day? How can they even think straight enough to strategize and move the goalpost forward on important company initiatives when they constantly have to answer questions or observe conversations in group channels?

At one of my former jobs, I was expected to watch every department of the company. That meant that I was literally in every single Slack channel that my overzealous colleagues created. I spent all day participating in and observing those Slack conversations, answering questions, and responding to a myriad of complaints. 

I often found that entire days would go by without getting much actual work done. Now don’t get me wrong, some of those conversations were very important, but they were unquestionably getting in the way of strategic and essential initiatives that would have helped push the companies’ goals forward. I was often unable to get ahead of expectations and failed to meet deadlines because I was so bogged down by a combination of a tidal wave of emails and a slew of neverending Slack messages. 

As long as the expectation remained that I would respond to messages immediately, I could never get meaningful work done. Overcoming distractions was an oft-brought-up topic in our executive meetings, but I needed to convince my manager that Slack was the distraction. 

The Destruction of Work-Life Balance in a Digital World

I had such an eagle eye on all those Slack channels that I often spent the hours from 9 to 6 every day reading Slack messages. Worse yet, we were a 24/7 operation, so long after my boss stopped receiving Slack messages as our local team was asleep, I continued receiving notifications late into the night, revolving around the business departments that operated around the clock. Not only did I feel like I was wasting the day, but I could not rest during my personal time either. Slack was taking over my life. I was checking it constantly. I would wake up intermittently through the night to check Slack messages. My phone was the first thing I reached for every morning to see what was happening at work. And every time I received a notification on my phone with that familiar Slack whooshing sound, my body was flooded with unhealthy cortisol levels.

Cortisol is a hormone that your body releases when it feels stressed. It triggers your “fight or flight” response. Cortisol isn’t the only element of your biology that gets in on the action of your stress. Adrenaline and noradrenaline play their parts, causing your heart rate and blood pressure to increase. Muscle tension and shallow fast breathing accompany the release of glucose into your bloodstream. These bodily changes are meant to be used in response to a threat. However, chronic stress can cause these reactions too, which will adversely affect your health

It’s easy to see how email overload and notification anxiety can destroy any sense of a work-life balance if an employee is being bombarded at all hours of the day and night. 

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    Tips & Strategies for Overcoming Notification Anxiety 

    Now that we’ve determined that notification anxiety is bad for your health let’s examine some ways to mitigate the ill effects. There are ways to manage your notification anxiety and still be a productive member of society. 

    If you find yourself grappling with notification anxiety, try the following: 

    • Find your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” functionality and enable it. It’s time to set firm boundaries around your time, which means you can’t be reached during certain time periods. You get to choose which hours you are responsive, but make sure you communicate that to your team members. 
    • Get rid of any unnecessary notifications. We all have those apps we downloaded a million years ago for some reason or another. It’s time to stop the noise and finally go into your settings to disable notifications you don’t need in your life. The same advice applies to the dozens of newsletters collecting dust in your inbox. You’re never going to read them. Click that unsubscribe button!
    • Make self-care a priority. The last thing you want is to burn out, and notification anxiety can push you right over that cliff if you’re not careful. Practice mindfulness and meditation, book that massage, take the bubble bath, watch the latest season of Love is Blind on Netflix. Your mental health will thank you later. 
    • Take a tech detox. This one is not for the faint of heart. I’ve never gone longer than a few hours without my iPhone, and I’m not likely to try any time soon. I don’t have to try it personally to know it’s guaranteed to cure notification anxiety, even temporarily. 
    • Change the ringtone of your notification. I can’t tell you how many different sounds I experimented with for Slack notifications. I changed it to everything from a cat purring to Rupaul shouting “Sashay, away!” to the Dawson’s Creek theme song. The slight change that made me giggle took some of the tension from checking my messages. 
    • Set firm boundaries with your team. I’m proud of you for putting yourself first, but you must communicate with your team to set expectations. Don’t be too discouraged if they don’t react well at first. It’s often difficult to accept when a  team member starts to set firm boundaries when they have not done so before. If the team or your boss continues to show an inability to accept your limits, you may have to rethink the culture and environment you’ve chosen to work in. 
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    Time Management Techniques 

    Time management techniques won’t necessarily take your notification anxiety away, but they may help you manage your overall stress. If you can’t prioritize your tasks because you’re too busy checking the 800 emails you received in the last hour from so and so at LinkedIn, who wants to sell you on their latest recruitment software, you have a major problem. You can’t cope with your email overload, and you will fall behind because of your inability to prioritize. 

    Email and message overload is a great reason to set more boundaries. I advocated earlier for protecting your personal time, but you must also protect your professional time. 

    Here are some tips for time management: 

    • Make a list. Write down all your priorities and then put them in order. Which ones are most important? Compare that list to where you spend most of your time. If they don’t align, then you need to make adjustments. 
    • Stop multitasking. Sure, sometimes it can’t be helped, but most of the time, multitasking is unnecessary. Deep work requires deep concentration, and if you’re jumping from task to task or stopping to answer a Teams message, you’ve lost your focus and concentration. Trendy but misleading terms like “agile” doesn’t help with this misconception that multitasking is critical for productive work. (Managers, please look up what agile actually means!)
    • Set boundaries. Set aside twice or three times a day to check and answer emails and stick to them. Make the same rule for other internal communications. Use status update features to let everyone know you are unavailable to talk. 
    • Take breaks. Your boss might not believe it, but taking regular breaks helps employees to be happier and more productive at work. Make sure you stretch, take a walk, or grab a coffee. 
    • Set goals and deadlines. Holding yourself accountable for realistic deadlines will make sticking to better time management habits easier. 

    Don’t let notification anxiety ruin your life. You will be in control if you set your boundaries and practice self-care and good time management habits. Technology is a beautiful tool, but 24/7 interconnectedness isn’t healthy. It’s time to regain control of your schedule. Now, sashay!

    Don’t forget to come back to the Girlboss Burnbook for more strategies on surviving in a man’s world. 




    Founder of Girlboss Burnbook

    Hey there! I’m Jenna, the founder of The Girlboss Burnbook. My mission is to support women feeling isolated in their leadership roles. After leaving the corporate world, I realized many women face the same struggles I did. I wanted to create a platform where we could share our stories and empower each other.

    At The Girlboss Burnbook, you’ll find helpful content. If you resonate with it, please reach out and share your thoughts. I’m always looking for guest contributors to our blog. Let’s collaborate!

    Contact me at info@girlbossburnbook.com. I can’t wait to connect with you!