WORKOUT WEDNESDAY: Isotonic vs. Isometric Exercise: What’s the Difference?

by Emily Wheeler

Did you know that you can build muscle strength just by trying repeatedly to lift weights that are actually too heavy for you to move? And what is the point of holding the dreaded “plank” exercise for a minute at a time? The answer lies in the difference between isotonic and isometric exercise, and you’ll want to include both in your strength training routine to receive maximum health benefits!

Many people are aware that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all healthy adults engage in some type of physical activity each week. These recommendations are not just important for maintaining a healthy weight and metabolism, but also for maintaining cardiovascular, muscle, and bone health that are so important for healthy aging, disease prevention, and a long life. Even if you never lose a single pound, exercising regularly in accordance with the CDC guidelines can improve overall health tremendously.

But it’s not just as simple as going for a brisk walk or a jog a few times a week; the CDC recommendation for adults is at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week) AND doing muscle strengthening activities on at least two days each week.1 These two categories can overlap if you’re doing a Pilates class that uses weights and raises your heart rate, or if you participate in the Absolution or Lower Body Conditioning group fitness classes at the SRC on campus, for example. But the point is that it’s important to include muscle strengthening exercises into your routine. These exercises help you to maintain muscle tone, which helps to prevent a decrease in metabolism over time, and also increase bone strength and reduces calcium loss and risk of osteoporosis as you age, especially in women.

Now that we know that muscle strengthening exercises are important and recommended by the CDC for all healthy adults, we can talk about the two categories of muscle strengthening exercises: isotonic and isometric exercise.

Isotonic exercise is probably the type completed most often, which is when a muscle faces a resistance that it is strong enough to overcome, so when the person uses their strength to resist the weight, the muscle contracts and shortens and there is motion in the attached joint as it does so. Isotonic exercises build muscular strength and endurance, but they aren’t too hard on the cardiovascular system, so depending on the weight, your heart rate may or may not increase. Simply lifting a bag of groceries is an example of isotonic exercise.

Isometric exercise, on the other hand, is when a muscle faces a resistance that it is not strong enough to overcome, so even when the person uses all of their strength to resist the weight, the muscle contracts but doesn’t shorten, and therefore the attached joint doesn’t move either.2 Think of the feeling when you do squats with the barbell loaded close to your maximum weight, then you do a few and eventually you reach a point when you squat down, but it seems like no matter how hard you push your feet into the floor and engage your legs, you just can’t stand back up and that’s when your spotter steps in. The squats before that one were isotonic exercises, but the last squat was an isometric exercise. If you were familiar with the feeling in that example, you’ll recognize that while isotonic exercises don’t always raise the heart rate, isometric exercises definitely do raise the heart rate, and are therefore more taxing for the cardiovascular system and cannot be done for as long or as often as isotonic exercises.

Here is a 1 minute video that demonstrates the difference between isotonic and isometric muscle contraction if you’re a visual learner:

Here are some examples of isotonic exercises that you can incorporate into your workout routine:

  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Crunches or sit ups
  • Triceps and biceps curls with dumbbells
  • Squats (be sure to maintain proper form and keep the knees behind the toes)
  • Russian twists
  • Supermans (where you lay on your stomach and lift your hands, chest, feet, and legs off of the ground; try three sets of 10 or 15 repetitions)
  • Reverse crunches (lay on your back with legs together and pointed straight up toward the ceiling, feet flexed, and use your abdominal muscles to lift the gluts off of the floor and push the feet straight up toward the ceiling)
  • Burpees
  • Bench presses

And here are some examples of isometric exercises that you can incorporate into your workout. Notice that many isotonic exercises engage the abdominal muscles, which is great because they are the ones supporting your spine and trunk all day, every day! This just becomes especially noticeable when you’re holding the position and can actually feel the abs working compared to when you’re just walking around or sitting. If you want to know which muscles an isometric exercise is working, just hold the position for long enough and I promise you’ll start to feel the burn.

