As we’ve grown accustomed to having Internet access at all times, we’ve come to expect and rely on it. So it’s not surprising that when the broadband connection goes down, the 3G network fades out, or the email client is acting up, a certain anxiety can set in. Some psychologists have even coined a whimsical term for it: “discomgoogolation.”

Clinical monitoring of heavy web users revealed their brain activity and blood pressure increased markedly when they were cut off. The stress of being disconnected was equivalent to that of running half an hour late for a key meeting, being about to sit an important exam or, in the worst cases, being sacked.

It would be easy to dismiss this type of anxiety as faddish or imaginary, but many of us know that it’s quite real. When email is an integral mode of communication in our lives, losing email access means managing for a time without a primary connection to the rest of the world. The good news is, it doesn’t have to feel like that. Like many forms of anxiety, the stress around being disconnected electronically can be reduced significantly with some very simple and practical strategies. Here are a few:

  1. Ask yourself: What’s the worst that could result from my not having email access right now? Be specific with your answer, e.g. “My boyfriend will think that I’m ignoring him and might break up with me.” or “The client will become annoyed that I’m not responding to her question quickly enough. Maybe the whole meeting will be canceled.”
  2. Now ask: What are the odds that this worst-possible outcome is actually going to take place while you’re out of email contact? Most people find that when they take an honest look, these disaster scenarios are actually pretty remote possibilities: 5% chance? 10%? Instead, what’s the more likely outcome? “My boyfriend will wonder where I am, maybe be a little annoyed or worried, then get on with his day until I’m in touch.” Or: “The client will probably move on to other projects for the moment, since our deadline is still days away.”
  3. Finally, determine a good plan for dealing with the situation if some form of what you’re fearing actually happens: “If he’s mad at me, I’ll explain that my email went down and that I couldn’t respond.”  Or: “If email is still down in an hour, I’ll call the client on the phone and suggest an alternative means of having this conversation, like a conference call.” Remember that your Plan B is not ideal, maybe not as convenient as if you had email access, but could be good enough.
  4. Go do something else enjoyable and diverting—something that doesn’t require connectivity.

Want to take a pre-emptive step and practice? Consider setting aside an upcoming weekend as Email-Free. Make whatever arrangements you need beforehand to minimize the practical impact of being AFK (Away From Keyboard) for two days, and prove to yourself that you can manage it.