I’ve always struggled with sleep, and my phone hasn’t helped. When I lived in Indonesia, I was 8 hours ahead of my friends and family in the UK. So as my British mates were chatting, I’d be in bed or busy, and vice versa. My phone would go off 24-7.
Silencing it didn’t curb the phone distractions. It would still flash a tiny blue LED for Facebook notifications and a little green one for WhatsApp. I’d turn it over or cover it, but it was my alarm, and I snooze, so I couldn’t risk muffling it.
It was like hearing a dripping kitchen tap when you’re snug in bed. It quietly drove me insane.
My adult ADHD means I’m always busy, mostly because boredom physically hurts. I still have to remind myself that it’s OK to do nothing when I feel like I’m under-living by staying in on a Friday night. Rest can be very difficult because, on the days when nothing’s going on, it feels like I’m missing out on something, even though I know that if something were happening, I’d have been invited or I wasn’t wanted there. Still, it’s a horrible feeling.
So, when a Facebook notification would ping me, I’d always check in case it was news from home or something important. But it rarely was. Instead, it was another phone distraction that had nothing to do with me – just some stranger who had posted something presented as enticing and mysterious that Facebook was alluding could change my life!
But my phone was my only link to home, so I’d wake up, see the flashing light, open it (blasting bright light into my face), see that I’d fallen for it again, and then lay awake irritated until I passed out again, or be stuck awake waiting to go to work.
The blue ticks on WhatsApp also got me, especially when I was bored or lonely. I am a tidy inbox ADHDer, too, so being “left on read” (meaning someone read my text but didn’t respond) just feels a bit rude or worrying sometimes, especially when it’s during a conversation. Were they alright? Had I said something wrong?
Chances are they were asleep or had put their phone away like normal people do and were just living life. Meanwhile, I’d have to rationalize and resist the urge to do something as socially ruinous as checking that they’re OK after an hour, making me look silly.
As phone notifications discreetly stole my sleep, they caused a constant drip of anxiety for absolutely no reason, affecting my mood and ability to truly engage in the real world. I was out in paradise, surrounded by amazing people, constantly beckoned to thumb through the mundane posts of strangers.
My ADHD spiked during my last months as I prepared to leave for good. Communication was vital in organizing everything I had to do, yet the relentless tick-tick-tick of meaningless notifications added to the mounting overwhelm I felt, becoming increasingly triggering and making me moody while those I loved were coming to say goodbye for maybe the last time in person.
It was deeply emotional, and yet there I was, quietly reaching for my phone in case the tiny light meant that my flight had been canceled. It infiltrated pivotal moments that absolutely should have been for and about us and that last hug, undisturbed by Mrs. Wilkes expressing her opinion on f***ing pigeons to my neighborhood group in London.
Why I Turned Off Notifications
After the pigeon incident, I had a purge. Switching off the blue ticks, uninstalling Facebook, silencing anything but phone calls and breaking national news, and removing apps like Instagram from my home screen dramatically reduced my FOMO and made me feel less stressed in life.
It was strange at first but ultimately liberating. I wasn’t wasting as much time or getting frustrated. Instead, I focused on what was important — the people who were meeting or calling me, those who had made time for me.
It gave me more control over my life. I slept better, focused more, grew as a person, and enjoyed the incredible country and people. I could catch up with everyone else when I returned to the UK.
Turning Off Notifications: The Aftermath
I still retreat to my phone and spend far too much time on it, but I now see it as a tool, not a constant nag and distraction.
At a recent meal out with friends, we put our phones in the middle of the table and vowed not to touch them. While it felt almost naughty at first, I had one of the best nights out in years, just the three of us, forcing ourselves to live in the moment for the first time since we were kids, away from the unlimited access to everyone beyond our table. We felt so incredibly free (right up until we wanted to take a picture).
Learning from that, leaving my phone out of reach has become a habit that’s done me so much good. It now lives face down on the table or in my pocket, which means I choose when I want to engage without that creeping feeling that it’s actually becoming the other way around.
It’s incredible how much more vivid life is when you take a few hours without that crux. It’s empowering and meaningful to actually have “a bit of me time.” It builds confidence and clarity over what and who really matters because they tend to make better eye contact when they’re sitting with you than photos and little clips do. Even phone calls are so much more meaningful.
Virtual reality can wait. Real life won’t. Unless it’s your mom calling, of course.
Phone Distractions with ADHD: Next Steps
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.