Connectivity, Email and Stress: Finding the Proper Balance for Success

Well, here I am.  Again.  On vacation and connected to the internet.  I must admit, I am addicted.  Twitter, blogging, and email.  I cannot seem to just let it go–not even for a week.  Email, in particular, seems to have taken a dominating role in all of our lives.  Constant hip checks for email downloads to our iphones have become an obsession.  As we speak, I am on a beautiful 4 hour train ride from Edinburgh to London (the same route that Harry Potter and his friends take from Hogwarts, no less).

This week on the website Inc.com, I came across an interesting article that explores the ways in which email is ruining our health.  A group of UK researchers decided to examine the effect of email on a group of workers.  Objective measures such as blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels were measured and the workers also kept a log of their work activities during the study period.  Results of the study indicated that a single email was no more stressful than taking a single phone call–however, an inbox full of a large amount of email produced a powerful stress reaction with elevations in cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure.  Interestingly, the study did find that the type of email received had a significant effect on stress.  Email that was received about current activities and contained time relevant information as well as emails that congratulated a “job well done” were not at all stressful.  in contrast, emails that were completely irrelevant and interrupted tasks were incredibly stressful and levels of cortisol, blood pressure and heart rate all spiked.  The lead researcher, Dr Tom Jackson, concluded that the email itself is not the issue–it is how the email is used that causes the problems with increased stress.  We are managing email in the  midst of phone calls, family time, and other in person meetings.  Often, responding to and filtering through email can be a distractor and take us away from more important tasks. Hence–email is stressing us all out.

As I mentioned, I am currently on “holiday” in the United Kingdom with my family.  I have tried very hard not to use email but I have failed miserably.  For me, the act of checking email twice a day has lowered my levels of anxiety about work.  However, when I stumbled upon certain email messages my levels of stress began to spike.  These were often emails that I could  do nothing about until I return to the states.  (As with most folks, feelings of loss of control and the inability to respond also create elevated levels of stress).  Luckily, I have my family with me on our tour through the UK to set me straight–instead of fretting over the emails and how to handle them, I was “convinced” to take a walk to Edinburgh castle and enjoyed a nice day in the sun (It may have been the only sunny day in Scotland this year).  My family and I had a wonderful day together in the castle.

I think that, in reality, one must find a balance between connectivity and relaxation.  For each person this balance is going to be different and based on individual personality traits.  I enjoy blogging and it is a very relaxing, stress reducing activity for me.  As I have mentioned in a previous blog, writing allows me to process my thoughts and share my feelings.  (Hence this blog is being written over the course of a four hour train ride).  For others, a completely disconnected holiday is the best course.  Whatever it may be, find your own balance.  Understand that email is an important tool for productivity and that it can be abused.  For me, I am learning what types of emails tend to elevate my own cortisol levels and will attempt to avoid these emails on future vacations.  Life work balance is essential to success and longevity–finding your own balance with email and connectivity is a critical component to this process.  With that, I am going to sign off and stare out the window at the beautiful Scottish wind blown sheep.

Photo on 6-12-13 at 6.24 AM

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