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Constantly checking your work email, especially off-hours, can lead to stress and legitimate mental health issues.

Constantly checking your work email, especially off-hours, can lead to stress and legitimate mental health issues.

At first glance, the notion may sound ridiculous — "email stress"? Email is (or at least, it's supposed to be) a convenience that makes our lives easier, helps us organize and streamline the way we communicate with people, whether it's coworkers sitting at the next computer or family members on the opposite side of the world. So where's the stress in that?

But with the integration of email and mobile devices, and an ability to now check email wherever and whenever we want, increasingly more people are essentially bringing their work not only home, but everywhere they go. Frequently taking time out of your day — however quickly — to open up that inbox and check your work email, in turn, is leading to more people stressing themselves about work, even if they're off the clock.

A recent study conducted at the University of British Columbia corroborates this finding. According to Yahoo! Health, the researchers took a sample of 124 adults and split them into two groups, one of which was allowed to check their email three times a day while the other was allowed to check whenever they wanted. By the end of the study period, the team found that the participants who had no restrictions on checking emails exhibited higher stress levels compared to those limited to just three times a day.

"Checking email too frequently may compromise your sense of being on top of things because you are being yanked back and forth between tasks, which may reinforce the feeling that you have so much to do and not enough time to do it," Kostadin Kushlev, the study's author and a PhD candidate at the university's Department of Psychology, explains. "Email also contributes to fragmented attention so it may make you feel overwhelmed and stressed."

Recognizing that email stress can be a legitimate brain health issue for some raises the question, what can you do about it?

Here are a few suggestions for managing email stress:

  • Close the mailbox and turn off notifications: The most obvious solution to dealing with email stress is also the simplest to implement. The old adage "out of sight, out of mind," rings true here. Simply switching off email alerts that will instantly pop-up on your phone's screen whenever a new message comes in goes a long way in keeping your eyes and attention off whatever is in your inbox.
  • Complete a daily task before looking at your inbox: Checking work email constantly is not only stressful in of itself, but can actively distract you from the day's to-do list. Knocking something off that list first — making an appointment, finishing a first draft, completing a chore or two — before looking at your email is not only constructive, but reduces the risk of losing focus and attention that comes with rapidly switching back and forth between email and other tasks.
  • Only check email at certain times: Cutting email out of your life isn't a particularly practical way to resolve the problem, nor is it even necessary to go that far — especially if there are certain circumstances where you actually have to check your work email. Instead, block out certain times of the day where you can check your email guilt-free — but don't extend it beyond those times. Devising a timetable for when to check email and sticking to that plan can add some structure to an otherwise stressful subject.

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