Originally published in Inc. Magazine.
This is the state that psychologist Linda Stone calls "email apnea." It's characterized by "shallow breathing or breath holding while doing email, or while working or playing in front of a screen."
Email apnea occurs for a variety of reasons. First, our posture slumps the moment we pick up our phone or computer, which compromises our ability to inhale and exhale fully. Second, after hours spent staring at our screens, our eyes get fatigued and strained, which further interrupts relaxed breathing. Finally, when we're lost in email and other online tasks, we lose awareness. We become so fixated on texts, emails, and social media posts that we don't even notice this shift in our breathing.
So how can we interrupt this daily source of stress and anxiety? Here are 3 tips.
This sounds obvious, and yet the root cause of email apnea is a compromised state of breathing. Our breath gets shorter, shallower, and moves up from the abdomen into the chest. If we can simply notice this shift in breathing, the remedy becomes relatively straightforward.
All we have to do is begin breathing more deeply into the abdomen while sitting at our computer or using our phone. Try it right now. As you read the rest of this article, direct a small portion of your attention-- say 10 percent -- to feeling your abdomen expand on the inhale and contract on the exhale.
Email apnea is a condition caused by uninterrupted screen fixation. Thus one of the most powerful cures is to build in short breaks every now and then. Get up. Stretch. Move around.
All you have to do is give your mind and body a short amount of time to experience a more natural state of relaxation. To do this, it can be helpful to set a timer each time you sit down at your computer. You can even schedule these breaks on your calendar if you find yourself forgetting.
Research on office workers indicates that many of us experience "computer vision syndrome." The hours we spend staring at screens leads to a variety of problems: eye strain, headaches, eye twitching, as well as neck, back, and shoulder strain. Excessive eye strain is also one of the primary forces that holds the breath pattern of email apnea in place.
To begin relaxing your eyes, it can be helpful to look away from the screen every once in a while. Look out a window and let your eyes relax into a soft gaze. To further interrupt this pattern, you can even experiment with closing your eyes while texting or emailing.
These tips might sound like a lot of work. They might seem inefficient. But consider how much creative and productive energy you lose each day to the breath-holding pattern of email apnea. Consider what it would be like to finish a long day spent in front of the computer feeling rested and relaxed, rather than exhausted, anxious, and scattered.