Email FOMO and the Threat of Uncertainty
If I ever see a red circle with numbers on it over any of my iPhone apps, I immediately investigate, as if a mosquito is buzzing all around my phone.
*WHAP!* go away email!
*WHAP!* no more notifications!
As much as I like to make it all go away, I also love knowing that someone is inviting me to receive something, even if it’s another Groupon that I’ll never buy or use. (How are they still in business?)
My point is, I do not like to have ANY notifications on my phone longer than necessary, especially emails. That doesn’t mean I answer emails right away. Sometimes I do…other times I just flag them or skim my email to see what I haven’t responded to yet. At least this is what I used to do until a couple of weeks ago.
I made the decision to keep emails unread until I was ready to thoroughly read and respond to them.
This made me feel like something was always lingering. I felt this pressure to pop 5 unread zits on my face. The unread emailed beckoned me with a call “Open me! Open me! Hurry!!!”
What does this mean on a deeper level?
I feel a lot of pressure to get to things immediately, even if I don’t need to respond. It’s like I need to get it out of the way so I can get to the next thing.
If someone needs me, I have to save them!
Uncertainty is a threat to me.
These three points are hard for me to swallow. I call myself a Feminist Healing Coach, but that doesn’t mean I’m healed. I’ve worked through codependency, but that doesn’t mean I never people please. I know urgency is a characteristic of white supremacy culture, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to it. I’m not always zen or chill or namaste.
I’m a person who is constantly getting to know herself better.
And as I get to know myself, I have to feel the sensations that come up when I mark an email as unread because I’m not ready to respond to it.
What are the sensations that come up for me? I feel a lingering pain in my chest. I feel like the other shoe is going to drop unless that email is marked as read. It’s like a spot on the counter that I have to keep staring at and am not allowed to clean.
Except, I am allowed. I’m allowed to leave things be. To let them sit there until I can fully receive and respond to them. Responding in urgency, reading in urgency, and flagging in urgency do not come from a place of care. These responses come from a place of fight or flight. It’s my nervous system telling me that when someone wants my attention, I must respond. Because if I don’t read it or at least look at it, I might not survive.
Am I connecting unread emails to my sense of worth and literal survival? Yes. I. Am.
I am worthy of unread emails, I am safe.
One of the best things I’ve learned about the nervous system is that by knowing how my body responds to different inputs (read: new email), I can shift from feeling unsafe to saying to my body “you are safe.”
Whether we know it or not, feeling worthy feels safe. Feeling unworthy means we don’t belong, it means we won’t measure up, it means people won’t like us. And this can feel very scary. We are social beings, we need each other, and if anything threatens that, we will fight for our survival.
But now I have an opportunity. I can practice marking read emails as unread. I can hold my hand over my heart and say “you can respond to this email later, you’ll be okay.”
As I’m writing this, I’m imagining so many people pointing and laughing at me. They are appalled at how I’m equating marking an opened email as unread with actual survival. It kinda goes like this:
But this is exactly why I’m talking about it. Something this small can trigger my nervous system to a point where leaving an email unread feels incredibly unsettling in my body.
Here’s how I’m re-associating it with safety:
Awareness: Reading and responding to emails ≠ my worth.
Reframing: Leaving an email unread is an invitation for me to respond when I’m ready.
Embodiment: While placing my hand on my heart, closing my eyes, and breathing, I say “I will look at this when I am grounded and have capacity.”
Non-judgment: Laughing at myself, remembering I am a human being living in a capitalistic and colonized world that wants me to constantly respond to it, and telling you all about it too :)
An exercise for you
Think about something small that feels like a threat and might be disrupting your life. Here are some examples:
Looking at your phone first thing in the morning
Procrastinating on a simple task
Moving quickly through a task
Scrolling on social media
Responding to text messages
Decide what behavior you want to shift for the above.
Use the framework I indicated above to support you in the process:
Awareness: Journal about the story that comes up with this behavior or circumstance. For me it was “if someone sends me an email, I must open it immediately because someone needs me and I don’t like uncertainty.”
Reframing: Reframe this story into one that is safe and empowering.
Embodiment: How do you feel safe in your body? Through breath, movement, physically grounding into nature? Visualize or embody this when shifting this behavior.
Non-judgment: Remind yourself that there’s a reason we have certain habits or reactions. Our nervous systems want to keep us safe. Talk about this with someone who feels safe. And laugh at yourself! There is no right or wrong here :)
In the end…
Not sweating the small stuff isn’t as simple as it sounds. When we do sweat the small stuff, there’s big stuff happening in our body.
These little things have a bigger message. When we notice these little things, we can recalibrate our sense of safety and move bigger next time. Micro leads to macro. Small is mighty.
Share this message with someone you love and let me know how this created any shifts for you.