We all know those people—the ones with a terrifying four-digit number in the red notification bubble on their iPhone Mail app. (Worse, you might be one of them.) People often blame their workplace stress on that ever-increasing number, but your inbox itself isn't to blame. In fact, it's not the volume of email that causes major stress, but rather our obsessive need to feel in control of it, according to new research by the British Psychological Society.
If you get push notifications to your phone or keep your inbox open all day long, you're more likely to be stressed out by email—and you're even worse off if you check it early in the morning or late at night in an effort to stay on top of it, researchers say. They surveyed about 2,000 people across a variety of industries and job roles in the U.K. and found that almost half received push notifications, and 62 percent leave their email on all day long. All the constant checking and notifications add up to a higher "perceived email pressure" (or the feel pressure to always be available on email). Translation: Your inbox is stressing you out. And clearly, that stress doesn't stay at work; higher rates of perceived email pressure and stress mean work will negatively impact your home life, and your home life will affect your performance at work. It's a vicious cycle. (There are other Email Mistakes You're Probably Making too.)
The solution? Take a vaca. Not necessarily from work, but from email. In a 2012 study at the University of California at Irving, researchers put heart rate monitors on workers and forced them to give up email for five days. Without email, the workers felt more in-control of their work lives, experienced less stress, were more productive, and engaged in more face-to-face interactions with co-workers. Obviously, you can't revolt against technology and throw your Gmail, Yahoos, or Outlook in the trash. But if you don't check it as obsessively during the day, turn notifications off (at least once in a while), and resist the urge to hit "refresh" after leaving the office, your work and home life will be better for it.