Tackling email anxiety
What is email anxiety? Ever logged on and felt an overwhelming sense of dread before checking your mailbox? Agonise over whether you’ve sent a good enough email? Are you hoarding emails like they’re going out of fashion? You may have email anxiety.
It’s not an official disorder, but is closely related with general anxiety disorders. Sometimes even the most confident of people will have a momentary meltdown when faced with 9,999+ unread messages. We spend a great deal of our lives digitally-interacting with others in work and at home; to pay bills, coordinate events, order prescriptions, buy presents, and staying in touch with friends.
If any of this sounds familiar, then you are not alone! Growing numbers of professionals are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of digital info flowing in their direction, and what can start off as the odd niggle can build to anxiety-creating activities.
Why would email give you anxiety? It represents potential extra work or a situation to solve. If you already have a stressful job, then another email is just another ‘harbinger’ of things to come. It’s not long before you end up in a cycle of heavy workload compounded by extra email ‘demands’.
Other forms of stress can arise from sending the emails. That one time you hit ‘reply’ instead of ‘forward’, which still causes you panicked nightmares, for example. Evening worries about whether you did type accidental kisses on the end of your email to the CEO?
Anxiety is incredibly common across the world: according to a World Health Organisation review of data and statistics from the European Union (EU) countries, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, 27% of the adult population had experienced at least one of a series of mental disorders in the past year, including anxiety and depression. However, there is always something you can do about it.
Tips to reduce anxiety and tackle emails head-on:
1. Schedule particular points of the day to answer emails. For example, first thing in the morning, and again after lunch. Turn off notification alerts as you risk the feeling of being ‘chased’. If you set a structure then you are in control, and not the other way round.
2. Find yourself sending similar replies? Build canned / boilerplate responses – saved templates that can be fired off in an instant.
3. Worry over sending an email because of the response you may get back? You can end up spending too long drafting, redrafting, and redrafting again before sending. Try typing the key bullet points you need to get across, then present these as concise sentences. The more concise the email is, the less room there is for misinterpretation. It will also help define what you are saying and instil a greater sense of ease about being understood. If you are still unsure about sending the email, then leave it until the next morning. It’s not worth rushing something, as you could build further anxiety.
4. Prioritise what you need to do with a new email. Delete, archive, reply, action, or mark for reading later? Keeping a ‘to-do’ folder is a good place to store emails that require immediate action or reply. You can spend time each week to prioritise your tasks from this folder only.
5. Clear the backlog. If you have unopened emails from three years ago, what are the chances that will say something relevant to you, today? Delete them! Also consider doing a search for ‘unsubscribe’ – this will immediately highlight all the emails that arrive on a newsletter basis and are probably least relevant.
6. If you are experiencing anxiety in others area of your life, consider seeking help from a specialist. Many workplaces provide an employee assistance programme, which will help you and can advise on a course of action.
7. When you are on top of unopened emails, consider setting up strategies to prevent a new e-avalanche. You can set up folders to stream emails from particular addresses (e.g. junk mail, from your boss, from external partners)
8. Try and conduct more meetings in person, over the phone or face-to-face. This will also help cut down on the email trails.
- You can use the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook to learn effective skills for assessing and treating anxiety. The worksheets will help you to rebuild your confidence and target what is bothering you.