  • The humble plank (Can be a full plank, with arms straight, or a forearm plank. Just make sure to keep arms parallel instead of hands clasped together for maximum benefit to the forearm plank. And keep that butt down and in line with the rest of your body!)
  • The dreaded wall-sit (Hold for 1 minute, three times and your thighs will understand the meaning of isometric exercise.)
  • Squat holds (Exactly what it sounds like—squat down and hold it there for at least 30 seconds before you stand back up.)
  • Side plank (Holding a proper side plank, or side forearm plank, with the top arm extended up and held pointed toward the ceiling is one of the most intense and difficult isometric exercises, in my opinion)
  • Abdominal cross holds (Laying on your back, extend one leg out and keep the other knee bent toward the body. Then cross your opposite elbow to that knee, hold for 30 seconds, and switch to the other side. Repeat 5-10 times.)
  • Tree pose (Stand on one leg and cross the other leg so that your food rests right above the knee on the standing leg. Bend the standing leg as much as you can so that you are sitting back with your tush, and bring upper body down with the palms pressed together so that elbows reach the knees if you wish. Hold for 30 seconds-1 minute on each leg.)
  • Yoga warrior two (Feet are spread wide apart, left foot facing forward and right foot perpendicular to left. Bend the right leg until the thigh is parallel to the floor, extend arms straight out toward each side, and look toward the right middle finger as you hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on other side. Almost like a side lunge.)
  • Chair pose (Stand with legs and feet pressing together, and then sit back as if there is a chair behind you. Tuck the tail bone to engage the abs, and extend the arms above the head. Sit as low as you can and hold for 30 seconds)
  • Push against a sturdy wall (This one is super simple: stand with feet hip-distance apart, face a sturdy wall, and push against it as hard as you can for 30 seconds. It seems silly, but it’s a good workout! I say “sturdy” wall because it’s important to choose a wall where you’re not going to push a hole in the sheetrock if you’re strong enough.)

People with high blood pressure should be careful about doing isometric exercises because they can raise the blood pressure while you hold the position. If you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor if purposefully doing isometric exercises regularly is safe. Whether or not you have high blood pressure, don’t forget to keep breathing as you hold the position!! (And remember to include both isotonic and isometric exercises into your strength training routine, at least two days a week! :)

Sources:

  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html
  2. Harvard Public Health Glossary of Exercise Terms. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Health_Letter/2008/September/Glossary-of-exercise-terms

9 Ways to be a More Conscious Volunteer

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A few weeks ago, I sat down to start writing a blog post on volunteering, including the many opportunities we as Carolina students have to volunteer. As I started researching the topic I came across a number of websites on the benefits of volunteering, and I noticed that on many of these websites, most or all of the reasons given on why to volunteer were focused on the personal benefits that can be gained through volunteering. For example, I found numerous lists of reasons why people should volunteer, and resume building, developing new skills, and networking were some of the most common (and sometimes only) reasons given. This surprised me, and ultimately rubbed me the wrong way. While these things are all great aspects of volunteering, I think that if our only reasons for volunteering are self-serving, this can be problematic. And thus, a new blog topic was born: how to be a more conscious volunteer!

Photo (Volunteers planting a rain garden 3) by (Chesapeake Bay Program), Flickr Creative Commons.

Volunteering can be a great part of one’s undergraduate or graduate experience at Carolina. I highly encourage everyone to get involved in whatever way(s) they are able. But as we embark on our journeys as volunteers, I would like to challenge us all to be conscious, mindful, and respectful throughout the whole process – from our reasons for why we volunteer to where we volunteer and what volunteer work we choose to participate in.

