Taking A Break From Work E-mail Could Help Curb Stress: Study

If you're one of those people who chronically checks work e-mail -- on the weekends, at night, in the wee morning hours -- then STOP.

A new study from UC Irvine and U.S. Army researchers shows that taking a break from work email can lower stress and improve focus.

"We found that when you remove e-mail from workers' lives, they multitask less and experience less stress," study researcher Gloria Mark, an informatics professor at UC Irvine, said in a statement.

The research was presented at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Computer-Human Interaction Conference.

Researchers attached heart rate monitors to 13 people using the computer as they worked in an office setting. The monitors measured the study participants' heart rate variability -- a more varied heart rate is linked with lower stress levels, while a more constant heart rate is linked with higher stress. Software sensors also monitored how often the study participants switched between windows on their computer.

The researchers found that when provided access to checking email, the study participants were constantly in on "high alert" -- with more constant heart rates -- and changed screens 37 times an hour, on average.

However, when the study participants were cut off from their e-mail for five days, their heart rates were more varied, researchers found. They also only changed the screens 18 times an hour, on average -- which is about half a many times as when they had e-mail access.

The only downside to going without e-mail, researchers found, was that it was linked with feeling 'somewhat isolated."

Recently, British researchers found that checking smartphones for e-mails and messages is linked with higher stress levels.

The Press Association reported that the most stressed people in that study were checking their phones even when there wasn't anything to check, and thinking that they had a new message when they really didn't (called "phantom alerts").