Depression: Turning Down The Volume On External Noise

In this day and age, it can feel as though we have external noise, and information, coming at us from every which way. Sometimes it feels like our phones are forever pinging, our inboxes rarely reach zero, and we get a pile of paper through the door every day. We’re contactable in numerous ways, it can feel never-ending and overwhelming.

For those of us living with depression, the external noise can seem even more intrusive. The brain fog we’re already experiencing makes processing the data very difficult. Depression overwhelms and limits our cognitive resources.  The negative thoughts we have can run rampant in our minds and create a sense of non-stop chatter in our heads.

Depression: Turning Down The Volume On External Noise


Every email we receive, takes up cognitive functions, even if we don’t realise it at the time. When we log in and see eleventy billion unread email, we feel thwarted. We might miss important emails. We might find that a proportion of those emails are from organisations we don’t remember subscribing to. We can have so many messages each day that sometimes we stop looking at them for a few days (because we can’t cope with it all), and suddenly we have 163 unread emails in our inbox.

Unsubscribing from newsletters can be really helpful. At the bottom of most newsletters, there’s usually a link to unsubscribe. It can take some time to unsubscribe from everything, but if we do it each time an unwanted email comes in, then we should soon find that we’re receiving far fewer emails and that it’s much quicker and easier to get our inboxes under control.

Have An App Audit

We’ve apps on top of our apps these days and the notifications can be quite tiresome and distracting. The flashing lights and loud alerts can cause a sense of urgency that’s quite hard to ignore. Sometimes it’s not the alerts which can cause confusion, it’s the sheer number of apps. Most smartphones come pre-loaded with several that we might not need. By the time we’ve added the ones we do need and want, it can get pretty cluttered. Apps can be deleted, disabled and grouped to help lessen that looking for a needle in a haystack feeling we can sometimes feel.

If we’re finding that having to go into individual apps to reply to messages, we could use an app such as Franz. Franz brings all our notifications together and puts them in one place. This means that we only have to login to one central app rather can constantly jumping between different ones, which can be much less stressful.

Slow Down

We live in a very ‘immediate’ world. At times it can feel as though responding to every message we get the minute we receive it is absolutely vital. We might think that if we don’t, people will find us rude. It doesn’t help at all that some social networks mark our messages as ‘read’ or ‘seen’, it just adds to the pressure.

We don’t need to respond to things right away. There’s rarely a message that can’t wait a day or two for a response, and many messages can wait even longer than that. We need to be kind to ourselves and stop putting so much pressure on ourselves. We don’t need to be attached to our devices 24/7. We don’t need to reply to everything the second we receive it. Batching our responses can use up a lot less mental-load than replying to them as and when we receive them.

Mute the Noise

Notifications, with all their ‘alert, alert, must read this NOW-ness’, can be really unsettling. They can interrupt whatever it is we’re doing, affecting our ability to focus and be mindful. Turning off notifications is generally a good idea, it puts us back into the driving seat and quietens the noise. It allows us to choose when we’re going to check-in and how. This can usually be done on our laptop, pc and smartphone settings. Because we’ve gotten so used to the notification noise, it can feel a little uncomfortable when we switch them off; we might worry that we’re missing out on something or that we might miss something urgent. We’re all different, tweak to find what works for you.

Set Aside Some Time to Batch

The constant switching between tasks drains our cognitive resources really quickly. Our brains can’t multitask, instead, we’re making our brains switch back and forth, over and over again. When we batch similar tasks, we allow ourselves space to focus on one thing at a time and our brains like that. We get more done that way and use up less of our mental energy. Responding to our emails, opening our post, and replying to social media messages in a block, can also lessen the number of times we check and refresh our messages, helping us to feel less married to our devices.

‘Away From Phone’ Time

There are some statistics about the hefty amount of time we spend online but also a sense that we have no ‘spare’ time. If you’re a lover of social media, you will have seen the notion of a ‘digital detox’ popping up.  The addictive nature of social media has been well documented so we don’t often have a grasp of how long we’re spending online. Finding the balance can be really tricky and will be dependant on our personal circumstances. It’s when we find social media a negative and loud place to be, that we might benefit from some slots of time where we do other things. A time when we just switch off and relax. We can relax in whichever way we choose – reading a book, watching some TV, creating something, taking a walk, or something else. Having this time can allow everything to settle and provide us with some peace.

Listen To How Things Make Us Feel

If our stomach drops, our eyes roll, or we feel anxious every time a notification pops up, something needs to change. It might be that there’s someone we follow on Twitter who really winds us up. There could be an email subscription that annoys us. Whatever it is, we need to listen to our feelings and see what we can do about it.

Our personal boundaries don’t just exist in what we’ll allow or disallow mentally and physically, it applies to our online lives too. Our corner of the internet can be what we make it and want it to be; we can unfollow, mute, or block people on the majority of apps and sites. We can unsubscribe from email lists. We can block numbers on our phones.

Turn Off Voicemail

Many of us will experience anxiety surrounding a ringing telephone, particularly if it’s a number we’re not familiar with. That anxiety might extend to listening to answerphone messages too. It is possible to have the voicemail option removed from our devices. Sometimes this is as simple as changing your handset settings, although it does sometimes take a call to our mobile provider to get it sorted, which can cause anxiety in itself. If you have someone with you, you could ask them to make the call for you and then you usually only have to hop on to confirm you give permission for that person to speak on your behalf. If we ring our mobile provider, they should be able to remove the voicemail function on our phone.

Only Receiving The Calls We Want

Turning off our voicemail might only deal with part of the anxiety we experience. There’s something about a ringing landline that can really make us panic.

Asking our landline provider to implement ‘Call Safe’ can help with this. With Call Safe, our approved list of callers will automatically get through, any number on our ‘blocked calls’ list won’t even ring, and all other calls will be screened. It doesn’t solve the problem of not knowing exactly who’s calling us, but it does mean that we know the caller is someone we want to hear from.

Depression: Turning Down The Volume On External Noise

Keep Work At Work

Healthy boundaries extend to the relationships we have with work too. Many of us experience blurred boundaries because we have configured our work emails, and other work-related apps, on our personal devices. Checking our work emails when we’re off work, is never just that. It’s pretty hard to ignore requests for information, especially if we think ‘it’ll only take a minute’. Our personal time is precious, it’s when we get the chance to relax, unwind and connect with people outside of work. Asserting our boundaries with work stuff doesn’t make us any less committed nor passionate. Quality time away from work actually makes us better at our jobs. It might be that we organise our browsers, remove emails and apps, clock-off when we’re contracted to and take a proper lunch break. Space away does wonders.

These boundaries also work both ways, it’s important that we’re mindful of how we contact our colleagues too, and whether we’re respecting their personal time.

Blocking Numbers

There are a few different ways that we can block numbers on our mobile phones. This means that certain numbers won’t be able to call or text us, reducing the amount of external noise surrounding us.

Junk Mail

When reducing external noise, we often think about social media but might forget about the things that come through our doors. Many of us get a lot of junk mail. This can be intrusive because it’s something physical in our homes, that’s unwanted.  Because we have to try and sort through it and work out what’s important and what’s not, which can be time-consuming and take a lot of brain power. There are a number of things we can do to reduce the amount of junk mail coming through our doors and to stop getting post addressed to people who lived in our house before us, both of which will hopefully help to reduce some of the noise surrounding us.

The world is loud and full of noise, it demands our attention and can be quite hard to ignore. Some of the ideas mentioned in this post take more time and energy than others. Start simple but remember this is largely about your personal boundaries and personal space, you absolutely get a say as to what is allowed in.

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