If you accept this challenge (and I hope you do!), here are some tips for all of us to keep in mind as we venture out into our communities to volunteer:

  1. Define for yourself why you volunteer. Maybe you volunteer because you feel strongly about a certain issue facing our society, or because you want to positively impact your community. Whatever your reason is (and I again challenge us all to identify reasons beyond things like resume building), remind yourself of it often. Let it serve as an inspiration for you.
  2. Do your research! Find an organization you’re interested in that does work in an area you’re passionate about, and volunteer with them as regularly as you’re able. Get to know the staff and clients. Find out what the organization really needs help with, and offer to help them with those projects that are perhaps not the most glamorous (like shredding paper, sealing envelopes, or filing).
  3. Talk to members of the community where you volunteer. Spend some time critically thinking about the volunteer work you are doing, and how community members perceive it. Is the volunteer work you’re providing something that the community feels is important to improving their community, or is it just something that someone outside of the community decided was a good idea?
  4. Volunteer as regularly as you can. While one-time, once per year service days are great, the more regularly you can volunteer with an organization, the more they will get to know you, and be able to really utilize your many talents to help further their mission.
  5. Be consistent and reliable. Whatever commitment you make to an organization to volunteer (be it weekly, monthly, four times per year, etc.), honor it. Remember that the organization and the community it works with are counting on you to fulfill that commitment.
  6. Be knowledgeable about and respectful of the communities you’re volunteering in. Be aware of the disparities that exist in our society (racial disparities, income disparities, health disparities, etc.) and how they might be impacting the community you are volunteering with. Be aware of your privilege as a volunteer coming into a community, and how that dynamic might be impacting members of the community. For more information on different neighborhoods and communities in Chapel Hill, check out the Town of Chapel Hill’s website as a starting point.
  7. Don’t view your volunteering as a way to “fix” people and the communities they live in. When you go into a community to volunteer, consider the community members the experts. They know their community best, and they know what their community needs. When volunteers see their role as “fixing” a community, that mindset can be both disrespectful and harmful to the community and its residents. Instead, when volunteering in a community you’re unfamiliar with, think of yourself as a partner to community residents – be ready and willing to listen and learn. For more information, check out a previous Healthy Heels blog post that talks about savior complex and the effect it can have on communities.
  8. Spend some time volunteering in your own neighborhood. Think of ways you can positively impact the community you live in (trash pick-up, building a community garden, advocating for an issue in front of local government, etc.). Check in with your neighbors – see if you can get a group together to work on a project that will benefit your neighborhood and get some of your friends or neighbors together on a Saturday to work on a project that you all think is important for your neighborhood.
  9. Have fun, learn something new, and gain new perspectives!

Interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities while at UNC? Check out some of these websites:

Apples Service Learning Courses

Volunteer opportunities in Chapel Hill

Interested in learning about volunteer options for after graduation? Check out these opportunities:

AmeriCorps

Peace Corps

 

 

 

 

 

‘Weigh’ed Down by Discrimination: The Truth about Weight Bias

This week is weight stigma awareness week. Last week, I attended UNC’s Smash TALK, an open discussion with leading eating disorder experts, and I was shocked to learn that weight stigma is much more than the brief sting of hearing the words “you’re fat.”

Imagine that you were sitting at Lenoir or Starbucks with some friends, looking at the photo below in a magazine or online. What are people saying?

Thin woman wearing black shirt and jeans

“Models photo shoot” by David Yu, Flickr Creative Commons

 

Now, imagine ya’ll are looking at this photo. What are people saying?

Large woman wearing floral dress and coat

“It’s been awhile” by Amber Karnes, Flickr Creative Commons

 

We did a similar exercise at the Smash TALK event, and it really illustrated the assumptions we make around body size. The thin-framed woman drew words like hot, confident, disciplined, healthy, social, popular, and vain. The large-framed woman was described as both happy and unhappy, weak-willed, lazy, lonely, not-as-popular.

Wow. That’s a lot of assumptions based on one photo and NO interaction.

 

Where do these assumptions come from?

