If Your Inbox Is Suffocating You, Take A Deep Breath And Then Fight Back

Email apnea is killing your kidneys and your creativity. Here’s how to deal with the sigh-inducing chore.

If Your Inbox Is Suffocating You, Take A Deep Breath And Then Fight Back

Do you know this feeling? “A temporary absence or suspension of breathing, or shallow breathing, while doing email.”


If you do, you may suffer from email apnea, an expression coined by researcher Linda Stone. As she recently told Inc., about 80% of people experience the condition while they work through their email.

How email is killing us

Stone says that emailing is an activity with moment-to-moment anticipation–notice the “what are they going to think?!” that pops into your mind before you click send. And since the antsy, ancient part of your nervous system is looking for the danger that lurks ahead, you never get to the permission to relax–leaving you without a full exhalation, hour after hour.

What’s an anxious emailer to do? As Stone has written before, your liver dumps glucose and cholesterol into your blood, your heart rate increases, and your body prepares itself to spring into action. As we’ve noted at Co.Create, getting all mobilized prevents reflective, creative thinking.

Thankfully, Stone told Inc. how we can better prevent email apnea:

  • Set limits: If you’re bringing your smartphone into the bathroom, you might be an addict.
  • Batch your emails: If possible, only email a few times a day–making inbox zero a flowful, focused task rather than an ambient distraction.
  • And exhale: When you catch yourself in an inbox fugue state, breathe all the way out. It’s a little modern mindfulness.

[Pile of mail image: Bioraven via Shutterstock]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.