Strategies to Combat Email Anxiety for Remote Workers

As a remote worker, email anxiety can hinder your productivity. Keep reading to learn strategies to combat this disorder so that you can get on with your work.

Strategies to Combat Email Anxiety for Remote Workers

Back in 1971, computer engineer Ray Tomilson pressed send on the first email. Now lost to time, the innocuous test message shepherded in a huge source of stress for the modern worker: email anxiety.

Today, we send hundreds of billions of emails every day. That influx can be overwhelming for the average office worker, but the strain on remote workers can be even worse. With fewer opportunities for in-person conversations, most remote workers get a massive influx of messages, many of them another unread addition to a growing to-do list.

In other words, it's no wonder why emails cause so much stress! However, there's plenty you can do to understand your anxiety, rethink your email organization, and get your inbox under control. Read on to learn more.

What Is Email Anxiety?

For some workers, the act of checking, organizing, and/or responding to emails can cause feelings of stress and fear. This can include both emotional and physiological responses.

You may have email anxiety if you've noticed any of the following:

  • Negative, nervous, or fearful thoughts
  • A faster heartbeat
  • Shallow breathing
  • Excessive sweat
  • Stomach pain or nausea
  • Hot flashes
  • Restlessness or an inability to sit still
  • Dizziness or light-headedness

These symptoms can happen while you're working as well as during your off hours. You may experience them whenever you think of your inbox throughout the day.

Often, the symptoms will fade once you've stopped thinking about or tackling your emails.

However, email anxiety is just like other forms of anxiety: it can have long-term side effects. If you don't address your email anxiety, the associated stress can increase your risk for serious health issues. Hypertension, inflammation, heart disease, and other conditions share a link with chronic stress.

Why Do Emails Make You Anxious?

What is it about these simple digital messages that cause anxiety? There are a few factors:

Often, we mentally link our email management to our job performance. For some workers, prompt and thoughtful email responses feel like a huge part of the impression made at work. Just as you'd only show up at your office in business attire, you want to make a good impression with the right email etiquette.

For remote workers, the pressure to crank out quick and well-worded responses can feel even greater. Because you don't have the opportunity to make a face-to-face impression with colleagues, it can feel crucial to make a good impression via email. If you're a freelancer working with clients, you may be even more likely to experience anxiety as you try putting up the idealized façade of a business guru.

Less Effective Communication

Email is a wonderful way to shoot off an instant message without speaking. However, this communication also has its drawbacks.

With email, it's hard to share the same nonverbal cues you'd offer through a phone call or face-to-face conversation. When writing, many people find it harder to communicate their tone. This can make it easier for a recipient to misconstrue their message.

Worse, it can be hard for you to judge the sender's tone. Is a response curt because the sender was short on time or because they're angry? Was their written joke sarcastic, mean-spirited, or genuine?

When Does Inbox Anxiety Strike?

As we've mentioned above, email anxiety can happen anytime. However, you're most likely to notice it when you're doing the following common tasks:

Opening Emails

Emails can cause anxiety before you've even opened them. When you don't know what's inside, you might worry about what you'll read with every click.

What if the message isn't something you wanted to hear? What if someone is demanding something you don't have time to do?

Falling Behind on Emails

Opening emails can create even more anxiety if you've fallen behind on checking your inbox. When too much time has passed since you received an email, you know your response to the message inside will already be delayed. Worse, when you have hundreds or even thousands of emails piled up, the stress can feel unbearable.

Slow Response Times

When you fall behind on checking emails, it might even feel better to ignore your messages than to offer a slow, ineffective, or even outdated response. This can lead to you not opening your emails, creating more missed messages and anxiety.

Stress over responding to emails is worse if your job has an email deadline policy. Many fast-paced jobs require workers to reply to emails within 24 to 48 hours, ramping up the pressure to respond right away.

Sending Emails

Creating the perfect email can be hard. You may worry that you can't communicate your idea well, stress about figuring out the right email etiquette, or fear the response you'll receive. All of this might make you hesitate before pushing the send button, further delaying your response time.

Receiving Emails

Even if you're already at inbox zero, getting emails can cause stress. Every time you receive a message, you know you'll have to sit down and respond fast. For some remote workers, hearing or seeing an email notification is enough to create anxiety!

Find the Root of Your Email Anxiety

You may experience anxiety for some, but not all, of the reasons above. Figuring out the source of your own anxiety is crucial if you want to address it.

If you aren't sure, grab a notepad and keep it with you as you work for a few days. When you notice that you're feeling stress related to your emails, take a second to jot down your thoughts. You may also want to use a mood tracker app if you prefer.

Are you more stressed when sending emails, or is your overflowing inbox weighing you down? Do you feel anxious in the mornings before work, or are you checking your email on weekends when you should be off? Do responses from certain colleagues cause stress, or do you feel anxious about emailing a particular client?

