Maybe so, according to a new study that looked at how temporarily giving up email affected a group of office workers. Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, and the U.S. Army used heart rate monitors and software sensors to study computer-using office workers, some of whom did without email for five days and another group that continued to use email. The sensors showed that those who continued to have access to email switched screens an average of 37 times per hour, and that their heart monitors indicated that they remained in a state of “high alert.” The employees who gave up email changed screens an average of 18 times per hour, and their heart rates were described as “more natural (and) variable.” The “no email” group also reported that they were more productive and better focused on their work during the experiment. The researchers noted that earlier research showed that a steady “high alert” state is linked to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. However, they said that in the long run being without email could promote stress since it affects everyone who might send you a message during the business day.
My take? I’ve long recommended “news fasts” - taking a break of a few days to a week from the daily onslaught of bad news from at home and abroad (and its aftereffects on physical and emotional health). Shunning sensationalist media can promote calm and help renew your spirits. This study suggests that taking a break from email may cut down on job-related stress and that an on-the-job email vacation may be a good idea. If that’s not possible, I encourage you to counteract job-related stress with physical activity and relaxation practices. A simple daily walk can reduce levels of stress hormones, release muscle tension and increase levels of mood-enhancing endorphins.