Constantly checking your inbox distracts you from your work, and leaves you in a “high alert” state of stress, according to researchers at the University of California, Irvine, and the U.S. Army.
To see how much stress email causes, researchers asked a group of people to take a five-day break from email at work. During this time, researchers monitored the heart rates of the participants, as well as the number of times they switched between windows on their computer.
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People without email benefitted in many ways compared to those who continued to check their inboxes. “We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” co-author Gloria Mark said in a statement.
While people with email switched windows 37 times an hour, the abstainers changed only 18 times an hour. Those without email also reported that they were better able to stay on task, and had fewer time-wasting interruptions. However, they also felt isolated even though they relied upon coworkers with email for important information.
Those using email also showed more constant heart rates, as opposed to people in the email-free group, who had more natural, variable heart rhythms. The “high alert” state seen in the email users has been linked in other studies to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Researchers suggest several ways to reduce the stressful impact of email on workers, such as controlling email login times, or batching messages for delivery two or three times a day. This might also include the occasional email vacation, with all ties cut from their inbox.