For the last several years, I’ve been wearing a smartwatch all day, every day. Whether I’m awake, asleep, at home, at the store, working out, or anything in between, I have it on all the time. Then, this week, I realized something: This stupid thing stresses me out. Because constant notifications stress me out.
Now, this may seem overly obvious to some people, but it’s something I never really questioned. I started wearing a smartwatch, and it just became a normal thing for me. I charge it while I’m in the shower, then put it right back on. I’ve been doing this for so long, I don’t even think about it.
Update, 12/11/21: Verified links still up to date.
It probably started because I deal with FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), especially when it comes to anything work-related. I keep Slack notifications on all the time because I want to know the second someone pings me about anything. I don’t want to miss a notification or leave any of my writers (or worse, my boss) waiting on me. A smartwatch keeps me constantly connected to the things that matter to me. But there’s also too much of a good thing.
Earlier this week, there was a conversation happening in one of the group chats I’m in, and it was absolutely blowing up the notifications on my phone. Those, in turn, were coming to my wrist. It was maddening, distracting, and annoying as hell. I was trying to work! Normally I would just temporarily silence the notification for that particular app, but in a moment of irritation, I did something I’d never done before: I took this damn watch off and just laid it on my desk.
Holy crap. The relief was almost instant. The vibrations stopped. The distractions stopped.
How did I not see this before? I’ve been wearing a smartwatch for so long that the thought of just, you know, taking it off, never really crossed my mind. I know—it sounds just as stupid to me when I say it out loud. How the hell did I miss something so obvious? (FOMO, that’s how.)
Okay, so I should back up just a little bit. Or move forward?
…I should clarify.
When I first started wearing a smartwatch, it was all about the notifications and not missing anything. And today, that’s still true. But there’s also a deeper reason I never take it off: fitness tracking.
I used to be less than healthy. I was obese—210 pounds on a five-foot-six-inch frame—and on a path towards all sorts of health problems. So, I started riding bikes to get healthier. Then my youngest son was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease (kidney failure) at not-quite-three-years-old. He needed a new kidney, so that kicked my weight loss and training into high gear. (As an aside, if you’re interested in hearing that story in detail, I was recently on a podcast discussing it.)
Long story short, I lost about 70 pounds riding bikes and watching my intake. That lifestyle became something that I leaned into very hard (and still do to this day). It started off with simple metrics, like wanting to know how many calories I was burning compared to how many I was eating. But then I started to pay attention to macronutrient balance, body composition, and a lot more.
My smartwatch—currently a Fitbit Versa—has become a crucial part of that, because it allows me to quickly monitor “critical” metrics like current calorie expenditure, heart rate (both resting and active), and even sleep patterns. Because all of those things matter to me and consistency is key, the get-notifications-on-your-wrist aspect of wearing a smartwatch has almost become secondary to the monitor-everything-you-can-about-your-body aspect.
In other words: I now rely on my watch for even more stuff and hate taking it off.
This only exacerbates the issue of constant notifications and is likely the reason I’ve never thought to take my watch off in the first place. Because what if I take it off and walk to the kitchen? I won’t get “credit” for those 15 steps! My tracker will be out of sync with my habits! The whole day is ruined.
I’m exaggerating of course. But there’s still this weird subconscious voice in the back of my brain that says if I don’t track everything I do—all the food, all my activities, etc.—that I will wake up tomorrow and be 210 pounds again. That’s literally my biggest fear. I worked hard to shed the weight and feel better than I ever have. I never want to go back.
So, my watch obsession is now two-fold.
We live in an always-connected world. Notifications are everywhere. The need for attention is strong. FOMO is very real and very pressing.
Even if you don’t wear a smartwatch, there’s a chance that you experience some of this with your phone. A notification goes off, and you pick it up. It’s instant, oftentimes even if you’re busy. On a small scale, that’s probably fine. But on a longer timeline, it’s exhausting. It drags you down. (I know it drags me down.)
So, what is there to do about it? Turn your notifications off from time to time. Utilize Do Not Disturb on your phone. Take your watch off. Just remove distractions from the equation so you can focus on … anything else. This is a practice I’m slowly starting to get into—and I’m also encouraging all of my writers to do the same.
Pause Slack notifications while you’re working so you can focus. Set Do Not Disturb on your phone while you’re working out (that’s my new favorite). Set auto-off hours when you’re sleeping or relaxing. Just disconnect, even if it’s just for 30 minutes at a time.
You’ll be surprised at how much this helps your mental state. I’m slowly starting to get over FOMO and realize that those notifications will be waiting for me when I “get back.” When I check Slack or pull the notification shade down on my phone—they’ll still be there.
This is my particular issue, but I know there are loads of people out there who also deal with some sort of notification-related anxiety. Don’t let notifications rule (or ruin!) your life.
Disconnect from your phone, so you can reconnect with yourself. Even if just for the moment.