Email anxiety is the stress and fear created by managing your mailbox. While the causes of email anxiety are complex, the results are very real, with fear of emails a leading cause of workplace stress.
Dealing with email anxiety involves understanding the causes of your email phobia and developing strategies to streamline the process.
In this article, we explore what email anxiety is, describe some of the signs of email anxiety and provide some expert tips to help you manage your mail better.
Is there such a thing as email anxiety?
If you’re one of the millions who has asked Google: Why does email give me so much anxiety? Then there is help available. Email anxiety is a genuine issue that affects most of us at some point in our lives.
Anxiety creates feelings of being worried, tense, and afraid, says the mental health charity Mind. The emotions can be generated by this that will happen or which we think could happen in the future.
As we all battle the mountains of messages, you may ask, why is email so stressful?
We can become addicted to digital technology, say The Open University’s, Dr. Gini Harrison and Dr. Mathijs Lucassen. They warn that excessive engagement with technology could be affecting the structure of our brains. For example, excessive emails can cause perpetual distraction, affect our sleep and damage our work/life balance. We may also experience FOMO, which causes us to check our emails more often than is healthy. Finally, we can develop unfavorable social comparisons, believing others are faster, more efficient, and effective than we are.
Email is one of the most common triggers for social anxiety and productivity-related anxiety, says Alice Boyes writing in Psychology Today. She suggests one of the main reasons we feel anxious about email is that it’s “asynchronous,” meaning there’s a delay between sending an email and receiving a response.
Sending an email creates an expectation of a reply, she says. Waiting for a reply creates stress. It’s because the lack of an answer can lead your brain to start running, creating scenarios to fill the gap created. She describes this as being “emotionally confusing and anxiety-provoking”.
Email anxiety can also be caused by the expectation that you’ll reply to every email. Researchers have labeled this “email emergency bias”. Put simply, we become stressed by unanswered emails because we believe that the sender expects a reply.
Whatever the cause of email anxiety, it’s something that needs to be tackled immediately. Job anxiety can lead to physical ill-health and absence and lead to feelings of depression.
So, how do you stop email anxiety? First, you need to understand what’s causing your anxiety.
What’s causing your email anxiety?
Email anxiety is a collective term describing the stress caused by managing our mailboxes. In fact, there are several ways email can create anxiety.
How many of these are causing you email anxiety?
- Fear of opening mail – Fear of opening email can create significant anxiety, and the worst part is, the longer you leave it, the worse it gets. (If you’ve got a few, don’t feel too bad––psychologist Berit Brogaard admits to having over 30,000 unanswered emails.) You may not have enough time to answer emails or be afraid of opening them for fear of what’s inside. Whatever the reason, the stress is real.
- Slow email response time – As we’ve explained above, a slow email response can lead to stress. If someone is slow to respond to your message, you start to imagine reasons why, which can lead to a negative spiral of emotions that can make you feel anxious.
- Anxiety opening emails – You may also experience anxiety opening mail too, wondering what you’ll find inside. This may mean you simply don’t open them, creating more stress and leading to missed messages that could affect your job.
- Sending email anxiety – Email sending anxiety is the stress and fears you experience before pushing send. You may be worried about the reaction to the email of the response you may receive. Anxiety about sending emails is one of the reasons email is making us miserable, says Cal Newport in the New Yorker.
- Anxiety replying to messages – Writing emails can be challenging and lead to anxiety and stress. Tell-tale signs include constantly reviewing, rewriting, and revisiting sent emails. Saying ‘No’ is often the hardest thing to do, so check out our blog on how to do it politely.
- No reply anxiety – Waiting for a reply to an email––particularly one that requires an urgent response––can create stress and anxiety. The longer you wait, the worse it gets.
- Obsessive email checking – As Harrison and Lucassen have found, obsessively checking emails is a sign of and cause of workplace stress and anxiety. The average person checks their email 15 times a day, but checking email anxiety can lead us to do so more often, in many cases checking hundreds of times. Losing a connection to the network or a phone out of battery can lead to anxiety, too, as you’re unable to stay in touch.
- Email avoidance – Email anxiety avoidance involves simply ignoring your emails and hoping they’ll go away. If things can get too much, we can sign out and sign off, leaving our emails for another day. It’s not a sustainable solution, merely putting off the inevitable need to open and answer our messages.
How to get over email anxiety
We’ve explored some of the common causes of mailbox stress, but how can you deal with email anxiety? There are some simple strategies, exciting new technologies, and lifestyle changes you can make that can help you fight back against email fatigue.
Before we dive in, if the stress you’re experiencing gets too much and begins to affect your mental health, always seek professional help and support. A bit of workplace stress is natural; severe anxiety is not. If it’s all getting too much, chat with your boss, a friend, or a medical professional.
Here are 10 ways to overcome email anxiety.
1. Learn what causes your email anxiety?
Start with a plain piece of paper and list out what’s causing you email anxiety. Over time, learn what the symptoms are and identify the triggers. For example, are things worse in the mornings, evenings, or on weekends?