These assumptions are clear examples of weight bias. The Binge Eating Disorder Association defines weight bias as “negative judgment based on weight, shape, and/or size.” It can be both explicit and implicit, and it leads to weight stigma, or internalized shame resulting from weight bias.

Weight bias stems from a culture that inaccurately equates thinness with health, happiness, and success. Add to that the growing “war on obesity” which has become a war on obese people, and it is clear that weight bias is increasingly pervasive.

Unfortunately, it also starts young and often in the home: in one study, 47% of overweight girls and 34% of overweight boys were teased about their weight by family members. Many parents who struggle with their body image subconsciously pass this on to their kids, while others try intentionally not to.

 

What about weight stigma for the skinny folks?

I have written a few blogs about body image, and I try to veer away from promoting one body type over another, because thin people face assumptions that they are stuck up or vain or that they have an eating disorder. Songs like “All About That Bass” and campaigns like “Real Women Have Curves” send a negative message to thin women, and I’m not okay with that.

But…

When it comes to weight stigma, people with large bodies have it worse. And here’s why:

People with large bodies don’t just face stigma from fat jokes, they also face discrimination. Weight discrimination has increased 66% over the past decade, making it comparable to rates of racial discrimination, especially among women.

 

Here are some of the inequities:

 

Education—compared to nonobese children, obese children are

  • Perceived as less likely to succeed by teachers and principals
  • Less likely to be admitted to college with comparable academic performance
  • Less likely to attend college
  • Subject to teasing and bullying which leads to increased absences and depression

 

Employment—compared to nonobese adults, obese individuals face

  • Lower employment with comparable qualifications and skills
  • Lower wages (1% to 6% less than nonobese employees)
  • Negative bias in performance evaluations

 

 

Health—compared to nonobese patients, obese patients experience

  • Negative stereotypes among health care professionals
  • Less time with their physicians
  • Increased depression, lower self esteem, and negative body image

 

In an earlier blog, I talked about how body shame hurts us all. And it does. However, the shame associated with larger bodies comes with a large dose of discrimination that affects people’s ability to get into college, get a job and get paid fairly, and get the medical attention they need. And that’s the real shame.

 

Help fight weight stigma by

  • Avoiding media that supports weight bias and weight stigma; read positive media like Yoga Body Project or join the Health At Every Size movement
  • Recognizing that body shame negatively affects everyone—large or small—but it results in some serious inequities for people with larger bodies
  • Taking Embody Carolina’s training to learn more about eating disorders and the healthy weight myth
  • Reading more about thin privilege and fat acceptance

How is Your Intellectual Health?

This year at Student Wellness we are shifting our focus from addressing specific health issues to understanding how health issues and behaviors impact the different Dimensions of Wellness. These include Physical, Emotional, Spiritual, Social, Environmental, Financial, Cultural, and Intellectual.

Historically, many of us may have thought about health as the absence of disease. If you ask a 4-year-old if they are healthy, they would probably respond yes, as long as they did not have a cold, the flu, a broken arm, or are confined to a hospital bed. However, we now recognize that being healthy is more than just not being sick, and it is also more than having chiseled abs and eating spinach with every meal.

The Disappearing Intellectual

Photo (The Disappearing Intellectual) by (Truthout.org) , Flickr Creative Commons

This month we are focusing on intellectual health and it really got me to thinking: what the heck is intellectual health, and am I intellectually healthy? My initial reaction is, “Of course I am intellectually healthy. I am ‘open minded.’ I try to stay up to date on current affairs and think globally. I must be doing great, right?”

Well…not necessarily. These could be part of intellectual health, but it is more than this.

Intellectual health is not about “knowing lots,” or being able to quote Nietzsche and sound “wicked smart” (insert Boston accent). I looked up Intellectual Wellness on a number of different sites, including ours, and found one definition from The University of New Hampshire that I really liked (though I liked ours as well).

Intellectual wellness is being open to new ideas, thinking critically, and seeking out new challenges.

