Email Apnea- A Silent Predator

Nandini Agarwal

January 13, 2023

Before we delve into this blog, quickly observe your breath. Were you holding your breath? Was your breathing shallow? If yes, this article would be an eye-opening read. If not, it could be a precautionary read, as famously said - prevention is better than cure.

Welcome to the concept of email apnea, a by-product of this digital era. Psychologist Linda Stone coined the term "email apnea" or "screen apnea" to describe the state of shallow breathing or breath holding while using a computer or other screen. This condition is characterized by taking shallow breaths or even holding one's breath while working or playing in front of a screen.

This little-known condition is becoming increasingly common as more and more people spend long hours in front of screens and are bombarded with emails and other digital communications. 

There are several reasons why email apnea may occur. First, our posture slumps or hunches over when we use electronic devices. This can affect our ability to breathe properly, as it compresses the chest, leading to shallower breathing. Second, prolonged screen use can lead to eye fatigue and strain, which can also impact our breathing. Finally, we become so fixated on texts, emails, and social media posts that we don’t even notice this shift in our breathing.

According to neuroscience research, when we are highly focused on a task, such as getting through a full inbox, the brain may temporarily "turn off" certain unconscious activities like breathing in order to direct more brain power towards the task at hand. This phenomenon is not specific to emails or screen activities but can occur when people are trying to concentrate on a difficult task. While it is normal to experience this occasionally if it occurs regularly it can become a chronic issue and can be harmful to our health.

Unfortunately, email apnea can have serious consequences for your health. It can lead to increased stress and fatigue and has been linked to a range of problems such as headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and difficulty sleeping. In extreme cases, it may even contribute to the development of conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Tips to Manage/Prevent Email Apnea

So, what can you do to prevent or manage email apnea? The good news is that there are several simple steps you can take to protect your physical and mental health:

1. Breath awareness: The root cause of email apnea is poor breathing. Direct a small portion of your attention to breathing, especially during work. As you read this article, try focusing on your abdomen expanding on the inhale and contracting on the exhale (diaphragmatic breathing). This simple action can make a big difference.

2. Take breaks: Make sure to take regular breaks from sitting and looking at a screen. Every 20-30 minutes, stand up, stretch, and take a few deep breaths. It can be helpful to set a timer each time you sit down at your computer. This will help to reduce the strain on your body and mind.

3. Relax your eyes: Research on office workers shows that many of us experience "computer vision syndrome," which includes eye strain, headaches, and eye twitching, as well as neck, back, and shoulder strain from prolonged screen use. Eye strain is also a major contributor to email apnea. To help relax your eyes, try looking away from the screen every so often. Try the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.

4. Practice breathing exercises: Basic breathing techniques can help reverse the effects of email apnea. These techniques can improve your awareness of your breath and teach you how to breathe more easily during stressful times. Some research suggests that intentionally taking longer exhales can help reduce stress. Try the 4-7-8 and diaphragmatic breathing techniques.

5. Set limits: Don't let email take over your life. Set limits on the amount of time you spend on email each day, and try to designate specific times of day for checking and responding to emails. Some tools that can come in handy are - https://inboxwhenready.org/ or https://www.unpluq.com/nl/ 

It almost feels like responding to emails/screen time has become the “new smoking”, then the modern working environment has become hazardous to our health. Your first step to disengage with this is by becoming aware of the issue. Good news, you have already completed this step by reading this blog. Your next steps could involve the suggestions listed above!

So be kind to yourself and take a break! Not only will you feel better but you will also think more clearly. When in doubt, Glimp is always ready with its team and Pebbles to help you catch your breath!

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