Keep breathing

Mindfulness and checking email

by Harry Diaz

I’m trying to breathe more. More deeply, more intentionally.

Yes, I realize that it’s a natural process, something that I shouldn’t have to think about since I do it about 20,000 times a day. It should be automatic, kept in motion by my lizard brain, the primitive system designed to keep me alive. And yet, I find myself holding my breath off and on throughout the day.

I started noticing it while working on my computer. I don’t know exactly when I started doing it, but I’ve only just become aware of it. Worse yet, I find myself doing it at random times throughout the day — shallow breaths when deeply concentrating on certain tasks. I catch myself when my steady breathing gives way to pauses, pauses and stops while working on my computer, browsing my phone, reading a book, even washing my face.

Apparently, I’m not the only one doing this.

There’s evidence out there that “email” apnea is fairly widespread — it’s not a medical condition per se, just an oddly human tendency to occasionally unconsciously hold your breath while staring at a screen. Whatever it is about being on technology, it’s triggering the “fight or flight” response and making our bodies freak out like we’re in some kind of danger.

We all know that breathing is good for you. Literally life-sustaining. But how bad is it for you to hold your breath like that? Not great. It’s bad blood. Holding your breath causes carbon dioxide, a known waste product, to build up in your cells. Rising CO2 in the blood signals the body to breathe and get back to the unconscious and/or autonomous respiration, to wash out the excess CO2 and get in fresh oxygen. Your heart rate rises so you can properly pump out the bad and bring in the new. Basically it freaks your body out when you’re constantly holding your breath. Probably because your body likes oxygen and living and all that.

So why do we do it if it’s so bad for us? Is it our bad posture, emotional stress, the curse of technology? No one’s exactly sure. Scientists just don’t know. I think it’s just all too much. Too much stress, too many distractions in life.

All we can do for now is work on awareness. Be present, and be here now.

I’m going to breathe through that blog post, and breathe through that Google search and that iPhone game. Breathe deeply when I notice that I’m holding my breath. Breathe slowly and with intention. Breathe to bring my heart rate down and to center myself. Breathe because I know I’ll feel better when I get more oxygen pumping through my blood system. Breathe like my life depends on it, because it totally does.

Remember: email is more important than breathing.