For many email is one of the curses of modern life. A new study by Gloria Mark, Stephen Voida and Armand Cardello has shown how the use of email really does ramp up our stress levels and we would be better off taking a break from it. This study used heart rate monitors and also watched how often workers switched windows on their computers. Some used email as usual and others were taking an enforced break. A bit shockingly, those using email switched windows about twice as often as the non-users, but more significantly in terms of stress levels, they were on a more or less constant ‘high alert’ state, with constant heart rates. As scientists such as Stephen Porges have shown us, in emotional health we tend to have more variable heart rates, and indeed heart rate variability is a classic measure of stress levels and emotional health, linked to the activity of the sophisticated branch of our vagus nerve, which calms us down and helps us feel at ease. Less heart-trate variability normally comes with higher stress levels and release of cortisol. In this study those without email could concentrate more, got more done, suffered less interruptions and time wasted less, were less stressed and did not suffer from too much multi-tasking.
In an age of ever rising ADHD diagnoses, increased stress and anxiety at work, with impulsivity in children one of the major problems of our times, this is just one more piece of research about the dangers of a screen led lifestyle. We know that children are more impulsive the more TV they watch, that video games, especially violent ones, have such an effect, and that even the use of mobile phones can diminish the wish to interact with those around us. What all the research about screens is showing is not only that it increases impulsiveness, but that their use reduces prosociality, that capacity for good, mutually caring interpersonal interaction and the desire to be helpful and supportive of others. This of course happens anyway when there is more stress and competition and more anxiety, but screen time adds to this unhelpful brew by making us less sociable and even less kind.
 G. J. Mark, S. Voida, and A. V. Cardello, ‘“A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons”: An Empirical Study of Work Without Email’, 2012.
 S. W. Porges, The polyvagal theory: Neurophysiological foundations of emotions, attachment, communication, and self-regulation. WW Norton, 2011.