Yeah, I know. Just hit "send"!
June 25, 2009 9:48 AM   Subscribe

I have a hard time sending e-mail (psychological, not technical problem)

When I'm writing e-mail messages, I have a really hard time clicking the "Send" button. This used to be no problem at all for me, but some months ago it started and since then it's getting worse and worse. I read mails over and over, check attachments, change stuff, and then basically just stare at them for a considerable timespan, i.e. more than just a few minutes. This is getting really annoying. I know that I just have to hit "send", but --- I can't! This wastes a lot of time, sometimes more than half an hour.

Of course this is worse with mails that are really important (like when I apply for a job or something), but I have the impression that the problem is now spreading to other areas - it takes me ages to send off even inconsequential, silly little messages to friends. Basically, it's OCD behavior (like checking the oven again and again although you know it's switched off).

I don't have any other OCD-like problems. I used to be in treatment for moderate depression, but my depressive phases are now more or less under control, and not correlated with this problem. On the contrary, it's easier to hit "send" when I'm depressed, because then I don't care so much.
I have no problem with sending physical letters, blog posts, facebook stuff or posting in forums, it's just email (although that might change soon, who knows...)

Do you know this problem? Do you have practical suggestions how I could get rid of this (ideally, without going into therapy, because I just finished three years of therapy for my depression and am not in the mood for further soulbaring)? It's so silly - I can literally feel my heartrate going up every time I want to send a stupid email, and then it's like paralysis!

[Anonymous because I do not want business contacts/employer to know about my embarrassing psychological problems]
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I have this problem. It's very frustrating. The only way I know of to combat it when it comes to inconsequential or social emails is to have a no proofing, no editing policy. Sometimes I'll re-read things after I hit send, and I'll send a followup if I left out a major point, or didn't complete a sentence, something like that. That's the only way I can get myself to hit send on emails, or even forum posts.

When it comes to important and business emails, I still have not found a way to stop obsessing. As a result, it takes me a long time to send things or respond to emails. I can think of a few times I didn't send a business email or resume because I obsessed to the point that I lost the nerve to hit send all together. This has always been a problem for me, but since this is a relatively new thing for you, hopefully getting over it won't be a long process for you.

Maybe figuring out the root of it will help you. For instance, do you find it hard to send important emails because you're afraid of rejection (if you never apply, they can't reject you)?
posted by necessitas at 10:00 AM on June 25, 2009

I used to do the same thing with phone calls I needed to make for work. I'd check and re-check my research notes, write lists of the order in which I'd make my calls, etc. A few ideas:

Can you call the person you're sending attachments to and say "Expect that document from me in the next ten minutes"? In other words, make yourself accountable to someone else and get out of your head a bit at the same time.

Also, would it help to reassure you if you put a note at the bottom of your e-mail to the effect of "Please let me know if you have any trouble opening the attachment"?

Or, could you literally set a timer once you finish typing a message--give yourself 5 minutes to edit/check and then when the timer goes off, you force yourself to hit "send"?

And finally, could you sort of re-train yourself by starting out with inconsequential, silly e-mails to friends? "Dear Fred, thought you might like this article. See attached." Hit "send"! "Dear Sue, any interest in getting lunch on Tuesday? I'm craving pizza." Hit "send"!
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:13 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

My cognitive-behavioral therapist would say that every time you hesitate to hit send and then sit there paralyzed for a bit you are reinforcing for yourself the idea that this is a scary, hard thing to do, and making it even harder for you to send the next e-mail. So it's important that you not do that! Every time you quickly send off an e-mail and it's OK, you are reinforcing for yourself the idea that it's no big deal to do this.

You can help make this possible with self-talk. Is there something you're afraid of, like embarrassing yourself, or sending a private e-mail to the wrong person, or sending an e-mail without the necessary attachment? Remind yourself that this is not very likely. Tell yourself that in our e-mail-connected world these kinds of things happen all the time, to everybody, and it's mostly OK.
posted by not that girl at 10:35 AM on June 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is usually the case for me when sending personal emails, even to family. Not so much at work because I have an odd shift which means by the time I'm writing or replying to someone, they've gone home for the day and therefore there's no pressure to finish the message as long as it's out before I go home. The idea of pressure plays into it pretty heavily- with family and friends, I have difficulty keeping myself from imagining that a delay of more than a few hours will inconvenience or annoy them in some way, and this obviously builds and builds the longer I wait to answer them. Complicating this is the fact that over the past few years I've lost a lot of confidence in how I communicate through text, after a number of disappointing misinterpretations that, granted, had less to do with what I wrote and how than what the person on the other end was already thinking, but that doesn't mitigate the feeling of failure. Yesterday, after a delay of 83 days, I was finally able to send a seven sentence email in reply to an old school friend after previous failed attempts. I typed it out quickly, immediately removed myself from the computer, and went to do something else until I temporarily forgot about the message. When I got back, I sent it immediately without reading it. It felt cowardly and silly, but it did work.

