3 Major Ways Your Work Email Can Impact Your Mental Health, According to Experts

Plus, how to manage your inbox to reduce stress.

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Whether you’re someone who has their inbox at “zero” at all times or someone who could shed a tear by simply looking at their email, I think we can all agree that email can mess with your mental health in more ways than one.

There are so many expectations tied up in this form of communication. And because it’s so easy to open an app and scroll your inbox at any time of the day or night, it can be tough to know when to take a break, Dr. Markesha Miller, a licensed psychotherapist, tells HelloGiggles.

So let’s talk about the toll emailing can take on your wellbeing, as well as how to get your email habits under control.

How work email affects mental health:

It can throw off your work-life balance.

If your phone is constantly blowing up with emails, and you’re constantly responding to each and every one of them, it means you never get to fully relax and enjoy the things you like to do, Shannon Gunnip, LMHC, BC-TMH, a licensed mental health counselor, tells HelloGiggles.

“Checking and responding to work emails 24/7 makes it harder for you to prioritize your personal life,” she says. “By being available over email after work hours, [it also] takes away time from your self-care routines [and] relationships.”

This is a major problem right now, in particular, because so many people are working from home. Since you never technically “leave” your job at the end of the day, Gunnip says, the line between work and the rest of your life can easily blur, or become unbalanced.

It can lead to burnout.

When you’re constantly on-call, you can lose a sense of control over your life, which is one of the top causes of burnout. If you try to answer emails as they come in—or if others grow to expect you to answer as they come in—you will start to feel uninspired and fatigued, because your brain literally never gets a break.

Taking time for yourself and your relationships and hobbies outside of work “is crucial for your productivity when you do return to work,” Gunnip says. Basically, you can’t expect to be “on” all the time, nor should you try to be.

Again, this goes back to having that all-important work-life balance. If you feel “blah” or bored at work, think about your email habits and if they might be what’s dragging you down.

It can cause stress and anxiety.

If you’re someone who receives nothing short of a million emails a day, the sheer amount of stuff in your inbox could spike your stress levels, which is why experts always recommend not checking email before bed or first thing in the morning.

“Seeing a full inbox can be like walking into a kitchen full of dirty dishes: overwhelming,” Annie M. Henderson, a certified professional life coach, tells HelloGiggles. “The only difference is that dishes can usually be knocked out within minutes while the inbox usually involves a longer time commitment and different stress level.”

And then, of course, there’s the content. Much like watching the news right before bed, reading an email—particularly one that’s work-related and important—can lead to unnecessary stress. According to a September 2020 study by the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, rude emails have a “negative effect on work responsibilities, productivity, and can even be linked to insomnia at night.” So if you tend to have a tough time falling asleep, this may be why.

Email management tips:

While new emails will always be sent your way, there are plenty of tips for keeping your inbox organized and feeling less pressed by it all, in general. And according to Dr. Miller, one of the easiest places to start is by deleting junk mail.

If your inbox is currently full of discount offers from stores you haven’t shopped at in five years—or other types of promos and spam—scroll to the bottom of these emails and hit “unsubscribe.” That way, you’ll know that whatever’s in your inbox is actually important, and it’ll be a lot less stressful to look at.

From there, turn off the notification sound on your phone so that you don’t get an alert every time an email rolls in. Hearing alerts increases stress, Dr. Miller says, which makes you feel pressured to respond. It also sets the precedent that you’re available 24/7, when you really shouldn’t be.

Instead of responding to every alert like Pavlov’s dog, Dr. Miller suggests intentionally scheduling a few “email checking” blocks into your day. Set aside an hour or two in the morning, in the afternoon, and/or right before logging out of work for the day. During these blocks, “you can either respond, archive, or save emails for later,” she says.

This is you creating a boundary, she says, which will improve your wellbeing and also break you of the habit of checking emails all the time. Hopefully, once you start approaching email differently, you’ll be able to sleep better, have more relaxing weekends, and generally feel more organized. At least in this one small corner of your life.