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Breaking News: You've Got Email, And It's Stressing You the Hell Out

A new study says that drinking coffee will help us live longer, which is great news, because another new study says that email could be slowly killing us. Drink up!

If you attended this month's meeting of the Association for Computing Machinery -- which you probably didn't, but anyway -- you got to hear the results of a new University of California-Irvine/U.S. Army study that asked a very scary research question: What happens to employees when they don't use email for a week?

Before you break into cold sweats and enter a withdrawal state, let me give you a quick overview of the study methodology. The researchers asked one group of busy professionals to stop using email for five days, while another group kept using it. During this time, the study participants were strapped to heart rate monitors to assess their heartbeats and stress levels while a software program quietly tracked how often they opened and shut windows on their computer screens (or clicked and dragged open windows around the screen like a game of Solitaire, if you're one of those people).

Now for the conclusions section: the study found that the designated email users tended to have higher sustained heart rates, were always on a higher state of alert, and they did a lot more multi-tasking than the non-email users. The employees who kept using email were also more stressed out. Now that's a real click and drag, isn't it?

But what happened to the employees who didn't use email all week? Inquiring minds want to know more. Did a few of them go crazy building bonfires and conversing with a volleyball? Withdrawal can create its own stresses, which means the email-less employees were still managing some level of stress, just a different kind of stress, as they wondered what was landing in their email boxes, who they weren't able to get back to, and so on. All together now: Wilson!

So what does this all mean? We're not going to stop using email, which, granted, has become the steam train to texting's Boeing Dreamliner in our modern world. Email hasn't entered the territory of the dreaded fax machine, but it has aged out of the coveted 18-to-34 demographic by turning 40, and we all know that anything over 40 is broke down, lame and busted. Or maybe I read too many message boards populated by cocky 20-year-olds. Don't get too ageist, kids: 40 will creep up on you, and quickly. Before you know it, you'll be paying off $100,000 in student loans, dyeing more and more gray hairs, renting a house because you still can't afford to buy, and telling your besties that you want Botox treatments for your birthday. C'est la vie.

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