03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Why Email Can Be Habit-Forming

Information overload. I don't think so. Blaming the information doesn't help us one bit.

Information over-consumption. That gets us to the heart of it. It's a twisty and dark tale of chronic stress, the autonomic nervous system and breathing.

Chronic stress causes us to fall back on familiar routines. The part of our brain associated with decision-making and goal-directed behaviors shrinks and the brain regions associated with habit formation grow when we're under chronic stress, according to researchers at the Life and Health Sciences Research Institute in Portugal.

Stressed rats will compulsively press a bar for food pellets, even when they have no intention of eating. Sound familiar?

Over-consuming comes naturally. Our bodies are tuned to consume when we're in fight or flight. We're also tuned to be impulsive and compulsive in a fight or flight state. Resources are plentiful around us, and our bodies are screaming for us to consume, compulsively. In this state, humans are less aware of when we're hungry and when we're sated. We reach for every available resource as if it's our last opportunity.

One of the most significant lifestyle changes to happen over the last twenty years is screen time: time in front of a television, video game, computer, or mobile device. By some accounts, adults spend over eight hours a day in front of a screen.

How does screen time contribute to chronic stress? In February 2008, I wrote about email apnea. It's the term I coined for the temporary cessation of breath or shallow breathing humans tend to do while at ANY screen: computer, mobile device, video game or television. Our screen posture is generally compromised, making it challenging to get a diaphragmatic breath. The emotion of anticipation, accompanied by an inhale, is a natural response to a flood of email or a tense moment in a video game.

We forget to exhale. It's the exhale that contributes to the reduction of the stress response and the heightening of the relaxation response. More breathing, less chronic stress and less compulsive consuming.

Breathing, in and out through the nose, with an exhale twice as long as the inhale, is an antidote to email apnea. Check it out for yourself and let me know how it works.

Our brains are resilient. Our nervous system can be our ally. Technology is a partner in co-creation .... as long as we keep breathing.