How technology is both a blessing and a curse for those with mental illness

Millennials grew up in a world where every person they know is at their fingertips. We carry our whole universe in our back pocket or in our purse every second of every day.

I didn't have a cell phone until I was 17. Those days, I would have my panic attacks in silence. I would lay in my bedroom by myself until the panic attack passed and then walk back out into the dining room and pretend nothing happened.

Technology and the constant connection to those around us can be a blessing. But, in my opinion, it is also very much a curse.

It's a blessing because, if you're suffering from mental illness or considering self harm, you are never truly alone. There are so many 24/7 resources that are just a phone call or a text message away. I'm sure technology has saved many people's lives.

But it can also be a curse for the very same reason -- because you are never truly alone.

A friend of mine recently read a text message conversation I had with someone while I was having a panic attack.

"Monica! Were you drunk when you sent this?" she asked me.

"Nope," I responded. "I was having a panic attack."

When I'm having a panic attack, I'm not myself. I'm self deprecating, agitated, offended by everything, desperate and convinced that everyone secretly can't stand me. Yeah, I know that's not true and, once I snap out of the panic attack, I feel ridiculous for even thinking that way. But in the midst of it, it feels so real.

Sometimes, when suffering from a mental illness (as long as you're not considering suicide or harming yourself), you just need some alone time. Maybe to meditate, to pray, write in a journal or just breathe in and out while staring at the ceiling.

These used to be my coping mechanisms. Now, I spend that time staring at my phone. Which, as I compare myself to people on Facebook or wait for a text message response back, more often than not, it only makes me more anxious.

And, you're bound to get some text from me (that I would never send if I was in my right mind), "I hate myself. Why do you like me? Send me a happy thought. Am I special? Am I making you mad? Sorry that I'm bugging you." And, as I wait for a response, my panic only heightens. I know that, because of this, I have pushed some people in my life away. (Thank you to those who have supported me and been there for me during times like these, by the way.)

According to the University of New Hampshire, technology can have negative affects on your emotional health. It can cause you to overthink, excessively worry, misread a person's feelings or take something out of context.

There are also many cowards out there who are more likely to harass people on social media. There have been several instances in the news where, instead of preventing suicide, technology has, instead, led to it.

"Technology was created to make our lives simple, not stressful!" writes Kelley Simpson, healthy UNH blogger. "Removing negative stress from your life is a major part of mental health.  It is important to recognize your reliance on technological devices to make sure that it is only leading to positive outcomes on your health."

Here are some tips to balance your technology use:

  • Just turn off your phone.
  • Don't check your phone before bed or first thing in the morning. Keep your phone out of reach or in another room if need be.
  • Choose off-screen activities instead of on-screen activities, like going outside for some fresh air, exercising, etc. while leaving your technology inside.
  • Practice mindfulness — being fully present when you're around others, instead of looking at your phone. Think of how many moments we miss everyday because we're so busy staring at a screen. 
Here are some positive uses for technology in 2016 when it comes to mental illness, according to Forbes:
  • Pacifica: A self-help app for those suffering from anxiety
  • Pala-linq: Provides support to those suffering from addiction
  • Spire: Wearable technology that can detect your mood
  • Fisher Wallace Stimulator: An FDA-approved neurostimulation device to help treat depression, anxiety and insomnia
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, text "GO" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

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