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Study reveals how many times you should be checking email daily to reduce stress


Checking email may be an addictive habit, but not surprisingly, researchers say the more you refresh your inbox, the more stressed you'll become.

According to a study out of the University of British Columbia, there's a cap on the number of times you should check email throughout the day to reduce stress: three.

Researchers asked 124 adults to limit checking their email to three times a day for seven days. For the following week, participants were encouraged to check it as much as possible — which amounted to, of course, what their habits were like before the study began.

The participants filled out a daily 10-minute questionnaire related to their stress levels, and as a result, less frequent email checks made people much happier throughout the day.

While the average person checks email 15 times a day, the study suggests three times is the right amount to keep added stress away.

While the findings may sound predictable, the researchers are calling it the first study that looks at how monitoring email can impact someone's well-being for that day.

The main reason for the added stress? Switching between tasks requirements realignment of attention (and emotions, related to stress, personal matters and so on) can be taxing on the mind, the study suggests.

Of course, asking people to limit email checks could cause some initial stress too, considering 92% of U.S. adults use email to communicate with others and 183 billion emails are sent and received each day. With half of the population afraid of being without their smartphone — a fear often referred to as nomophobia — email plays a big role in helping people stay and feel connected.

“Most participants in our study found it quite difficult to check their email only a few times a day,” lead author Kostadin Kushlev, a PhD candidate at UBC’s Dept. of Psychology, said in a statement. “This is what makes our obvious-in-hindsight findings so striking: People find it difficult to resist the temptation of checking email, and yet resisting this temptation reduces their stress.”

Instead of responding to emails one by one as they roll in, a workaround to reduce stress might be setting aside certain times of the day (perhaps morning, afternoon and night) to tend to messages. This may help email users feel more in control of the flow and need not to switch between tasks as much.

Kushlev said he's taking on this new approach, too: “I now check my email in chunks several times a day, rather than constantly responding to messages as they come in,” he said. “And I feel better and less stressed.”