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Email and your health

If you find yourself obsessed with monitoring the near-constant flood of emails arriving in your inbox, you could be harming your health.

Researchers from the Future Work Centre in England surveyed nearly 2,000 employees from a variety of industries about their experience with email and found high levels of stress among those who practiced particular habits, such as leaving their email on all day, using “push” email, and checking for messages early in the day and late at night.

“Our research shows that email is a double-edged sword,” lead study author Richard MacKinnon said in a statement. “Whilst it can be a valuable communication tool, it’s clear that it’s a source of stress for many of us. The people who reported it being most useful to them also reported the highest levels of email pressure. But the habits we develop, the emotional reactions we have to messages, and the unwritten organizational etiquette around email, combine into a toxic source of stress which could be negatively impacting our productivity and well-being,” he said.

MacKinnon’s team found that almost half of those surveyed allowed emails to be sent automatically to their inboxes and 62 percent kept their email on all day, habits that can produce unwanted stress. Earlier research has shown chronic stress can produce inflammation, leading to a variety of chronic conditions.

Managing your email more effectively is one way to lower stress levels, and MacKinnon suggests a few ways to get started:

  • Put your phone away when you’re away from the office so you’re not checking email constantly.
  • Plan your day and prioritize your work before digging through email messages pushes you off schedule.
  • Turn off your email for part of the day and set aside time to read and respond to messages as part of your daily schedule.

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction, offers more tips on managing your relationship with digital devices in “Intentional Computing,” from our October 2015 issue.

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