Is E-mail Bad for Your Health?

I don’t want to sound old or cranky or anything, but lately my enthusiasm for computer technology—especially e-mail—has been waning.

As much as I shy away from using the “age card,” I have to remember that even though I might feel 35, my birth certificate will take issue with that fact. So I’ll admit that I’m old enough to remember the days without cell phones and computers. But … I’m not too old to have welcomed all of these things into my life, albeit initially (and sometimes still) with a bit of hesitation and intimidation, not to mention frustration and confusion at times. (Just ask anyone who lives with me—or within earshot of me. I’m sure they’ll all tell you the pleading, whining, stomping and teeth-gnashing is none too flattering; not to mention that it’s not exactly the best incentive for them to come willingly to my rescue).

Back to e-mail. When it first came into my life, I embraced it. I loved it for the simplicity of being able to express myself in writing (I am a writer, after all, and have always felt more comfortable with a pen as my mouthpiece). I was happy not to have to pick up the phone and spend time wondering about how to have a brief conversation when I was pressed for time and the other person was in a talkative mood. I was thrilled to type out a note to someone when something popped into my head at midnight instead of waiting until the morning to phone them. Thinking of all the time it would save me, I hailed it as a miracle of time efficiency, much like a washing machine or dishwasher.

But then my sentiment soured. Scores of e-mails would sit in my “sent” box, unanswered. Urgent questions that needed responses would linger, delaying action. I felt ignored; worried that something tragic had happened to the other person. Or maybe the e-mail never reached them in the first place; should I send another, or would that be interpreted as pushy? I once had an unnecessary falling out with a friend via e-mail—our tones indistinguishable and as a result, misunderstood without the cadence of language.

Maybe you’ve once received the advice I once received by a therapist: if you need closure, write it all down in a letter, but don’t mail it. That advice usually did the trick of getting things off my chest without worry about acting too impulsively and saying something I’d later regret. But that doesn’t always work with e-mail. How many times have you, in a fit of enthusiasm, passion, excitement or the like hit the “send” button, only to regret it later?

What I guess I’m trying to say is this: e-mail can be bad for your health. What comes out of all of these scenarios is stress. Lots of it.

I don’t know what the answer is; I haven’t found it yet. Revert to phone calls? Not always realistic, given the fact that just as many people let messages pile up in their voicemail system, ignore yours altogether and then hit “delete” and start fresh. And you can’t always be sure that yours even got recorded, or that you didn’t mistakenly dial the wrong number.

I don’t think I’m alone in this e-mail s***sdom. I have a sneaking suspicion we’re all suffering from it together, probably to different degrees.

So in the meantime, while I’m waiting for the countless outstanding e-mails to pop back into my inbox with a response—equivalent in excitement to calling customer service and having an actual person pick up on the first ring—I’ll have to remember things to do to help deal with stress.

One is to remember that chronic s***s is just plain bad for you, affecting every aspect of your life and health: your appetite (stress produces cortisol, an appetite trigger), your sleep, your blood pressure, your thoughts, feelings and behavior. Too much stress can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. It can show itself in ulcers, migraines, heart palpitations and memory impairment.

Another? Step away from your e-mail. Stretch, exercise, listen to relaxing music, meditate. Some experts say that certain foods can help fight s***s. These include foods rich in folate and vitamins A and C, like papayas, red bell peppers, basil, arugula, sunflower seeds, and foods rich in vitamin B, which has a calming effect on the body, like lentils, chickpeas and quinoa.

And it might help to reach out to a friend. A good friend can be a huge stress buster. But before you do, you might want to consider picking up the phone rather than e-mailing.


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