Digital Dilemma: Can Technology Help Your State of Mind?

5 Ways to Harness Technology’s Power for Your Well-being

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In this digital age in which we’re living, there’s no doubt that advances in technology sometimes wreak havoc on our psyche. We regularly multitask between the three dimensional people in our midst, texts and tweets, and somehow nothing gets our full, sustained attention. We cannot help but fall short when we compare our reality to the carefully constructed (and therefore typically biased) social media “reality” of our family, friends, and acquaintances.

And a constant information flow – be it World news or news of our own personal world – can result in increased worry and anxiety.

Since we are not yet able to time-travel back to a simpler day and age, we instead must consider how to make the most out of our present. Rather than being controlled by iPad, Android, laptop, desktop, or television screens, let’s work to claim better control over the technology at our fingertips and to use it to improve, rather than detract from, our well-being.

We can harness the power of technology for good by using it to enhance our mental health in at least five important ways:

1. APPly yourself. Arm yourself with reputable Apps (i.e., Applications) that target your particular mental health concerns. There are now Apps to guide you through relaxing meditation or breathing exercises, enable you to track and challenge distorted thoughts, assist you in making lifestyle modifications (to sleep, eating, or exercise patterns for example) or other behavior changes, and help you count your successes.

Think of these Apps as byte-size doses of self-help for everyday stress and coping that can also sometimes be helpful in making and maintaining progress with more significant anxiety or mood symptoms.

For more information on available Apps, take a look at the list provided by the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Center for Telehealth & Technology.

Or, check out some Apps for anxiety and depression currently under study that adapt evidence-based treatment principles such as those underlying cognitive behavioral therapy (as recently covered by news outlets including NPR and the Chicago Tribune).

2. Make a virtual date with YOU! Streamlined digital calendar services make it simpler than ever to keep track of upcoming events. Daily, weekly, or monthly repetitions of recurring events can be set fairly easily, as well as reminders for especially important appointments that you do not want to miss. Fortunately, you still get to decide what’s important and what’s not. So consider penciling yourself in as the most important appointment of all. Use your online calendar to schedule self-care activities. Make a standing date to do a relaxation exercise like belly breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, to complete an anxiety-reducing workout, or to read your favorite magazine. When the calendar reminds you that it’s time to follow through on taking care of yourself, rest easy knowing that you have already allotted the time for it.

3. Program a personalized station of calm. Music can be a very effective way to soothe or distract from worry, and there are many ways to go about bringing more of it into your life. For example, you can curate a playlist of your favorite, anxiety-reducing music from your larger preexisting digital library. Or, you can use an internet radio service that (1) provides access to a seemingly limitless supply of stations and (2) allows you to cultivate a personalized station based on an artist or song you want to hear (This initial input cues the program to other, related music, to build a station to your liking.).

For more information on music streaming services, see this review of some well-established providers and this introduction to some newcomers.

4. Let technology support your relationship with your social supports. Establish regular video chats with those long-distance friends or family members who are guaranteed to make you laugh if you’re feeling down or to say just the right thing when you’re filled with worry. Pairing a familiar voice with a familiar face may enhance your sense of connection to your most trusted confidants, which in turn can help you reconnect with yourself and your calm, rational mind.

5. Set an alarm to power off, so that you can power down. One of the best ways to use technology is by employing the alarm function to automatically remind you when tech time is over. Technology timeouts, or planned breaks in screen-time, are invaluable. Stepping away from work e-mail may help you put your To Do list in better perspective. Choosing not to post a picture of a beautiful sunset on Instagram may allow you to enjoy that sunset, or the person with whom you are enjoying the view, even more. Powering down your various devices immediately prior to bedtime may make it easier for you to unplug (possibly in combination with other helpful strategies).   

No matter how automated our world becomes, using technology to enhance our well-being is going to require good old-fashioned human effort. Putting ourselves – and our many electronic devices – to the test, however, just might pay off big time in terms of our mental health.

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