So what does this mean? When we say we are open-minded, are we really open to new ideas, or only things that we may not have known about or experienced but fit very nicely within our world view? Do we really think critically about our deep founded beliefs and question why we believe what we do? Do we challenge ourselves on a daily basis, and when I say challenge I don’t mean by overcoming our fear of heights or running a marathon, but I mean challenge ourselves intellectually and culturally?

I think a lot of us don’t, regardless of where we stand on the cultural or political spectrum. So as you begin this new school year, I challenge you, and I challenge myself to not only focus on our physical and emotional health but also on our intellectual health. Hang out with people who are different than you. Go someplace that you would not normally go where people think and act differently than you. Take a class that is totally outside of your comfort zone. You will be healthier for it.

Get In The Flow

Leading Positive Psychology researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has been getting a lot of attention in pop Painterpsychology media for his concept, “Flow.” Why shouldn’t he? This idea revolutionizes the concept of human fulfillment. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as being engaged in, and completely immersed in, an activity for its own sake. Motivation is a key component of flow. Nothing else is encouraging the individual to engage in the activity. The motivation is intrinsic, meaning that engaging in the activity is motivation enough!

The activityRun producing the phenomenon of flow must be completely engrossing. It is generally an activity that is challenging enough to require the highly skilled person’s complete attention. That, in essence, is what allows for Flow. The mind, solely focusing on this singular activity, forgets itself. The ego
is temporarily suspended. The subject is, for a moment, completely free of her or his place in t
he world and all its trappings. In his TED Talk, Csikszentmihalyi discusses how true ecstasy is being engaged fully in a positive activity that precludes any intrusion of negative thoughts.

Individuals who experience flow report that the activity involved becomes spontaneous. Writers “loses themselves” in their work as if the words just pour out of their minds and directly onto the page. The individual generally experiences “timelessness,” as hours pass by and feel like minutes.writer

The graphic below depicts the relationship between a subject’s skill level and the level of challenge
involved in an activity to draw conclusions about the subject’s engagement and the potential for flow. The pursuit of these activities will allow us to experience something so positive for the psyche, that evidence suggests it will enhance our creativity, resilience, flow chartmood, and productivity.

What activities do you excel in? Do these activities completely occupy your mind or do you still worry about paying bills, writing papers, or studying for an exam? What activities might produce a state of flow for you? What might you gain from achieving flow?

WORKOUT WEDNESDAY: The Health Benefits of Walking

by Emily Wheeler

Albert Einstein said: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” In our increasingly sedentary world, it’s easy to go through a whole day without much effort to move on your part. You walk to the bus stop to catch the bus that will take you as close to your class as possible. Then you take the escalator in the Student Store as a cut-through to get you to the pit instead of walking up the stairs that are just a few feet away outside. Then you take the elevator up to your lab room on the fourth floor. Then you repeat in the opposite order to get home, where you sit at the table and do your homework until you’re tired and decide to go to bed.

You may just think of walking as a necessary means to an end: a useful skill that can take you from one place to another. Sometimes, if those places are far apart, walking can even get pretty annoying. However, walking has many of the same health benefits as other forms of physical activity, so maybe it’s about time that we stop being lured into the easy, sedentary patterns of life simply by walking a bit more every day.

photo (walking) by (aigle_dore), Flickr Creative Commons

photo (walking) by (aigle_dore), Flickr Creative Commons

The American Heart Association guidelines for suggested physical activity tell us that we should be doing 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, five times per week, or we should do high-intensity exercise that brings the heart rate up to 70-85% of its max three times per week. In addition to this, it is also suggested that muscle-strengthening exercises are completed twice a week. It seems like a lot of people focus on the 70-85% maximum heart rate suggestion and translate that into “to achieve effective exercise, I need to do something that is going to get my heart beating pretty hard, such as running or playing soccer.” However, note that there is a clear alternative to this way of thinking written out in the suggested guidelines—moderate physical activity. If you’re training for a marathon, preparing for a VO2 max test, or practicing for an athletic competition, then high-intensity aerobic exercise might be the best route for you. But if you’re just trying to establish healthy patterns in your ever increasingly hectic life, activities as simple as brisk walking are excellent forms of moderate physical activity.

