When you return from a vacation, does anticipating all those waiting e-mails make your stomach twist? (I’m just back from my staycation.) Or, after devoting a morning to sorting through your inbox, does your brain go in circles as you find yourself getting increasingly cranky and irritated?

You may have email apnea!

Linda Stone, technology consultant and former Microsoft and Apple executive, whose work was written up in Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s book The Distraction Addiction uses the phrase “e-mail apnea” to refer to our tendency to hold our breath while doing email. As with sleep apnea, we’re usually unconscious that we’re holding our breath.

Watch out! As you’re confronted by a host of small, tech-related aggravations throughout the day, you may intermittently hold your breath without realizing it.

  • After numerous delays, you settle into your desk and discover that your computer has crashed and must be rebooted. Your mental clock starts ticking while you beam messages to your computer to “Hurry up already!”
  • You’re about to invoice a client when your QuickBooks accounting software starts performing a quirky dance that causes it to delete your invoice total. Now you have to spend forty of your precious minutes (with none to spare) diving into the user support boards on the Internet with your query: WHY DOES QUICKBOOKS DANCE QUIRKY???.
  • You discover that you need to upgrade some obscure piece of software you installed three years ago and it asks for your user name and password, which, fortunately, you saved in that handy software that allows you to save your passwords (phew) but now THAT software requires a master password before you can access it, and WHERE THE HECK DID YOU PUT IT, and now that you’ve found it and retrieved you password and FINALLY start to download your upgrade, your computer asks you for a password and WHICH OF THE BLOODY APPLE PASSWORDS IS THAT?

It’s the same feeling or lack of feeling I get when the telephone company puts me on hold for an interminable time…just because they can.

Ouch. I stopped breathing just writing about it.

Here’s a tip that’s simple, elegant, bold, and so obvious that we tend to forget it: Just breathe.

The first and most important step in de-stressing is to notice all the small moments when we stop breathing. All of these annoyances are perfect opportunities to practice tech-mindfulness, something we increasingly need, because, frankly, the tech-induced stress isn’t going to get any lighter.

Our aggravations provide us with time for mini-breathing meditations because truth be known, the software is going to take the time that it does to open, install or upgrade, customer service will return to speak with us someday, and QuickBooks is still, annoyingly, QuickBooks.

There are lots of breathing exercises out there. Mine is super simple:

Breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold for a count of four, then breathe out (preferably through your nose) for a count of eight. The longer exhale is super important for your relaxation.

Don’t worry or get too heady about it. Even a few medium breaths are better than the alternative.

If you have a better breathing exercise or stress buster that works for you, please pass it along. We all need to stick together on this!

OK. Post done. Now I can breathe.