Why some people can’t stand unread emails and others are zen

It’s like a new personality test or tag yourself game: do you have 0 unread emails or 23,764? There are two kinds of people in this world, and they can be categorized by that question.

But if you really dig into the psychology behind this behavior, what does that say about each type of person? And what if your go-to method is causing you trouble, like friends feeling hurt, not responding faster, or, on the other hand, annoyed that you’re glued to your screen? Keep reading for what therapists think.

Why you can’t stand unread notifications

Put a finger down if you’d rather jump into a volcano than see a number balloon in your email app or stray too far from ‘inbox zero’. Four fingers up right now? Here are possible reasons:

You have social anxiety or are introverted

You may experience anxiety when interacting with people — even over the phone — or being introverted. (For the record, both are fine!) “For many, notifications can cause the pressure to respond, thinking too much about what has been said [or] what they should say in response, feeling like their ‘social battery’ is low, and many other reasons,” explains Jami Dumler, a licensed clinical social worker at Thriveworks in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who specializes in depression, OCD. , anxiety, stress and relationships .

Shame can also play a role if you have high expectations of yourself. You may think you are a “bad friend” or “bad employee” if you don’t respond as quickly as possible. “Anxious people who are self-critical tend to blame themselves or see things through the lens of being a failure if they don’t live up to the unrealistic standards they set for themselves,” says Lena Derhally, a psychotherapist who specializes in is into social media and anxiety and is the author of The Facebook Narcissist: How to Identity and Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones From Social Media Narcissism. She adds that the perfectionist side of anxiety can motivate people to get things done (though perhaps not in the healthiest or most helpful way).

You have an overwhelming urge to get things done

Likewise, if you get a kick out of marking something off your to-do list, checking notifications can give you the same comfort. “It can be related to a feeling of being overwhelmed to the point that every unread notification is another piled-up task on top of a thousand others,” says Jenn Hardy, a licensed psychologist in Maryville, Tennessee. You may feel crushed under the weight of unfinished work (or notifications), she adds.

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You are addicted to your phone

If you’ve heard someone say, “Just pick up that phone…” you might know what we’re talking about. Research has found that smartphone addiction can lead to an imbalance in brain chemistry, causing people to become increasingly dependent on their phones. Unfortunately, the negative effects are far-reaching, so it helps to be aware if this is a problem for you. Dumler says this can lead to distraction from important tasks, frustration, wasted time, and more.

You have obsessive-compulsive disorder

Another possible cause is having OCD (or OCD tendencies), which involve patterns of unwanted thoughts or fears that cause repetitive behavior – and more specifically, having the order and symmetry subtype of OCD. Unlike the contamination subtype, which involves fear of infection and germs, the order and symmetry subtype is “when there is a compulsion and obsession with items that are ‘just like that,'” explains Dumler. “Unread notifications and disorganized phone screens often challenge an OCD-like brain.”

If you think you may have such an illness, or are experiencing symptoms that interfere with your daily life, consider contacting a therapist for support.

“Whatever the reason, please be gentle with yourself,” Hardy insists. “Instead of problem-solving notification by notification, consider going back to the big picture to find out if there are patterns at play.”

Why 23,764 unopened emails don’t bother you

Alternatively, those dialing numbers in your email app may not upset you. You may jokingly brag about how many unopened emails you have, or how fondly you are known in your group of friends as “the one who never responds.” Here’s what that could say about you:

How your brain works best

The way you stay organized and working may just look different. “Some people are mentally organized best and therefore don’t thrive on notes, calendars, and notification systems,” Dumler says. “They may find this works better for them, makes them less stressed and helps them focus their time and energy on other things.”

This may mean focusing on the important notifications. “They’ve highlighted the most important ones and plan to ignore the rest,” Hardy says.

You don’t feel the same urgency

Or maybe you don’t feel rushed to open notifications. You understand that it is reasonable to need (or want) a few days to respond.

“They may be less of a perfectionist and go with the flow more,” Derhally says. “They may not see having unread notifications or clearing inboxes as a priority, and they may not feel bad/guilty/embarrassing for not responding.”

Addressing those notifications actually stresses you out

On the other hand, you can avoid reacting because it triggers fear. “Don’t assume that lots of unread notifications mean the person is being lighthearted about it,” Hardy says. “[They may be] too stressed to even read one of them.” Unfortunately, piling up these notifications can make the inconvenience worse.

If you’re struggling with this, it can help to identify what outcome you’re concerned about and how to deal with it, adds Dumler. Is the fear over? Share your reaction with a colleague? Do you plan to take a deep breath if you get a rude response?

Are you in between the two?

While some people go hard one way or another, you might go both ways (me too). For example, I hate not reading my Facebook notifications, but I currently have over 20,000 unread emails (hey, many are ads!). What does this say about us?

According to Derhally, it comes down to what makes you anxious and your preferences. Some notifications are also more in your face, like the ones that appear when you unlock your phone.

Dumler points to social anxiety. “It probably has to do with the level of mental energy, time, attention, and stress that comes from addressing those specific alerts,” she explains. This also makes sense to me: If my response is going to take time and emotional energy, I’ll be more likely to wait to respond, while I quickly say “Sounds great!” immediately text.

Sometimes you can just use an easier option. To Dumler, this is like expressing her thoughts live in a voice message while she performs other tasks.

But in general, be curious. “If it’s the . is thing of a business email that annoys you after hours, I don’t know if the solution is to tolerate it better,” Hardy says. “Instead, the solution can find ways to advocate for better boundaries between work and the rest of your life.”

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