In some areas, walking is not an ideal method of transportation due to the landscape, safety issues, or large, impractical distances between locations. In these cases, you might have to allot some times specifically to going for a walk in a designated park, greenway, or even on a treadmill while you watch your favorite show or read a book. Think about how quickly the time goes by when you sit down to watch a 30 minute episode. You could be investing in your body simply by walking while you watch it.

In other areas, especially in Chapel Hill, there are walking areas and opportunities galore—you just have to be willing to take advantage of them! It’s a little sad to me that even though most of us wouldn’t go for a 10 mile walk to work every day (which is completely understandable because in both directions, that would take all day and leave you no time to work), most of us also won’t go for a ½-1 mile walk to class every day either! I understand that timing is an issue for many people because no one seems to have enough of it, but fitting short bursts of walking into your day as you go to places that you have to get to eventually anyway can be a lot more manageable than setting aside an hour to go to the gym some days. That walk from Hojo to Chapman Hall might take 20 minutes, even at a brisk clip, and there you are already, starting your day out with 2/3 of your minimum recommended physical activity.

Yesterday, I didn’t think I was going to have time to go to the gym and exercise, but then I started out my day at the School of Public Health (I did take the bus to get there so I’m counting it as my starting point), then walked to Dey Hall, then Phillips Hall, then to Bottom of Lenoir Hall to grab some lunch, then back up the giant hill to the School of Public Health, then to Chapman Hall, and then home. Just by looking up the distances between those places online, I figured out that I walked for a total of about an hour and a distance of about 2.5 miles. That’s actually a pretty good amount of moderate physical activity in my opinion and all I did was walk to where I needed to be all day!

Still not convinced that adding more walking into your day can improve your overall health? In 2011, a study showed that people who walked briskly for an average of 2.5 hours per week saw a 19% reduction in all-cause mortality and reduced risk of cardiac events, some cancers, (the greatest risk reduction was in breast cancer, with a risk reduction of 20-40% shown in those who exercised five days per week) high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, blood pressure, mental stress, and even erectile dysfunction. An article published on the Harvard Medical School website cites a meta-analysis of research on walking published between 1970 and 2007 to show that “Among 72, 488 female nurses, walking at least 3 hours a week was linked to a 35% lower risk of heart attack and cardiac death and a 34% lower risk of stroke.” The same article also noted that randomized clinical trials (often the most reliable type of research), showed that in 8,946 patients that already had heart disease but who walked for a minimum of 30 minutes, three times per week, the risk of dying from heart disease was reduced by 26%! This just shows what a powerful effect something as simple as walking can have on your health. The little choices really do have huge outcomes!

Overall, it seems that this simple form of exercise that most everyone already knows how to do can walk the walk (haha!) when it comes to improving our health. If you aren’t already determined to add more steps to your daily routine, consider the fact that walking can be done inside or out, requires no special equipment, and doesn’t even require any special clothing or shoes if you’re just walking at a gentle pace. In our busy days, many of us march back and forth from place to place all day and even reserve time to go to the gym sometimes, yet when was the last time you just decided to go for a walk just for the intrinsic enjoyment of it? So get a friend or your dog to join you, or even a friend with a dog to join you, and just go for a 30 minute walk together one evening. It’s a great way to catch up with people you don’t see very often, and it’s better for both of you than just sitting at home watching TV. Even if you’re just going out to eat together on the weekend, consider walking together instead of driving, and as you’ve probably heard a million times, choose the stairs instead of the elevator when you can. The benefits of walking correlate more to the time and the distance walked than the speed, so whether you exercise regularly or not, you can improve your overall health and reduce your risk for a variety of diseases starting with the first simple step.

