Eighty percent of us seem to have it.
I (Linda Stone – writer and speaker) broke the story about it in early 2008 on the Huffington Post, and called the phenomenon, ’email apnea.’ Later in 2008, in talks and interviews, I referred to it interchangeably as ’email apnea’ and also, as ‘screen apnea.’
Definition: Shallow breathing or breath holding while doing email, or while working or playing in front of a screen.
While we have a greater tendency toward email apnea or screen apnea, while doing email and texting on laptops and smartphones, we are at risk for breath-holding or shallow breathing in front of any screen, any time.
Not only does this increase stress levels, it impacts our attitude, our sense of emotional well-being, and our ability to work effectively.
In 2007, I noticed this in myself and then placed heart rate variability ear clips (HRV is often used to measure stress) on visiting friends while I observed them doing email and texting.
I observed and interviewed people in cafes, offices, and on the street. At the same time, I contacted and interviewed physicians, psychologists, cardiologists, neuroscientists, and others, to learn about the implications of breath-holding and shallow breathing, especially when it’s chronic and cumulative — day after day, hour after hour.
Recently, researchers, Gloria Mark, Stephen Voida, and Anthony Cardello, have made headway into formally validating the impact of email, using HRV.
Why are we doing this?
Our posture is often compromised, especially when we use laptops and smartphones. Arms forward, shoulders forward, we sit in a position where it’s impossible to get a healthy and full inhale and exhale.
Further, anticipation is generally accompanied by an inhale — and email, texting, and viewing television shows generally includes a significant dose of anticipation. Meanwhile, the full exhale rarely follows.
The stress-related physiology of email apnea or screen apnea is described in some detail in my 2008 post, linked to above.
What’s the remedy?
A new way of interacting with technologies that I call: Conscious Computing. Technologies like the Heartmath emWave2, and a variety of optimal breathing techniques, can support us in using technologies in healthier ways. Instead of sending an email, call or walk over to your colleague’s office.
Some quick tips to practice before you start work on your computer and 2 or 3 times during your screen time:
- Slow down your breathing – the optimum is 6 breaths per minute
- Breathe through your nose – inhale AND exhale
- Suppress sighs if possible
- Breathe into your tummy, not your chest
- Quieten your breathing
- Unless exercising, always take slow, gentle, calm, quiet breaths
A simple technique to retrain your breathing:
- Close your mouth, relax your shoulders and breathe in slowly and gently through your nose into your tummy for a count of 6. Immediately start to breathe out slowly and gently through your nose for a count of 6. This one round. Perform a min. of 10 rounds of this simple technique.
And there’s always that other possibility: every now and then, just turn everything off.
When you text or use email on your smartphone, when you check and respond to your email, are you breathing or do you hold your breath? Is it worse when you’re using a laptop vs. an iPad? How might you incorporate some of the remedies?