From the second I rolled over to silence my alarm in the morning, I'd consistently check every single buzz that signaled a new text message notification on my phone. On average, I wake up to 25 to 30 new texts, and more roll in like clockwork from the moment I'm awake to the second I close my eyes at night. My email inbox operates at an even faster speed. My phone and I would be deeply attached to each other all day until my eyes essentially got too heavy, forcing me to go to sleep. In total (including group chats), I receive over 150 to 200 texts every day, and I've stopped counting with my email.
The phone attachment issue was one thing, but how it made me feel was another. Research shows that checking notifications can trigger loads of stress, and looking first thing in the morning gives you a higher chance of feeling unhappy. I'd go to bed drained and depleted from the emotionally heavy, one-sided nature of my conversations every day. If I had to put a number on it, I'd say over 85% of my texts didn't concern me, but others and how I could help them. From friends venting to me about their problems to people I've barely ever talked to asking me to help them with something, my phone became a serious source of stress.
I'm inherently bad at saying no to people or being selfish with my time, so answering all of these requests and venting sessions made me feel on-call at all times. If I didn't respond in a timely manner to every single text or email, I'd feel a deep sense of guilt. Whether the context was personal or work-related, it felt like every vibration brought on a new rush of anxiety, and I was in a perpetual state of stress at all times. This, as you can imagine, became incredibly unhealthy for my mental state. No one deserves to feel consistently overwhelmed by the actions of others or the need to jump to every single plea. I carried this feeling with me day in and day out and eventually collapsed.
I remember the day I spiraled. It was about a year and a half ago, and I was at a very low point. I was dealing with a lot of professional pressures, which made my worry and self-doubt unshakable. When I'm that emotionally exhausted, I don't voluntarily talk about it with anyone—I have a bad habit of keeping it all in. I, of course, checked my phone as soon as I woke up that morning and throughout the day. Instead of discussing my well-being, I suppressed my feelings and prioritized everyone and everything else in my life. An email from a higher-up person set the tone for my day: An onset of worry and fear took over me. I instantly started bawling on the subway, mentally racing through potential responses, typing and erasing every other sentence. I looked up, and I was on 125th Street in Harlem and had completely missed my work subway stop in midtown Manhattan. I had lost my head.
When I got off the subway to head back downtown on my route, I realized I had gotten off track—mentally and emotionally—because of my phone. I made a conscious decision to take phone breaks to save my sanity and bring me back to myself. I had to make a change, and this was my first step.
How Putting My Phone on Do Not Disturb Changed My Life
That night, I set my phone on Do Not Disturb from midnight to 12 p.m. the next day. I decided to wake up in the morning and say a prayer instead of immediately reaching for my phone. Then, I went through my entire morning routine without glancing at my phone once—basking in the quiet time and settling into my thoughts without allowing them to be jaded by other distractions channeled through my phone. After getting fully dressed and out the door, I glanced at my phone. At that point, I'd taken over an hour of "me" time in the morning and felt in control of my thoughts, which set a positive tone for the start of my day.
On my morning commute, instead of having my hand on my phone, I kept it in my pocket and enjoyed my music or the podcast episode I picked for the day. The freedom to check my text messages and my email when I decided to, instead of being notified and feeling like I had to at that very moment, immensely impacted the trajectory of my day. It went from checking my phone 10 to 15 times in the morning to two or three times—and the transition felt completely effortless. Now, my mornings are my time of solitude, and I don't have the urge to immediately jump into work mode or to answer all of my text messages. I draw a line now with my communication, and I put myself first.
Today, I'm way less indebted to my phone and the conversations I'm expected to answer to on a daily basis. I've prioritized centering my mind and thoughts first before anything else, and it's changed my life. If you're feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by your phone, put it down. The small act of letting go of notifications will give you a choice. It's a simple decision, and I've found joy in that peace of mind.
This story was originally published on March 19.