Reading or writing emails can cause an increase in heart rate and anxiety, even if what we are reading or typing in itself isn’t making us anxious or angry.
Nearly everyone has heard of obstructive sleep apnea, where people temporarily stop breathing while sleeping, and partially awaken up to hundreds of times a night. The result is that they are left extremely fatigued upon awakening and throughout the day.
But have you heard of email apnea? It’s a term used by writer/consultant Linda Stone to describe breath-holding or shallow breathing that many people experience while reading or composing emails. Stone says she realized she was holding her breath while writing or reading emails and then observed many others doing the same thing.
It’s harmless, enough, right? Actually, it isn’t harmless. Stone contacted Dr. Margaret Chesney at the National Institute of Health (NIH) and learned that research conducted by Chesney and fellow NIH scientist, Dr. David Anderson, found breath holding contributes substantially to stress-related diseases by throwing off the body’s balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitric oxide.
Stone says breath-holding or shallow breathing also cause the body to become acidic and the kidneys to reabsorb sodium (salt).
The human body uses nitric oxide—not to be confused with nitrous oxide your dentist may give you—to fight viral, bacterial and parasitic infections and tumors. Nitric oxide is also involved in learning, memory, sleeping, feeling pain and likely, depression.
Other downsides of breath-holding/shallow breathing, writes Stone, include causing the liver to deposit glucose and cholesterol into the blood and one’s heart rate to speed up. The body’s fight or flight response is also triggered, but even though the body is tensed for action, the person is ignoring that response by sitting at the computer for long periods.
Stone speculates that breath-holding may cause weight gain and diabetes. If you spend a lot of time on the computer, learn and practice some deep breathing exercises (especially while reading or writing) and get up and take frequent walks throughout your shift. If you don’t have much freedom to get up, moving your legs and feet at your desk is still a form of exercise.