Email Apnea: 80% Of Us Do It… And Should Stop.

Is Email Apnea a challenge for you? Do you frequently hold your breath or take shallow breaths when you read or write email at work?

Crazy idea right?  But seemingly 80% of us are hurting our health and productivity because we hold our breath during periods of concentration or stress as we use email. Not surprisingly most of us are unaware we are doing it.

Free image courtesy of

Free image courtesy of

Email apnea happens when you hold your breath or take shallow breaths when you read or write email.  If you do this frequently you might be causing stress on your body. In addition, you might be reducing your ability to concentrate, your ability to remember and… you might become a bit more irritable than you used to be.

Linda Storne – who coined the phrase ‘Email Apnea’, in 2008 and believes that as many as 80% of people suffer from email apnea.

Interrupted breathing isn’t a new problem of course; sleep apnea is a common challenge. Even holding your breath when you dive into a pool can be a problem… if done frequently over long periods. Which makes the idea of email apnea a serious concern.  Why? Most of our professional communication happens via email. As much as 90% of our communication is email based.  Then, add all the time we spend texting and Wham! – it’s an even bigger concern.

What Happens Physically?

Many physical changes happen when you hold your breath or take shallow breaths – whether it’s email apnea, when you drive in heavy traffic or when you concentrate on lifting something. There are many physical changes and I will touch on a few of the relevant ones. If you would like more on this the Journal of Applied Physiology is a good reference for apnea.

Physical changes the Nationals Institute of Health identify when we hold our breath over prolonged periods:

  • Your oxygen levels drop (not good)
  • Your CO2 levels increase (not good)
  • Your heart rate increases (to try to get more oxygen to your brain) which puts stress on your heart
  • Neurological damage happens (not good)

In addition, holding your breath for prolonged periods can cause other additional concerns including your “fight or flight” reaction can be triggered which further increases your heart rate, and your body releases other chemicals into your bloodstream.

Why Do We Hold Our Breath? 

There may be many reasons for email apnea. One I see often is a period of intense reading followed by:

  • Confusion about what you read
  • Concern about what you read
  • A negative (or positive), reaction to what you read

As we ‘process’ information we often hold our breath… like we are doing some heavy lifting.

This topic is very near and dear to my… heart because I often hold my breath when I’m concentrating on what I’m reading or thinking.

A typical indicator of someone holding their breath is someone who frequently takes deep breaths – basically catching up on their oxygen.  I do this all the time – so much so that I’m often asked why I am sighing or upset.  “I’m not” I respond, “I’m just thinking.”  I never thought it an issue – but I do now.

In addition, my dad had sleep apnea and then later in life suffered from Alzheimer’s.  Is there a connection? I don’t know – but if I can reduce the amount of neurological damage I’m causing now I’m happy to try.

Do you hold your breath when you email? I even caught myself holding my breath as I wrote this blog post.

Bonus: Stop Email Apnea

Check your posture when you read and write email… or when you are on laptop, pad or smartphone. Keep your back straight, shoulders back and chin up.  You don’t want your head to slump with your chin close to your chest.  That interrupts your ability to breath well.

Happy, safe and healthy communicating.

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Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Email Etiquette, Managing Difficult Conversations, Multigenerational Training, Time Management and Mindfulness.

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About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

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