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Email Worried? A psychologist shares 4 tips for handling your inbox

I have a problem. While before, I would have been afraid to admit it, now I know it’s a cannibal — and after all, there’s safety in the numbers. Friends, I have email worries. Like, worry about *main* email.

I’ve been thinking about the cause for a long time. Maybe it’s my perfectionism when it comes to playing, or maybe it’s the fear that overwhelms me when there’s too much communication to deal with. But after some thought, I realized that it could be a combination of both of these factors (and more). It would also make sense, since anxiety is a deeply personal experience, sometimes very complex.

And while I’ve always worked on (and continually ramped up) my productivity and document hacking habits, trying to break through and achieve Inbox Zero™ has helped allay some of my fears. But with a new day, a new batch of unopened messages will be answered — and so email anxiety returns.

Knowing and accepting that fact, I understand that it is the root cause of my anxiety that needs attention, care and treatment. So, of course, I turned to a trusted expert for an answer.

Featured image of Michelle Nash.

Pictures of Michelle Nash

Michaela Bucchianeri is a clinical psychologist and anxiety coach who has dedicated her career to helping others live their best lives. Because anxiety affects not only our mental but also emotional and physical well-being, I know it is paramount that I begin problem-solving right away in an effort to grow professionally and personally. individual. I have a feeling that her thoughts and insights will help you find the same reassurance.

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Email anxiety is a phenomenon of our modern world and workplace. How would you define email anxiety?

Although it is not a clinical term, “email anxiety” can be described as the stress, overwhelming, and/or anxiety associated with email communication. It can occur in the context of diagnosed forms of anxiety, such as generalized anxiety disorder, but even people without an anxiety disorder can experience anxiety around email. .

What can cause email anxiety?

When we say “email anxiety,” it’s really an umbrella term that covers many experiences. For some people, that can come in the form of being overwhelmed by the volume of emails they see piling up in their inbox or feeling the added pressure of having to update their email communication.

For others, it may manifest as intense anxiety about sending or opening a particular email, or an urge to avoid email communication altogether. However, others report persistent fear or insecurity in anticipation of an email response.

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It’s easier than ever to stay connected these days — but of course, that comes with complications. How can we set healthy boundaries with email communication?

Like every other boundary we set, it’s important to start with some honest reflection. Ask yourself what a “healthy” relationship with email means to you. Each of us is different, so do your best to be guided by your own needs and values ​​relative to the behaviors and norms you see around you.

Next, decide what you’re capable of when it comes to email communication. Ask yourself:

  • How much reasonable time can you spend in your inbox each day?
  • What is the bare minimum you can spend while maintaining the essentials of your personal and professional life?

This can help you identify opportunities to cut back and test new email habits. It can also help inspire creative alternatives to email that will allow you to connect with the people in your life in less stressful ways.

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Is there a sane approach that doesn’t keep us tied to our emails constantly, but keeps our inboxes under control?

Surprisingly, we tend to overrate the importance of our email communications and underestimate the amount of time we spend on our email.

As a result, many of us are expending a lot of energy on an activity that doesn’t contribute meaningfully to our daily lives.

Self-awareness is a powerful tool, so I generally recommend tracking your period for a week. There are many free tools (e.g. Toggl) to help you do this. This will help you visualize how much time each day is spent managing email.

From there, you can make a plan to bring back your email habits. Some people find it helpful to limit their email usage to set time of day. (If you’re used to opening emails all day, this might take a bit of practice!) Cal Newport, author of Deep workadvocates setting “business hours” (even in your personal communication) to help create stronger boundaries around your email use and free up your energy for activities. other motion.

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How can we show kindness and compassion to ourselves when we feel like we can’t keep up with our inboxes?

Inbox Zero is a really intriguing, even aspirational concept, but it is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it seem very beneficial for a productive life; on the other hand, for many people, the pursuit of the Inbox Zero goal of sustaining an endless wheel of hamster neural activity can actually undermine meaningful productivity.

When we feel anxious, it’s easy to get caught up in an all-or-nothing mindset (e.g., “If my inbox isn’t perfectly emptied every day/week/month, then why? bother again?”). This can contribute to feelings of inadequacy or failure, and detract from the real progress we’ve made along the way.

A softer alternative is to shift our goal from “keeping up” to “contributing”.

Instead of focusing on the number of emails in your inbox at the end of the week, why not focus on identifying three ways you contributed (i.e. problem solving, sparking a connection, encouraging or directing). lead) via email? With practice, this will help you cultivate gratitude for the email boundaries you’re setting, which can reinforce these new habits over time.

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What’s your top tip for overcoming email anxiety?

Allow yourself to define your “urgency”

Just because an email arrives doesn’t mean you have to respond right away. Very few roles actually require this; the rest of us simply accept a norm that has been created as part of our hyper-connected modern world.

Communicate clearly and proactively

Once you’ve set some boundaries around your email use, share these with the people in your life. This could be a casual update for friends and family, a note in the footer of your work email, or both. And if email volume is a stressor for you, maybe you should explore some tech solutions like simple email automation, inbox filters, and autoresponders.

Stay in position

You may feel uncomfortable changing your email habits at first, but it’s important to maintain these boundaries so others take them seriously. For example, if you’re trying to reduce the availability of your email to a colleague but happen to have to brainstorm outside of the hours you’ve set, you can draft the email and schedule it to be sent the next business day.

Be patient with yourself

Change takes time, and changing your relationship to something as ubiquitous (and as intrusive) as email is no small undertaking! If you start falling into old habits, give yourself a break and commit to resetting them tomorrow. In the long run, you’ll reap the rewards of renewable energy and a sense of mastery over your time. Interesting!

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