Consider using a mood tracker app to keep track of your feelings. The information you gather can be used to identify suitable solutions to manage your emails more effectively.
2. Set expectations
One of the biggest causes of workplace anxiety is waiting for a reply. You can’t demand someone responds, but you can set expectations. If you need a reply, ask for one. If it’s urgent, or time-sensitive be clear about that. Remember, you’re not being rude but setting expectations.
On the flip side, if you cannot respond to an email immediately, be clear with the sender and let them know. Acknowledge the receipt of their email and provide a timeframe for a response. Again, this reduces stress for both of you.
Here’s an example of how that can work.
3. Write emotionally intelligent emails
Emotional intelligence is the ability to manage our own emotions and to channel these positively. We can take these principles and apply them to communication through emotionally intelligent emailing.
At the core of emotionally intelligent emailing is positioning yourself as the recipient. Think of how you would feel receiving the message (and less about what you as the sender are asking for).
Experts warn about the “disinhibition” effect. Without the person in front of us, we’re more likely to write things that could upset or offend someone. Another important point is to never send an email when you’re angry or upset.
4. Understand email etiquette
So much email anxiety is caused by mistakes and misunderstandings when writing messages. In part, this can be caused by now understanding or following correct email etiquette.
Our blog contains a huge amount of information and guidance on writing. You can find information on how to start formal emails, write better business emails, and how to strike the right tone in an email.
Want to know where to start? Our 10 tips for effective email communication provide some essential techniques to improve your writing.
5. Get some writing support
Email anxiety can often be caused by a perceived lack of writing ability, say academics. “Individuals refrain from social activities when their desire to create a certain impression is coupled with a lack of confidence about their ability to do so,” warn researchers investigating digital communication.
Many of us struggle to capture our thoughts and communicate those effectively through our emails. It can be especially challenging for those communicating in another language from their first.
At Flowrite, we’re making it easier for everyone to write better emails. Our AI writing assistant can help you create better business emails.
6. Depersonalize the situation
Email anxiety is often caused by becoming too emotionally involved in your work. While some emotional involvement is positive, in some cases, a “high involvement” work culture can lead to damaging behaviors.
If you’re struggling with stress, the experts at MindTools suggest taking a three-step approach:
- Stop and evaluate – Before responding to an email, or becoming subsumed by stress, take a step back and assess the situation. Explore why you feel frustrated and what you can do about it.
- Find something positive – Even in the toughest times, try and find a glimmer of positivity. Challenge your perspective and encourage yourself to think positively. This breaks negative mental patterns from forming.
- Remember the last time you felt frustrated – Recognizing the signs of frustrating and understanding the feelings can establish empathy, which can help you deal with the most challenging times.
7. Pick up the phone
Sometimes the answer to an email isn’t another email; it’s a phone call. Picking up the phone and giving someone a call can work wonders.
Speaking creates deeper connections than email because it’s active rather than passive. It also helps to break “information gaps” that can occur when speaking about complex subjects.
Phone calls or face-to-face meetings can also help create stronger relationships, extending your support network too.
8. Establish boundaries
Email is a business tool that should make your working life easier, but when you’re reading and responding to emails at all times of the day, it’s unhealthy (and likely unproductive). Setting boundaries can help you manage your messages more effectively.
Here are a few tried and tested solutions:
- Protect time to check emails every day – Block out some time in your diary to manage emails and stick to it. Securing the time helps you to set expectations.
- Triage email – Mark and manage your messages as they come in, and deal with the important ones first.
- Use your out-of-office – Your out-of-office isn’t just for holidays; it can help you better manage your mailbox. An automated response can acknowledge receipt and set expectations for a reply.
Here’s an example:
If your anxiety is caused by too much time at work, then exercise can help create a healthy distance and reset the scales in your work/life balance. In addition, any form of exercise is beneficial to your health, academics have found.
A study in Gothenburg found that those who regularly undertook physical activity over 12 weeks found their anxiety symptoms improved.
Exercise can help improve your physical health and well-being and provide distance from the causes of anxiety. It’s so effective, Harvard has gone so far as to say, “lacing up your sneakers and getting out and moving may be the single best nonmedical solution we have for preventing and treating anxiety”.
10. Be the solution (not the problem)
If you’re experiencing email anxiety at work, it’s unlikely you’re the only one. When writing and responding to emails, be sure to support others. Manage expectations, write emotionally intelligent emails, and be patient. Read our email etiquette tips for some guidance.
Be the solution to email stress, not the problem.
The last word on dealing with email anxiety
Email anxiety is a real problem, and it’s not going away. Some level of work email anxiety is an inevitable part of most jobs, but if fear of emails is affecting your mental and physical health, you must act.
Precisely how to get over email anxiety depends on what’s causing your fear of mail. Spend some time exploring, understanding, and tracking what’s causing your email anxiety, then use our tips to find solutions that work for you.
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