How mindfulness can cure your email apnea


August 2, 2021
Filipe Bastos

You may have heard of apnea in the context of sleep, but have you ever come across the term email apnea? Sleep apnea, for those who are unaware, is the condition whereby a person’s breathing will stop and start while they sleep. The other symptoms of sleep apnea can include making gasping or wheezing noises while you sleep, extreme fatigue during the day, or excessive snoring. Sleep apnea has been linked to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems and many other unfavourable health complications. So, does this mean you should start getting worried about email apnea?

Although we are going to go into far more detail in a moment, the short answer to this would be, yes. You should probably start to develop an awareness of email apnea at the very least. In fact, take a moment now to notice how you are breathing. Are you breathing from your abdomen, or from higher up in your chest? Are your breaths long and deep? Do you exhale for longer than you inhale? Then again, it might not be a good idea to become too worried about this subject; for one worrying will not help the problem, and secondly, there are many things that you can do about email apnea to correct it. You’ve actually already taken the first step to solving the problem – becoming aware of your breathing.

What is email apnea?

So what exactly is email apnea? Email apnea, also referred to as screen apnea is a condition whereupon a person will hold their breath and not exhale, or breath shallowly when they interact with social media, email or any other function of their phone/laptop/computer etc. 

This term was coined by writer, speaker and consultant, Linda Stone. Stone, after taking a course in Buteyko breathing noticed that as soon as she sat down at her desk, she began to hold her breath. In order to prove that this was not just a curious habit that she alone held, Stone went about investigating the subject by observing others. She observed them at their offices, in their homes and generally out and about – only to determine that around 80% of people seemed to suffer the same breathing habit. 

Email apnea is caused by a collection of factors:

  • One could be our posture. Quite often when we are working at our laptop or looking on our phones, our posture can become hunched. This can make it difficult for us to inhale and exhale fully.
  • Another reason for email apnea might be an unsettled mental state when interacting with our phones or laptops. We might be holding some dread for what we will see. 
  • And finally, when we spend significant amounts of time scrolling, or mindlessly clicking through pages on our devices we can lose awareness. You might have even done that now! While reading this article it is very possible that you have zoned out of your breathing, posture or the space around you.

How is email apnea damaging our health?

Email apnea is oftentimes triggered by the mental state that we are in when we check our emails or visit a social media platform. We may feel overwhelmed by how many emails we will be met with when we open our laptops, or maybe we feel anxious about what we are going to see on social media; whether that anxiety is based on us viewing ourselves comparatively against other people, or the trepidation felt when looking at how many people have liked our last post. 

The physical response of holding our breath in, or shallow breathing does further damage and actually sets off a response in our brains that only increases the problem with our breathing. The Vagus nerve, which is attached to our diaphragm, picks up on the uneasiness of our breath, and sends a signal to our brains, alerting them that we are in some form of danger. This danger signal is registered by our brains, which will then put our body into a fight, flight or freeze reaction. And of course, this will then trigger a cascade of responses in our body – including shorter and shallower breaths. 

Prolonged time in the grips of the parasympathetic nervous system can be very damaging, both in contributing to stress-related diseases, but also to our memory and learning functions, as well as our sleep. This is why it is so essential that we become aware of our mental health in the workplace and when interacting with our screens, and how our breathing might be a contributing factor to our experiences of stress, anxiety and depression.

How to combat email apnea

Email apnea is luckily something that we can easily combat. If you suffer from sleep apnea you might have to wear a mask, called a CPAP machine while you sleep. Fortunately, nothing to that extreme will be necessary when working to control your email apnea. There are a few easy things we can do to create both a better breathing habit and to cultivate a healthier relationship towards our screen time.

  1. Take regular breaks

As we mentioned before, email apnea can often reveal itself when we lose awareness of our current moment. A very beneficial way to keep yourself from losing awareness of what you are doing is to take breaks away from your screen.

In these breaks, you could take a moment to practise a short mindfulness exercise, or breathing exercise like box breathing to readjust your awareness to the present and to the rhythm of your breath.

  1. Become aware of your breathing style

It might help to spend some time analysing your own breathing habits. The optimum rate of breathing is 5.5 times per minute. This means that a single inhale and exhale should last for about 11 seconds. If this seems like far too long a time then that might be an indication of how important it is for you to take a look at your breathing. 

  1. Breathe through your nose

A major finding within email apnea research has been the damaging effects of breathing through one’s mouth. It is very important that you try to control your breathing so that you are always breathing through your nose. This has many benefits, some of which are discussed in a previous article that you can explore, here. (https://mindowl.org/how-breathwork-can-supercharge-your-meditation-practice/

  1. Give your eyes a break

Our eyes are very closely linked to how we breathe. So by giving our eyes a break from staring at our screens we can reduce the strain we are putting on them, our risk of headaches, damage to our posture, as well as reducing our likeliness of suffering email apnea. 

Mindfulness and email apnea

We have already alluded to the importance of mindfully being aware of our breathing to help combat email apnea. But now we will go into a little bit more detail, so you can really see how vital it is that we take this issue seriously. 

Firstly, taking a few moments during the working day to consider how we are feeling, and to practise awareness of our breathing can allow us to de-stress and generally feel more in control and present at work. We can also practise loving-kindness meditation, allowing ourselves to feel stressed about our work, and having awareness of our own abilities and compassion towards ourselves when we might need more support. Our workplace is often neglected as an area in which we should be taking care of our mental health, even though for many of us, it is where we spend huge amounts of time. So try to check in with your thoughts and emotions throughout the day, by doing so you will be able to approach your work with a kinder attitude towards yourself, and a better understanding of the specific stresses related to your work. By accepting these, you may be able you let go of them. 

We can also try to practise mindful breathing. By putting aside time to do these exercises we will develop a deeper understanding of our breath, and how we can use it to affect our moods for the better and worse. You can then try setting an alarm for every half-hour or hour while you are at work, that encourages you to stop and check on how you are breathing. This, alongside formal meditation and breathwork exercises, will be the best method for combatting email apnea.

Many of our bad habits go unnoticed. Breathing, as something that most of us would attest to, comes naturally and without any consideration then becomes a prime example of where we can pick up bad habits. By nurturing an awareness of our breathing, practising meditation and breathing exercises and following the other steps laid out above, we can reduce our risk of email apnea. Once we have secured a new routine at work, and in relation to our screen time that prioritises our breathing, then we will see improvements in our mental health, our posture, and our general wellbeing. 

So once again, take a moment to become aware of how you are breathing right now. Try to take a few deep breaths, exhaling for longer than you inhale. And good luck seeking a new, and healthier breathing habit.

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