Uptown Bourgeois is an arts, news, and culture blog created by New York-based freelance writer Jefferey Spivey. UB explores universal themes through a black, queer lens. 

Podcast: Is There Life Beyond Email Anxiety?

Podcast: Is There Life Beyond Email Anxiety?

00:00:07;27 - 00:00:14;08

ME: You're listening to the Uptown Bourgeois podcast. I'm your host Jeffrey Spivey. Let's be weird, snobby, and intellectual together.

00:00:17;26 - 00:00:26;19

ME: This week, I'm adopting the one-act podcast format once again to talk about something that affects everyone of us: email anxiety.

00:00:26;19 - 00:00:39;20

LH: Now Leah, what's this? Two kinds of people in the world.

There are two kinds of people in the world and only two kinds of people. What are you? Which icon is you Kamal? I'm I'm a zero inbox person. I cannot have unread e-mails; it will drive me nuts.

00:00:39;21 - 00:01:39;05

LH: This 13000 would cause a lot of stress for a lot of people. A lot of studies have come out, especially in 2016, saying that having e-mails all the time and checking them all the time leads to stress. But anticipating e-mails can also be equally detrimental, especially to your health. But we wanted to ask you guys at home, what did you think. Are you able to unplug outside of work? Forty nine percent of you, that's pretty solid, said yes, you can do that. 46 percent said no. I'm one of those people; I try. But it is often very, very difficult. Christine here, out of Arkansas, agrees. She says at one point she was responding around the clock to e-mails out of Australia, Saudi Arabia, UK, and then the U.S., she would wake up and she'd do it all over again and that she feared that she would actually lose her job if she didn't check her e-mail. It was something that was very, very important for her, for job security, to have the stress of working from home, an ongoing thing here.

00:01:39;05 - 00:02:37;09

ME: This was a report by Leah Harding of Al-Jazeera TV. Does that sound like you? You work around the clock in an attempt to reach inbox zero because you fear losing out on jobs or opportunities if you don't answer right away. At the end of the day the biggest accomplishment to your name is a clean inbox only to have that momentary happiness crushed when the next message rolls in.

I feel this pain. Every day.  I'm a freelancer. The bulk of my communication with clients takes place through email. It's rare that I meet any of them in person. So when someone wants to hire me for a job, they shoot over a message. They're likely emailing other freelancers too, in Search of the best deal and the fastest response. If I save that message for later ,the job may no longer be available. So I find myself dropping everything to answer messages as they’re received, with the hopes that I'll keep my inbox clean and book new jobs.

But there's a cost for maintaining this level of responsiveness.  This constant connection causes stress, and stress has detrimental effects on our bodies and brains.

00:02:37;15 - 00:03:03;25

TE: Stress isn't always a bad thing; it can be handy for a burst of extra energy and focus, like when you're playing a competitive sport or have to speak in public. But when it's continuous, the kind most of us face day in and day out, it actually begins to change your brain. Chronic stress, like being overworked or having arguments at home, can affect brain size, its structure, and how it functions.

00:03:04;06 - 00:03:32;24

TE: Right down to the level of your genes. Stress begins with something called the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis, a series of interactions between endocrine glands in the brain and the kidney, which controls your body's reaction to stress. When your brain detects a stressful situation, your HPA axis is instantly activated and releases a hormone called cortisol, which primes your body for instant action.

00:03:33;25 - 00:03:48;18

TE: But high levels of cortisol over long periods of time wreak havoc on your brain. For example, chronic stress increases the activity level in a number of neural connections in the amygdala, your brain's fear center.

00:03:49;06 - 00:03:59;19

TE: And as levels of cortisol rise, electric signals in your hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with learning, memories, and stress control, deteriorate.

00:03:59;20 - 00:04:08;15

TE: The hippocampus also inhibits the activity of the HPA axis. So when it weakens, so does your ability to control your stress.

00:04:08;15 - 00:05:01;11

ME: That was a clip from Ted Ed. It's no secret that stress is a bad thing. But I don't think I, or any of us, realize just how bad it can be. Now, this clip is addressing stress in general. However, this easily applies to your work email. Work email is a major source of stress, even if you're not a freelancer like me. There's still pressure to be responsive, to be available. It's not even about the content of these emails; it's just the simple fact that they exist.

