Emails may be one of the most stressful modes of communication to date, and now there’s a daily threshold to stay within healthy limits. Researchers from the University of British Columbia examined stress levels related to work emails and found you can actually overload.
“Limiting the number of times people checked their email per day lessened tension during a particularly important activity and lowered overall day-to-day stress," the study’s coauthors Kostadin Kushlev and Elizabeth Dunn, behavioral researchers wrote in their study published in Computers in Human Behavior. “We found that during the limited email use week, participants experienced significantly lower daily stress than during the unlimited email use week. Lower stress, in turn, predicted higher well-being on a diverse range of well-being outcomes.”
Limit Yourself To 3 Email Checks A Day
Researchers studied how a group of 124 workers handled limited versus unlimited email use for the span of two weeks. The first group was told to keep their email closed, turn notifications off, and only check it three times a day. The other group was free to check as often as they wanted with notifications included. After the first week, each group switched their email access privileges. When each group had limited email access said they were entirely less stressed.
When you’re stressed your adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol. It floods your body and interferes with learning, memory, lowers immune system function, bone density, increases weight gain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the risk of heart disease, according to Mayo Clinic. When cortisol was first discovered by a Canadian biochemist in 1936, way before emails were even technologically possible, he immediately knew its potential harm. There are two different types of stress, but the bad stress is what sends your body spiraling into a concoction of unhealthy risks.
Cortisol also activates the relaxation response in the body, which helps it to return to normal after a stressful event. Small bursts of cortisol can work to your advantage and help put impetus back into your day. When the group was limited from checking their emails, they experienced bouts of stress. But then they had an unexpected reaction, and showed significant drops in their stress levels—immediately calming them down.
“Most participants in our study found it quite difficult to check their email only a few times a day,” Kushlev said. “This is what makes our obvious-in-hindsight findings so striking: People find it difficult to resist the temptation of checking email, and yet resisting this temptation reduces their stress. I now check my email in chunks several times a day, rather than constantly responding to messages as they come in and I feel better and less stressed.”
Source: Dunn EW and Kushlev K. Checking email less frequently reduces stress. Computers in Human Behavior. 2014.