Sources:

1. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mens_Health_Watch/2009/August/Walking-Your-steps-to-health

2. http://www.c3health.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/C3-report-on-walking-v-1-20120911.pdf

3. freedigitalphotos.net

How to Overcome Inbox Overload

“Ding,” goes my computer.
“Whirrr,” goes my vibrating smartphone.

Without even thinking about it, like one of Pavlov’s dogs with a bell, I instantly check my email. It might be 9am and I just got to work, or it might be 9pm and I’m watching television with my partner. I just can’t help myself.

When I went to the beach for vacation this summer, I tried something I had never done before. I turned my work email account off on my phone. To some of you this may seem like no big deal, but I’m willing to bet there are others of you out there that understand the terrifying moment when you choose to disconnect from this mega form of communication.

Photo "Dangerous Inbox"  by  Recrea HQ, Flickr Creative Commons

Photo “Dangerous Inbox” by Recrea HQ, Flickr Creative Commons

For the first 12 hours I found myself checking that little notification bubble, and, I will admit, was actually let down when it remained fairly low. I felt tempted to turn on that Outlook® account again, just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything important. It was so hard to let go of the satisfaction of being connected and the anxiety of a cluttered inbox. Never mind that this time was supposed to be about relaxing, spending time with family, and disconnecting from the work world- I felt like I still needed to know what was going on.

And why shouldn’t it? The Radicati Group, a technology market research firm, found that the average person who uses email for work (and I would count being in college as “work”) sends and receives about 110 emails per day. That study was conducted in 2012, so I would not be surprised if the number is even higher today. Email is a form of communication we have grown to rely on; it’s a fast and easy way to get answers and pass along information without having to speak face-to-face or over the phone. But the flip side of this convenience is that people are able to reach us at any time, and the lines between school/work life and personal life grow more and more tenuous.

In a global media study conducted by faculty at The University of Maryland, they found that college students all over the world actually exhibited physical and emotional signs of withdrawal when asked to go 24 hours “unplugged” from technology. Other studies have shown that “email overload” can contribute to stress, decreased productivity & concentration, and is connected to feelings of burn out.

So, what can we do about this? Even as I write this blog, that little red notification bubble has continued to increase. Here are a few tips for managing inbox overload–or the “email beast”–that I’ve found useful:

    1. Empty your inbox. As emails come in, filter them into organized folders. This can help prevent the “inbox buildup.”
    2. Be the boss of your email. Set boundaries that work for you. This can be as simple as “I don’t check my email during class,” or not checking email after a certain time of day. Hold yourself accountable with some reinforcement, such as rewards for sticking to your goal for a set amount of time.
    3. Control the flow. Similar to emptying the inbox, control the flow of emails by setting a window of time each day that you concentrate solely on responding and sorting emails. Don’t let yourself get caught in the frantic email answering between classes—rather, sit down and focus only on the task at hand.

      Photo Ready to Start This Friday  by  Jabiz Raisdana, Flickr Creative Commons.

      Photo Ready to Start This Friday by Jabiz Raisdana, Flickr Creative Commons.

    4. Unsubscribe like your life depends on it. Remember at Fallfest when you signed up for every listserv for every organization you might ever want to join? I’m willing to bet your inbox has doubled with emails since that wonderful night a few weeks ago. Now that you have had time to settle in to the semester, go back and unsubscribe to the listservs that you haven’t read at all. You can also set up filters so that these emails automatically go into folders you can read later if you aren’t ready to un-commit yet.
    5. Take time to disconnect. While it might not be realistic or even desirable to go a day without email, set aside time to disconnect. Put up an away message, or simply turn off your email notifications until you are ready to focus on giving those messages the responses they deserve. Instead, use that “ding” or “buzz” free time to have coffee with a friend, take a walk around campus, or go to a performance you’ve been dying to see.