SFH #50: Email Apnea

What is it and why should we be aware? 📧

I woke up this morning thinking about the multitude of tasks I had in front of me: meditate, breath, get the boys up (dressed and fed), do dishes, coordinate group meeting, execute group meeting tonight, feed boys again, entertain boys, reach out to leads, call with JM, call with ML, create new referral list, connect with leads, nourish oneself with food and movement, feed boys again, take notes from the day, connect with friends, family, network, and get the boys to bed (bathed and fed).😳 It's no wonder we can feel on edge when going about our always-connected workday. We easily suffer from something called email apnea (or screen apnea).

Linda Stone coined this phrase back in 2014 from her finding that most people (up to 80%) unconsciously hold their breath (or have shallow breath) when responding to email or texting.

You may say, "that seems like a lot, but I'm not surprised." If we think we aren't a part of the majority, we should rethink that and our overall approach to our screens and email. Researchers at the National Institute of Health demonstrated that holding one's breath contributes to stress-related diseases and disturbs the body's balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitric oxide.1 We need the vital balance to combat inflammation and bolster our immune response. 

Our interrupted respiratory pattern triggers our "fight, flight, or freeze" response, as well. Suppose we stay in this state of emergency breathing and hyperarousal for extended periods. In that case, it can impact sleep, memory, and learning, not to mention compounding states of anxiety and depression. All a recipe for breakdowns in our health.

Here are steps to combat this hidden pattern. 

  1. Pause and take notice. Slow your roll the next time you feel an email session coming on. You can schedule a check-in for yourself in the middle of a workday as a reminder around your email. 📅

  2. Breathe slowly and intentionally. Make the breath cycle even and try to get out to 4 to 5 seconds for your inhales and exhales (each) to slow them down and balance them out. As they get more comfortable, you can stretch the count out further. This process will help you dial in. 💨

  3. Focus and feel. Notice all the sensations that are coming up through your body. You can notice and ponder or even notice and write them down to document if desired. What happens as you redirect your attention back to your email? Bring it full circle. ⭕️

There are many helpful breathing techniques and resources to get you comfortable with a brief pause and check-in. I recommend playing with different ones to see what works best for your tastes and desire.

Here’s a helpful example below from John’s Hopkins Rheumatology.