Once you have a better sense of what causes your anxiety, there are a few simple ways to get it under control.

Schedule a Time to Check Your Inbox

Email anxiety can be damaging if you allow it to wreak havoc throughout your day. This is true no matter what causes your anxiety.

If you're waking at three in the morning to check your emails or cutting your lunch short to tackle messages, stop! Responding to emails as soon as they arrive might seem like a tactic for reaching inbox zero, but it will only waste your time. Research suggests that it can take around 23 minutes for workers to refocus after a distraction, and emails are constant distractions.

In other words, it's better to stop switching between tasks. To get a better handle on your inbox, consider scheduling a time on your calendar for it.

Tackling your inbox each morning, for example, can help you start with a clean slate before clearing a path for more focused work later. Other pros recommend checking email twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, to be more productive.

Set Boundaries

Scheduling when you check your email may not be enough on its own. If your colleagues and clients still expect immediate responses, your anxiety isn't likely to disappear.

Instead, you'll need to set boundaries around your emails.

Do this up front by telling the people you work with that you're trying a new schedule for checking your emails. Let them know when you're unavailable, such as afternoons, nights, or weekends.

From there, consider setting up a disclaimer in your email signature that lists your office hours or when you reply to emails. When you're away from your desk for a while, you can also set up an auto-responder to say when you'll be able to reply.

You'll also need to make sure you stick to your guns! Don't respond on weekends, for example, if you've said you won't. This might make people think your boundaries are more flexible than you claim.

Rethink Your Organization

If you have a constant influx of emails, better organization can help you no matter what causes your anxiety. Filtering, spam protection, and prioritization tools can help you see the important stuff at a glance with less sorting and distractions. This, in turn, can often help keep your stress and anxiety at bay.

Your organization method will depend on your preferences, but there are a few good tactics to try.

Harness Your Email Client's Tools

Your email client likely has a few helpful tools to help with organization, so it may help to poke around.

Gmail, for example, lets you create filters that sort, star, or forward your emails on their own. Outlook lets you create Quick Steps, or parts of a workflow that add labels, auto-reply, and more. Both of these providers also let you set up task lists that help you turn emails into to-do items instead.

Try the Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is a well-known strategy for to-do lists, but it's also great for other tasks like emails. With this matrix, you'll sort emails into four quadrants: urgent, not urgent, important, or not important.

Use the 4D Method

With the 4D Method, you'll tackle your emails using four categories: delete it, do it, delegate it, or defer it. You can sort emails into folders as soon as you receive them and deal with them from there to keep them organized.

Aim for Inbox Zero

This daunting tactic might not work for everyone, but achieving inbox zero can help get emails off your mind. With inbox zero, you'll clear out your inbox every time you jump into it. With luck, your clutter-free inbox will clear away your anxiety as well!

Get Tools to Help With Your Anxiety

No matter what kind of email anxiety you're dealing with, the chances are good that there's an online tool to help.

Organization and Email Reduction

If you have a cluttered, overloaded inbox, a bulk email client may be your best bet.

Email clients like Mailstrom connect to your work email to help you organize and sort your inbox in a few ways.

First, Mailstrom's bulk action tools help you delete or archive thousands of messages in a few clicks. If the idea of deleting emails one by one is causing you anxiety, this alternative can get you a cleaner, stress-free inbox in less time.

In addition, Mailstrom can also unsubscribe you from mailing lists. This ensures that your inbox stays cleaner in the future, with fewer emails added to the pile each day.

Responding to Emails

If you struggle to respond to emails, there are several tools worth trying.

Spelling and grammar checkers like Grammarly or Wordtune, for example, can help you improve your writing style and trust that you're sending mistake-free messages. Many of these checkers even work in any text box in your web browser, meaning you won't have to copy and paste your emails into a separate field.

A refresher on email etiquette may also help you feel more confident as you respond. You can even find free online courses that go into great detail.

Last, don't underestimate the power of email templates. Not only can these help you save time and stress, but they're also easy tools to add to your existing workflow. You can either write and add your own templates to an email client or search for free online templates based on your industry.

Receiving Emails

A cleaner inbox can ease the stress of receiving emails, but there are also a few additional tips to try.

First, turn off your email notifications. You shouldn't respond until you're scheduled to do so, and anyone with an urgent message should call.

Second, take care when giving out your email address. Consider using an alternate email for online logins to reduce spam and subscriptions, and don't give out your work email to friends and family.

Take Control of Your Email Inbox

Email anxiety can put a massive mental strain on remote workers, especially when your inbox is overflowing. Whether you're stressed by receiving, responding to, or organizing your messages, the tips above are a great way to take back control of your inbox.

As you work to get a handle on your inbox, consider grabbing a free trial of Mailstrom to help! In a few clicks, you'll have access to the email hacks and best practices you need to unsubscribe, reduce spam, delete messages, and much more. Get started today.