Do you refresh your inbox every few minutes throughout the day? Do you check your smart phone regularly while on lunch, at home in the evenings, and on the weekends to make sure you haven’t received any new messages? Constantly checking emails is something many of us do (myself included). But is this steady connection to our computers and smart phones good for us? If you want to know how to de-stress your life, unplugging from technology and taking a step back might be a good first step.
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Less email, less stress
A study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior asked half of the 142 participants to check their email as often as they could, to keep email notifications turned on, and to keep their mailboxes open throughout the day. The other half were told to limit their email use; they were only allowed to check their email three times per day and were told to keep their mailbox closed with notifications off. After only two weeks, the people who only checked emails three times per day experienced reduced overall daily stress levels, as well as reduced tension during important activities. The lower stress levels in the limited email group were associated with higher well-being and positive outcomes like productivity, sleep quality, and mindfulness.
Regardless of whether or not you use them to check your email, higher use of smart phones and computers in general have been associated with stress, along with other harmful effects like sleep disturbances and depression.[2,3]
Why does checking our emails stress us out?
Being constantly plugged into our inbox can stress us out for many reasons. People who spend more time emailing tend to report greater work overload, which leaves them feeling drained, frustrated, and stressed.[1,4] We all know how easy it can be to spend more time on the computer than we mean to. This makes us feel pressured on time, interferes with getting important tasks done, and can get in the way of taking care of personal needs.
Maybe most importantly, the more you check emails for work, the less likely you are to be able to psychologically detach from your work after the workday is done. Detaching from work is related to positive factors related to health like lower fatigue levels, improved mood, and more positive affect.
Cutting back on email, smart phone, and computer use
It’s clear that being stressed has long-term impacts on your health. Chronic stress can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease and mortality, among other serious health conditions. This is why one of your main goals in maintaining a healthy lifestyle should be to reduce stressors in your life, including those surrounding technology use.
It is not hard to understand why so many of us check emails so regularly. Surveys show that many people have anxiety surrounding their email, and fear falling behind on work or missing important information if they don’t keep a constant eye on their inbox. I know that I, for one, am constantly picking up my phone to make sure I have no new emails, missed calls, or text messages. It is a habit that I have difficulty trying to break, but this new research has given me some additional motivation to make it a priority.
4 simple steps
If you have been wondering how to de-stress your life, consider these simple steps for cutting back on technology use:
- If your work allows it, set regular time intervals during the day to check your email. Make these intervals as far apart as you can. If possible, check your email only three times per day. Close your inbox between intervals.
- Ditch notifications. Whether it is a ding your computer makes or a banner that pops up on your phone, turn it off. You probably already check your inbox enough; you don’t need the added interruptions every time you get a new email.
- Only check your email once during the evenings, if at all. Your job might require you to keep an eye out for important messages after the workday is over. But try to do so only once during the evening, then leave your email be until the morning. Try a similar approach on weekends by only checking once per day.
- As often as you can, temporarily detach yourself from your email, as well as your computer and smart phone. Leave behind your phone when you go on a walk, and pick up a book instead of your computer if you have a free minute before bed.
For other tips on how to use technology safely and wisely, read How to Prevent Eye Strain from Computer Use: 6 Easy Tips and The Truth About Electromagnetic Dangers.
Share your experience
Do you find that checking your email regularly adds to your stress levels? Do you have tips for keeping your technology use from interfering with your health and well-being? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.