Knowing that you have to get through them, that they're yet another bullet on a mile-long to do list. It's disturbing. Not to mention, if you're always dropping the project at hand to answer an email, you aren't fully concentrating. You're blocking your ability to be creative and thorough on your current project, you're likely missing important details, and you feel frazzled, which doesn't leave you in a great place to get the rest of your work done. So it's established: work email, and its many side effects, sucks but what do we do about it?

00:05:01;12 - 00:05:42;09

F6: I want you to think about the last time you had a really good laugh. Say you see a blank face as I see from coast to coast. We're going to do a little research because, boy, nature is all about research and education. And so, what we're going to do here is, on the count of three, if you're physically able, I'll ask you to stand. And if not, do this from a seated position. On the count of three, stand and then, facing me, I want you to take a deep breath and then I want you to put the shape of a smile on your face. For the purpose of this research, this does not have to be a real smile. OK. I will give you one last set of instructions and then you can sit down and groan loudly and we will give you the reasons for this research. On the count of 3, 1 2 3 stand and…

00:05:43;04 - 00:05:49;07

KB: Take a deep breath. Now put the shape of a smile on your face.

00:05:50;06 - 00:06:53;25

KB: And I want to see teeth; I don't care if they're yours. Last set of instructions. Turn and make eye contact with a victim to your left or right. And now, sit down groaning loudly. This is great. This is great. All right. Two things here. One. Now everybody has a tool. If you had to leave right this minute and please don't. But if you had to leave right now, you would have a tool. The next time you go back to work and you're sitting at your desk and you think, ‘If one more person puts one more thing on my desk, I'm going to snatch them baldheaded.’ Now all you have to do is, facing your entryway, doorway, or hallway, sitting or standing, just do this. Because the next person to walk in and see you looking like this. They're going to know that now is not the time to bother you.

00:07:05;23 - 00:07:11;09

KB: You can play with your pain. You can be intentional, doing little exercises.

00:07:11;10 - 00:09:05;05

ME: If only I could send the “don't fuck with me” face to people via e-mail. That fun bit of advice was from Karen Buxman. Her stress management technique may or may not work for you while you're working your way through your inbox but it's a technique nonetheless. What's important here is that we develop ways to handle our e-mails and the stress and anxiety attached to them.

Personally, I'm using something called frequency scheduling. Basically, you schedule certain times of day that are reserved for checking and answering emails. For me, I've resolved to check them after breakfast, after lunch, and just before the end of the day. This approach is effective because you know you'll have time to get to those messages. You don't need to answer your boss as soon as the email comes in because you've got a 30-minute block scheduled at 12 30.

Some other things that could work. Prioritizing. Not every email is a 9 1 1. Close your browser. How the hell do you expect to concentrate on anything if you leave your inbox open and visible all day long? Be real. No one is going to die if they have to wait an hour or even a day for an answer, and if they do, you're totally not responsible.

We can't allow our inboxes to rule our lives. The immediacy of email is great. We can accomplish so much without talking on the phone or getting stuck in useless meetings. But it's also awful because it becomes a new distraction, a new task to complete. There's no magic pill. Some of the strategies discussed here might work for you or they might not. But either way you have to start figuring something out for your health and your sanity.

I’ll leave you with these parting words courtesy of Dana Evans from The Cut. “Try only turning your email application on when you want to use it, or switch off notifications on your e-mail app so that you aren't bombarded by a blinking red light every time an email comes in. Other sources suggest even implementing an e-mail curfew. Paul Ainsworth asks in The Telegraph: why not stop servers pushing emails after 6:00 p.m. until 7 a.m. the next day? Or just go full delete and live ya life.

I like the latter option.

00:09:07;06 - 00:09:34;10

ME: Thanks so much for listening to the Uptown Bourgeois podcast. Check back for new episodes every week and subscribe on iTunes or SoundCloud so you never miss out. If you love it, share it with your friends. If not, shoot me an email and let me know what you'd like me to talk about instead. Until next week…

The Uptown Bourgeois podcast is written, produced, and edited by Jefferey Spivey, and is an official property of Uptown Bourgeois, LLC. All original music is provided courtesy of RMVD. 

This podcast was transcribed using Simon Says.

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