Anxiety & Technology
Illustration by Mallory Taylor
Content Warning: Technological ways to deal with Anxiety
If you’re dealing with an anxiety disorder, you know first hand what it’s like trying to live your best life, while simultaneously having that heart racing, nauseating, “get me out of my own head” feeling that loves to attach to you like a permanent backpack. I know those feelings all too well, and for me, my anxiety will always be there. However, over the years I have figured out ways to unpack my anxiety backpack to lessen the load. Now, this may seem like an unlikely pairing, and like the pineapple on pizza debate, not everyone is going share the same opinion, but I am a big fan of utilizing technology (and pineapple on pizza) when I am feeling the most anxious. It has been a major help when traditional methods, such as breathing techniques, have been no help at all. For others, disconnecting from technology completely might be the best way to combat their anxiety symptoms. Everyone’s preferred method(s) of reducing anxiety symptoms are unique, so I encourage you to try different techniques out, such as the ones I have listed below. Although they work best for me, you might not vibe with them as much as I do, and that’s okay! It’s all about trial and error and you will eventually find what will work for you.
Since I brought up pizza, I might as well roll with it - treatment for anxiety is like making a personalized pizza. Not everyone is going to agree with your choices, and sometimes you’re going to try something that you’ll never want to try again, but after a while, you will discover a mix of things that you will love and that you will continually choose. What’s on my anxiety treatment pizza? I like to turn to one of the most prominent things in our lives today - the cellphone. My phone is constantly on me and checking social media is part of my daily routine. However, I like to use my phone in more ways than double tapping and retweeting. I have discovered that when my anxiety symptoms are at its worst, my phone is something I turn to that acts as a distraction when I need one the most.
Dealing with a mental illness is hard work and finding the right treatment for it can be even tougher. However, it is always important to remember that talking to someone you trust about what is going on in your life and finding a treatment that works for you, will always be beneficial.
Below are some tech tips that I use when I feel like a panic attack is coming or I need to escape a bit when my surroundings are overwhelming. Although I find this to be a very useful tool, I always ensure that I am talking through my emotions (maybe a little too often at times) and I continually try to work past my anxiety symptoms on a day-to-day basis. It is certainly a journey, but please make sure that if you are experiencing mental illness symptoms that are becoming a bit too much, reach out and speak out and try a mixture of techniques. Remember that anxiety treatment pizza I mentioned? Read below for my own list of pizza ingredients that I’ve curated using my phone, and once you are done, share a slice with Shameless by letting us know what is on yours! Shameless would love to hear what is on yours!
1. Anxiety Apps
There is no ‘be-all and end-all’ app that is going to magically erase your anxiety symptoms. I know this to be true because I often download and delete apps that I immediately know will not match with what I am trying to achieve. Despite this, I didn’t lose hope and I found two apps that shine a spotlight on my symptoms to help me deal in an amazingly easy and insightful way. The first app is called Headspace; you might have seen a YouTube ad about it. Headspace is an app that offers both free and subscription-based meditation sessions that vary in duration, topic, and guidance level. I’m sure we have all heard about meditation, and for me, I never really could see myself taking time out of my day to actually do it. After digging around for some research on whether meditation actually works, I found various articles with a great deal of scientific vocabulary that even made me, a psychology major, scratch my head. There are several studies that use Headspace, showcasing its benefits. Something that really struck me was the 2018 study published in the Mindfulness Journal, which found that after 10 days of using Headspace stress was reduced by 14%. Less than a week and a half and there was a decrease in stress levels - I couldn’t believe it. Since I am the skeptical individual that I am, I tested this out and I really did find a decrease in how I handled stressful situations. Since this is an app on my phone, I was able to pop in some headphones and meditate anytime, anywhere.
A second app that I use to work through anxiety symptoms is called MindShift. This free app was created by Anxiety Canada and offers so many tools that you can use, such as checking in on yourself and your symptoms, learning more about anxiety, some ‘chill out’ tools and tips and tricks to achieving what you want to work on with anxiety. I use this app to track how I’m feeling when I have panic attacks, as I find it really useful to see if my symptoms are the same each time, and how often I have an attack. Having this app on my phone is like a convenient journal strictly for my anxiety symptoms.
2. Distraction, Distraction, Distraction
Example of the author’s Anxiety Apps
Example of the author’s Game Apps
Unfortunately, I have the tendency to get in my own head. I over think, worry, and things start to spiral if I focus on things that stress me out. By distracting myself – by which I mean that I need to put a massive break on my thoughts – I can quickly change direction to something else. In situations where I’m out or in between classes and this starts to happen, I turn to my phone. I have organized my phone in a way that I can easily find ways to distract myself, until I feel my anxiety symptoms calm down. The first thing I do is make sure I have games that require a bit of brain energy and skill. A great app called Peak provides you with brain games that are simple enough, but that will require enough focus to do well. This distraction is exactly what I need to stop myself from my stressful thoughts. Silly app games can come in handy when you need that escape. If game apps are not your thing, even just going through your phone’s photo album and thinking about positive memories, can do the trick.
Our phones are easily susceptible to negativity, such as stressful emails, the news, etc., but if you’re able to have a specified section on your phone that is tailored to you and what you know will help distract your overwhelming thoughts, you will find that it will become a great resource every time.
Of course, anything done in an excessive amount is never good, so I only use my specific game apps when I absolutely feel the need to. However, using apps in combination with other tricks that you have found work for you, is a great way to make it personalized to fit your needs.
3. Music Playlists
Example of the author’s Music Playlists
Creating a music playlist with your favourite songs is a great way to change your mood. A research study published in 2011, discovered that dopamine levels, which are your “happy brain chemicals”, increase when you enjoy the music you are listening to. I know when my favourite songs come on, I can’t help but smile and sing along. Naming your playlists something descriptive, such as “songs when I’m anxious” or “songs when I’m sad”, really helps to narrow down the types of songs that will help in certain situations and will help you decipher which songs correspond with what mood you’re trying to achieve. When I’m anxious, I like songs that have a calm and instrumental melody, and when I’m sad, I like songs that are upbeat and that will get me out of my funk.
Anxiety is such an individual experience, but what’s great about technology is that we can tailor it to what we want and our personal needs. Whether it’s meditation apps, game apps, music, or something completely different, technology can be a tool to turn to when anxiety symptoms are elevated. I use my phone, but maybe you use your computer to write, make stories, or have a Netflix marathon (I do all of those things too). Remember to always put your mental health first and continually find ways to calm your anxiety symptoms, and maybe this means using technology as a tool rather than something we should try and distance ourselves from if that works for you!
About Alexandra Few: Hey, I’m Alex. I’m a twenty-something, astrology obsessed, iced coffee lover, and Netflix connoisseur. I spend my time scrolling through dog Instagram accounts and getting through my day with as little anxiety as possible. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter.