Reduce stress by checking email less

Dec. 17, 2014—You’ve got email, and the subject line is “stress.” Although many people believe that email helps them work more efficiently, others say the continual influx of messages is more bane than benefit on the job.

At least, that’s the message from past studies that have examined the correlation between email and anxiety at work.

The studies didn’t pinpoint why email causes stress, however. Is it because email follows employees from work to home? Is it watching the number of messages grow in the inbox? Or is it because email’s demand to Read me now! prevents workers from focusing on the task at hand? Researchers at the University of British Columbia wanted to find out and conducted a study to get the answers.

About the study

The study involved 124 adults who were randomly divided into 2 groups.

During the first week of the study, the people in group A were restricted to checking email only 3 times a day. They also were told to turn off any alerts that notified them when an email arrived.

The adults in group B were given free rein to check email as often as they wanted.

For the second week of the study, the instructions were reversed: The people in group B were restricted to 3 email checks daily, whereas group A was under no limits.

Participants filled out short surveys at the end of each day that included questions about their stress levels.

Among the study’s findings:

  • When people’s email checks were limited, they reported lower stress levels on a day-to-day basis and during the week as a whole.
  • People also said they felt less tension and more satisfaction while working on a big project when email checks were limited.
  • People found it hard to resist the urge to check email, despite lower stress levels.

The study is available to read online in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

The take-home message
If you feel stressed out at work, you might consider checking your email less frequently—if you can. The study’s authors suggested setting aside chunks of time during the day to look at recent emails.

Here are some other tips from the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for reducing stress on the job:

  • Set priorities. Decide what can be done today and what can wait until tomorrow.
  • Learn to say no. Speak up when you feel overloaded. If no isn’t an option, try to work out a compromise.
  • Take a break. When you get stressed out, take a walk—outside, if you can.


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