How to Overcome Email Anxiety – Cleveland Clinic


Staying connected to others is easier than ever. We can send a quick SMS, chat on social media, or even record a voice memo or video. Of course, it’s easy to see why this chatter is so appealing. Studies show that positive social interactions can stimulate the production of dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure and well-being.

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At the same time, because the communication is so convenient, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the messages. If five people send you a hello, those greetings add up quickly.

Step into email anxiety, a modern phenomenon from our hyper-connected world that we’ve probably all experienced, whether it’s a time we were afraid to send a message or click to open that important reply. Psychologist Kia-Rai M. Prewitt, PhD, explores the causes of email anxiety and provides tips on how to deal with your overflowing inbox.

What is email anxiety?

Answering emails can often seem like a chore, as it’s something more that you have to deal with in addition to day-to-day activities.

“This is on top of the list of things you need to be responsible for,” says Dr Prewitt. “For people who prefer texting or social media, email is just one more way to communicate – and it may not be their preferred method of communication.”

However, email anxiety “presents itself in many ways,” says Dr. Prewitt. “It could be related to feeling overwhelmed because your emails are piling up. It could be related to procrastination – for example, if there is something negative that you are anticipating, or if you are afraid or you worry about how to reply to or resolve a problem in an email.

People develop anxiety at all stages of the email lifespan. You might be nervous about sending an important message. When you don’t get an answer right away, it can cause concern. And when you get a response, you might be eager to open it.

The rapid pace of social media and texting also creates unrealistic expectations for email response times. “If you send an email and expect an immediate response from someone – and instead, you have no response and are in limbo – it can cause anxiety,” explains the Dr Prewitt.

Why does email cause anxiety?

Anyone prone to social anxiety – or even anxiety in general – might be susceptible to email anxiety as well. “If you’re already worried about how people see you, what you write can make you anxious because you don’t know how they might interpret something you write,” says Dr. Prewitt.

Anxiety about emails also often stems from inconsistent expectations, she adds. “We all have different types of responsibilities at work, and there can be expectations about how and when you’re supposed to respond to emails. Someone may be worried that other people have expectations about how or when to respond. “

If you are conscientious and pride yourself on making to-do lists and then checking things out when you’re done, the pace and volume of email communication is also a stressor.

“If you naturally think that responding to emails in a timely and thoughtful manner is a form of responsible behavior, then you could potentially have some anxiety if you feel that you are not in a position to meet your responsibilities,” she says. . “On the other hand, checking email can become a distraction from other business tasks as well. “

It’s also incredibly easy to make mistakes when sending emails, whether it’s an embarrassing typo, forgetting to send an attachment, or a typo. spelling someone’s name.

“People often find themselves in a bind when responding to emails,” says Dr. Prewitt. “Having to hurry and write an email can certainly lead to some anxiety. It’s easy to miss something or make a mistake, or wonder if you are using a tone that is considered appropriate or offensive.

Emails also lack the kind of vocal inflection and emotional context that dispels misunderstandings. For example, typing all caps is considered a shout, while someone might think you are rude if you use (or don’t use) punctuation or a specific greeting. “There might be concerns about whether your intention is being seen correctly in the email,” says Dr. Prewitt.

How to overcome email anxiety

Tackling that pile of emails can seem overwhelming, although Dr Prewitt has advice on how people can stay calm while they dive. can also alleviate email anxiety. It’s also helpful to prioritize emails in order of importance, as a specific plan can make a bigger task more manageable.

Be realistic about email response times

Think about your own messaging habits – you may not have time to respond to messages immediately due to pressing deadlines, vacations, or some other time away from your desk. There is a good chance that the same will be the case for others. “If you send an email, it may take longer to respond,” says Dr. Prewitt. “Just because you don’t get an immediate response doesn’t mean that something is wrong. “

Set limits on how often you check – and respond to – your emails

Dr Prewitt suggests setting aside a dedicated time each day to respond to emails, as this indicates that you are not always available at all times. “You set limits on when you send things,” she says. “People don’t expect you to be always available to send an immediate response. “

Granted, setting limits can be difficult because we are so connected to email through our phones and computers. Outside of office hours, you may need to put your work phone or laptop out of earshot, or even turn off devices completely, to prevent yourself from checking messages.

Make it clear to others when you are not available.

Sometimes working outside regular office hours is inevitable. However, many people refuse to look at work-related emails or texts at night or on weekends. Manage expectations regarding your availability. If you don’t check texts after 5 p.m. on Friday, be upfront about it.

Keep your emails short and sweet

Because our brains have to sift through so much information, shorter emails are preferable. “Be direct and concise,” says Dr. Prewitt, and suggests that between three and seven sentences is a good length, depending on the type of information you want to communicate.

“For some people, using direct and concise language can create some anxiety, as you might be concerned about the tone you send if it’s not friendly, kind or warm,” says Dr. Prewitt.

While it’s tempting to offset this anxiety by sending longer emails or changing your tone, Dr Prewitt says: the recipient of the email.

Don’t immediately respond to frustrating emails

Every once in a while you will receive an email that makes you irritated, upset, or just plain crazy. When this happens, don’t send certain thoughts back to the heat of the moment. “If you get a frustrating email, take a break before replying,” says Dr. Prewitt. “Breathe deeply so as not to respond with anger. Another option is to write an email reply, then leave it in your Drafts folder for later viewing. The same goes for asking a trusted colleague to take a look before hitting send. “Take the time to think about the nature of the problem and what you want to communicate in the email,” says Dr. Prewitt.

Ask for clarification

Receiving an email that you don’t understand naturally leads to anxiety. “Asking for clarification is very appropriate if you are not really sure what this person is trying to communicate to you,” says Dr. Prewitt. “It’s perfectly okay to answer and say, ‘I want to make sure I understand what you’re asking me’ or ‘I want to make sure that I answer appropriately. Do you ask? ‘ “

Ironically, a quick phone call or video chat can alleviate email anxiety. A direct conversation can resolve issues faster than a written exchange.

And, if all else fails, recalibrate your perspective. With patients dealing with anxiety, Dr. Prewitt says she will often conjure up frightening scenarios when taking a step back. “If I speak to a patient who wishes to request an appointment with his supervisor or a colleague: ‘What’s the worst that can happen? The worst that can happen is that they might say no, ”she said. “And then, depending on who it is, I might ask, ‘What’s the likelihood of that happening? “”

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