Except that 8.5 hours later, he wrote back. Damn it.
posted by notquitemaryann at 10:55 AM on June 25, 2009

I am awful at sending emails as well, and I waste a lot of time fretting over every little detail. I have a few things I've been doing recently that seem to help me just send the bloody thing.

- Sometimes I'll get annoyed at myself and just whack the send button. Sort of like ripping a plaster off. I still check the email afterwards, and it's always just fine. That has reinforced in my head that my emails come out fine without all the excessive checking.

- A little bit uncharitable perhaps, but I remind myself that there are plenty of people out there who are way worse than me at writing and expressing themselves, and unless it's actually offensively bad, no one gives a crap. So I'm probably doing just fine.

- I've stopped trying to explain every little detail because I've realised that a lot of the time it seems to not get through anyway. If I'm really fretting over how to phrase a detail, I'll stop and ask if it's really that important, and usually just replace the whole sentence with something more concise. If the person needs to know the detail, they'll ask.

It still takes me quite a while to write simple emails, but I can sometimes do it in half an hour these days instead of all afternoon. I hope something there helps you.
posted by lucidium at 10:57 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have this issue too, so you're not alone! I also do this with phone calls.The best remedy is just to have a "Torpedos be damned, full speed ahead!" attitude.

The more you hesitate and worry about an action, the more significant it becomes in your mind. Through some sort of positive feedback loop, one can end up attributing too much significance and worry to an action or thought that shouldn't be significant/worriesome in the first place.

A cognitive psychologist would say that exposure therapy will help you overcome this. Do exactly what bothers you; is there any type of volunteer work you could do (I'm thinking fundraising) that involves sending out semi-personal emails to a bunch of people?
posted by HabeasCorpus at 12:03 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I understand completely. Applying for jobs was especially brutal. A cover letter would take me hours and hours to write and if I couldn't read it out loud without stopping, I would have to go back to the beginning (ditto for school papers, proposals, etc). My best friend managed to wrestle my thesis out of my hands for proofreading and I spent the next three days in a panic because I didn't hear from her ("Oh my god, it's so terrible she's avoiding me!") The thought of somebody else reading my writing kinda makes me sick.

I have a job now where everybody is very busy, so one-line e-mails are the norm. If something requires more than a two-paragraph e-mail, I just phone the person instead.
posted by futureisunwritten at 1:02 PM on June 25, 2009

I am the same but I do have some other OCD-like behaviours. For me it's a fear of being misinterpreted. I also hate the telephone. Only thing that helps me is being assigned to very busy projects where I have to send dozens of mails a day. No time to fret.
posted by wingless_angel at 1:05 PM on June 25, 2009

I have somewhat of a problem with this sometimes and my advice would be sort of in the vein of what people who mentioned behavioral therapy suggested. I've found what really helps is to just accept the fact that sometimes everyone messes up, that I will most likely mess up sometimes too, and it's PERFECTLY OK. Making a mistake can suck, but it's also normal and human, and the consequences are often way less serious or scary than we imagine. Giving yourself license to be imperfect is a powerful thing, and very liberating.
posted by wretched_rhapsody at 1:54 PM on June 25, 2009

I have this problem as well though only when it comes to important emails. One thing I find that helps is to put the name of a trusted friend in the address field and type the whole thing out pretending that I'm just writing an email to this friend. Then I usually send it to him/her and ask them if it's fine, before sending it to the actual recipient. This only works if you have a friend who is willing to do this for you and if you only use it for important emails.
Another thing a therapist told me to do was to visualize what the worst thing that could happen would be. Very often it wasn't so very bad. And no one judges your entire worth on the basis of one email; would you even be very interested in the opinion of someone who did?
posted by peacheater at 2:14 PM on June 25, 2009

In the off-chance that you use Gmail, enable the "undo send" feature in Gmail Labs. Then, whenever you send something, it'll give you a few seconds (5 or so) to decide that, no, you didn't really mean to send that/weren't ready to send that/sent that to the wrong person, or any other excuse you may not have.

