Featured Article – How Tech is Helping Reduce Lockdown Stress and Mental Health Problems
A state of lockdown has increased our reliance on technology as a way to help us meet our needs, and here are some of the many ways that technology can help us to actually reduce stress and help us look after our mental health in these challenging times.
There’s a wide variety of apps that can help occupy the mind, relieve stress and anxiety, and help in the fight against common mental health complaints such as depression. The types of apps that could help include:
– Meditation apps. A break in routine, being able to go out less (thereby getting less access to daylight), perhaps drinking more alcohol and general worry has meant increased stress, higher anxiety levels and worse sleep for many people during the lockdown. Apps that offer guided meditation instructions can help breathing and help improve the ability to relax and to sleep properly.
– Chat apps and digital socialising apps can help re-enforce feelings of safety and normality, as well as provide the kinds of interaction that is missing due to social distancing and lockdown.
– Hobby apps and the Facebook hobby tracking app. These apps can tap into our creativity, keep us in touch with what we enjoy and with what provides known positive reinforcement and rewards.
– Fitness and weight loss apps. Not having the freedom or circumstances to allow normal daily exercise has seen many people turn to fitness and weight loss apps which, if followed can help to reduce stress and maintain good feelings about ‘self-image’.
– Mental health apps. For those who already have mental health challenges or for those who are finding the lockdown and its effects challenging to their emotional and mental wellbeing, the NHS provides several mental health apps. See https://www.nhs.uk/apps-library/category/mental-health/
Physical Exercise and Fitness Tech
Outdoor tech such as fitness monitoring bracelets/watches have become more valuable as the range of sports that people can take part in outdoors has been dramatically reduced, and simple walking, running and cycling have become more popular than ever.
Of course, one of the best ways to tackle lockdown stress, for those who are able is physical exercise such as walking, running, cycling, dancing, and Yoga.
Real-world ways to help with relaxation and reducing stress include gardening (if you are lucky enough to have some garden space), art and crafts, playing music and chatting with friends, and although our technology can’t provide all aspects of these, it can provide elements of these experiences.
Those who are able to work from home using remote, collaborative working and video conference platforms e.g. Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, Facebook Messenger and Slack can have many different needs met such as interaction, the safety, security and distraction provided by still working without the stress of worrying constantly about contamination, thanks to being able to work at home in a safe, controlled environment.
Other online platforms that have provided a release from stress, positive social proof and humour, information and sessions relating to hobbies and interests plus appealing to the human bias for intermittent and novel rewards include Google’s YouTube, Facebook, and other social media channels.
A 2015 study (Amanda Roy, Christopher J Ferguson) found that computer games/video games that encourage competitive and cooperative gameplay reduce stress.
Also, in February, ‘Psychology Today’ highlighted 5 ways in which video games can help with stress and mindfulness. These include being able to put the brain on autopilot and thereby deliver a kind of meditation, providing a break from the challenges of real life, enabling an expression of freedom and creativity, prompting the release of dopamine (the so-called ‘happy chemical’), and providing a social environment where connections can be made and social interaction can be experienced between a group of ‘like-minded’ people.
Selective and Moderate Use
Some argue for less technology. Selective and moderate use of technology during the lockdown period could be most beneficial for mental and emotional well-being. Continually visiting social media and watching news bulletins that repeat negative and frightening news stories (virus death counts) can increase stress, anxiety, and negative feelings. This can also lead to ‘catastrophising’. It is also advisable to seek news from more objective and reliable sources in order to maintain context and proportion.
Our phones continue to be an important tool for managing our lives in the modern world, and the kinds of apps and platforms that we can access via many different devices have proved to be important in suggesting and providing ways that can help us retain a healthy and mental and emotional state.
The fact that our technology (e.g. collaborative working platforms) has allowed around 40% of people to work and interact with colleagues while being able to keep safe at home has been one important way that technology has helped, and will continue to help decrease stress and provide some hope in dark times. There are very few effective substitutes for feelings of safety, freedom and being able to take real physical exercise in the real world, although many people have turned to increased amounts of digital entertainment, taking good breaks and keeping screen-time down is a healthy practice anyway, but now more so than ever.
Looking forward, technology in the form of a contact tracing app in the UK could provide feelings of re-assurance (if it proves popular) as we all face more uncertainty when lockdown restrictions are eased and we have to move forward safely in a still delicate, pre-vaccine environment.