Have you heard of email apnea? Suffer from it? I heard the phrase for the first time as a participant in a Zoom meeting about the documentary The Social Dilemma. I knew exactly what they were talking about--holding your breath while reading email. I know because I do it. But I wasn't aware how many people have been writing about it since Linda Stone first named the phenomenon. Stone worked for Apple and Microsoft before beginning a writing and consulting career. She has coined other phrases, too, such as continuous partial attention, and often outlines the detrimental consequences of too much screen time.
Technology makes us forget our bodies.
If you spend any amount of time online, you already know this. We lean forward at our desk, head and neck hunching forward, shoulders tense, eyes straining to sift through the data. If we're standing, the head is cocked downward, while neck and shoulders slouch. I've gotten better at noticing these unhelpful postures, but I still succumb at times.
Building Body Awareness
When our amazing technology and associated gadgets call us away from our bodies, it's crucial to have rituals that bring us back. At the bottom of this post, you'll see more links to articles on email apnea--by Linda Stone and others. I won't review all the short- and long-term consequences here, since I hope you'll go to the source for those. But they include anxiety, stress-related illnesses, and respiratory problems, all from not getting enough oxygen into our lungs.
My goal is to offer ways to build awareness for those times when you stop breathing, so that you can return to presence and and get back in your body.
1) Create rituals
Create rituals that help you notice your posture.
- When you sit at your laptop or pick up your tablet or phone, let the touch of the keyboard remind you to sit or stand upright, shoulders down, neck long and lifted. Count a couple of breaths before you begin to search the app or take the call. This will help you remember to breathe during the online minutes.
- Re-arrange your work space to help you remember.
- Create a screen saver or sticky note that reminds you to come re-center periodically.
2) Come back to the present
A friend commented recently on one of my LinkedIn posts. The post was about the gift of presence, of allowing ourselves to just be, to rest in the moment, without worry, striving or pretense. My friend commented that this was tougher than she would like and that she was working toward it. I replied that she could actually "Do it now. Exhale, take a breath, exhale again, and smile. That’s all it is. You can do it anytime."
3) Go gently
This is not easy stuff. Simple, yes, but not easy. You'll notice over and over how you're holding your breath, stiffening, and tightening. That's good. Now you can do something about it. If you don't notice the unhealthy habit, you can't create a new one. So be gentle on yourself. Smile each time you feel the tension or the "not breathing" and give yourself a pat on the back. Relax your eyes, forehead and jaw, and then observe how easily the breath flows in.
Lastly, If you haven't yet watched The Social Dilemma documentary, I encourage you to check it out.
And, here are the additional links on email (or screen) apnea. Wow! I was just now holding my breath! Yay--I noticed!
- Are You Breathing? Do You Have Email Apnea? by Linda Stone
- Do You Have Email Apnea? by Sharon Yeskel
- Fight "Email Apnea" With One Breath by Nick Douglas
- FREAKY: Your Breathing Patterns Change When You Read Email by Megan Rose Dickey