If the reason you have a hard time pushing 'Send' is the permanence of it all, I think this might help.
posted by Precision at 2:27 PM on June 25, 2009

Phone calls for me. Getting in a lift for a friend. You can analyze it to death and prepare, or you can just do it. And then do it again. And again. And make yourself do it even when you don't have to. And then one day, you'll get an ambiguous note in your mailbox from your energy company, and almost without thinking, ring to find out what's going on, and have your answer in 39 seconds or less.

Sometimes the answer to the problems we have is not to fix it but to ignore it. Quitting smoking, for example, you can concentrate on every craving and how hard it is it to tolerate, or you can accept it and get on with your life. With dieting you can fixate on how hungry you are, and how weird it is for your stomach to grumble and why can't you endlessly eat chocolate like that person over there is, or you can accept it and... well, you know.

I'm somewhat sympathetic because I've gone through years of giving myself a break when it came to things that scared me, but also somewhat harsh, because some of that 'giving myself a break' actually made things harder in the long run.

A psychologist (who was a little nutty, but also useful) once told me, fear is like a monster that you feed by giving in to it. Whatever it is that is interfering with your life, do it more often, and you will fear it less.

Oh, and lastly, if you're afraid that someone will misinterpret what you mean in an email, well, they will. But for sure at some time in your life, someone will misinterpret what you mean when you speak, or write, or dance or whatever. You can't go living your life around maybe's and what if's. It's way too draining, and it's not living. (Trust me, I know about this). If someone gets bent out of shape when you've written something reasonable, with good intent, hey, that's their problem, and they can use their own askme question. Don't let it fret you.
posted by b33j at 2:38 PM on June 25, 2009

Do this:

Write the email. Double-check everything. But have it addressed to yourself. When you're done, hit send. There should be no worry about doing it, because you're just sending it to yourself. Then when you get it back, you can read it through and, hopefully feeling confident that everything's good, you can use your email's resend function and change the name, and will be able to hit send on that because you didn't just type out the email or attach anything, you just changed the name.

However, if you can't even get past this enough to send it to yourself, I recommend seeing a doctor about it.
posted by davejay at 4:03 PM on June 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

I've done what davejay suggests and it worked well for me. Once it arrived in my inbox I wasn't so attached to it any more, and was able to resend it without much drama. My other trick is to save it as a draft, go do something else for five minutes or so, reopen it, spell check it one more time, check the attachment one more time, and then take a breath and press send.

Maybe if you had a list of all the tasks associated with sending an email - spell checking, checking attachment, etc followed by 'send' - written down, and you ticked off each one as it was done the first time then when you get to the send task it is just one more thing to tick off, not the major act of the email.

Also nthing the comments above about not worrying about perfection. We are all perfectly imperfect and it helps me a lot in life to remember that.
posted by Kerasia at 7:16 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used to have this problem. I realized it had to do with the fact that I was putting _too much_ into my emails, and therefore there was too much to 'debug' before sending. The reason why they were so unnecessarily long was that I was checking and responding to email too early in the day. I realized that if I used the early day to be writing more productive work, and resisted the urge to check/respond to email, I would exhaust my "good" writing on something I was really committed to editing and working on and then emails (for lack of time) could just get dashed off at the end of the day. I went from writing rediculous 3 page emails to 3 lines of text at a time. Much less intimidating to hit send on something so much simpler.... and less to backfire if you don't have time to proofread either.

By the way, there's a book titled never check email in the morning or something. I skimmed it at the bookstore, enough to be suitably inspired.
posted by iiniisfree at 8:04 PM on June 25, 2009

I also struggle with this. It's much worse when I feel the email is more important or when I'm trying to make a first impression. In this case, what works for me is a variation of davejay's solution: I send the email to a friend or family member and ask what s/he thinks of it. Having a second opinion makes it much easier to hit "send" (and has saved me the embarrassment of a few typos I missed).
posted by moutonoir at 7:32 AM on June 26, 2009

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