Anxiety about reading email

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to address an email phobia? I'm a freelancer, and my fear developed early this year during a rough patch at work when I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. It seems to ebb and flow; sometimes it doesn't bother me at all, but during busy periods like now it has been terrible: I get panic attacks when I try to open my inbox, and at this point I'm sure there are messages there blaming me for being rude, unprofessional, etc...and of course those thoughts simply reaffirm my fear. This phobia has financial repercussions, as I can't keep accounts if I'm not actually responding to clients, but more importantly I'm tired of having even my family time marred by constant feelings of worry and shame. I'm on physician-prescribed Zoloft (100 mg, and I haven't noticed any difference after 6 weeks), but I'd love to know if there are therapists specializing in this (I think it might be a kind of social anxiety?) or other measures I could try.   

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

Hi, I don't have a therapist for you but I do have some ideas. My friend suffered from this for years when going through a tough time with her employer and worried about getting employer emails. I will tell you how she handled it. First, she was on anti-depressants. Second she saw a therapist. Third, she had xanax in case of panic attacks when opening emails. Fourth, and this is most important, she had a few trusted friends who opened and read her email while she either sat on the phone or sat nearby. The person reading the emails for her could paraphrase, could tell her that something negative was in the email, and even respond with her there. As we did this for her, she got more confident about being able to read her own emails. It took a long time (a year or two) but she is now able to read her emails, but she also left the job. SHe does get panic if she sees an email from someone from her previous work wondering what it will be, and then may call a friend and have them log in and read the email for her. Once she knows there are no bad things in the email, or even have the email paraphrased for her, she can read them herself. It really helped her to have the support of others and email readers for her who would read and summarize. I wish you luck.


I'm so sorry you're going through this. Zoloft and other antidepressants can take a long time to work, much longer than you'd expect: 4-6 months has been typical for me. (I would always despair that the pills would ever make any difference just as they started to help.) Might it be possible for you to hire a student (or TaskRabbit etc.) to go through your inbox as short-term help, and respond to your clients? It might be cost-effective in the short term, and also helpful for your peace of mind to know that someone is screening them for you. You needn't give details; just explain that you need extra help while you're busy. Good luck finding a therapist. I'm sorry I don't have recommendations there. In my experience getting a bit of leverage to break out of a cycle is really key, and in a team-based workplace you'd be welcome and encouraged to get help from your "teammates." Having a kind and friendly person working with you, even remotely, might also be soothing.


Hi there. I don't have a clear answer for you, but I wanted to let you know you are not alone. I go through this, as well. Listening to phone messages is also a huge issue for me. Mine also ebbs and flows. I understand completely how you feel, and I'm sure there are therapists who know this type of anxiety and can help you come up with tactics to control it. I no longer freelance, but when I did this was an issue (to the point where I was so afraid to read emails I missed submitting a bill for over 2k in services and never got paid). These days it largely affects me socially (inability to stay in contact with long distance friends and family, fear of opening emails from loved ones I haven't made contact with for months). 

If you need a recommended general therapist, Valerie Creane is amazing: She's warm and kind and has many connections in the community. She could probably recommend some specific therapies or therapists for you, or perhaps help you herself. 

Otherwise, the small things that have helped me are:

-if my email is messy and not organized, taking a couple of days over the weekend to get it very organized (tag everything, color code, delete or archive as much as possible) and then I feel less overwhelmed when I open it. I also feel more in control when I know there are 5 new emails waiting for me that I don't really want to read, but if I can see there are only 5 scary ones and not others hiding in the shadows amongst junk mail, then it feels doable. 

-coming up with a morning routine around the dreaded task. Do you prefer being around people when you read email? I'm an introvert, but I can find comfort in being in crowds if I don't need to interact with anyone. So going to a coffee shop and having your favorite drink and muffin every morning while you open your emails - it might help to get out of the house or office and into a more neutral area. Neutral areas with people always give me perspective. Being home alone does not.

-asking people to text me with quick questions, rather than email or phone. texting works so much better for me - i don't seem to get the same anxiety around it. 

-asking someone you trust to open the scary emails for you. If you're like me, once the flood gates open you can keep going. So if someone understands that you have this anxiety and doesn't judge you for it, if they are able to open the emails waiting for you in your inbox and work with you to get through them, perhaps the next day wouldn't be so bad? A partner or close friend might be able to do this for you every so often.

I do agree that it's a very real anxiety that needs treatment of some sort. If you happen to find treatment that works for you, please post it here!