By Tara Pratt

I was inspired to write about the use of gadgets to relieve anxiety after a design student, Joy, reached out to me.  She was seeking collaboration on a jewelry design aimed to reduce anxiety.  We recently met up for coffee, where she presented a well-thought-out product that is worn as a bracelet.  It detects elevated heart rate and guides timed breathing using a sphere that circles the top of the bracelet.  This product was created by Joy, following the theme of the class, Design for Mental Health.  This got me curious to explore the use of gadgets to address anxiety.

With a quick Google search, I was able to find dozens of types of gadgets all aimed to reduce anxiety.  I will introduce a few that stood out.  The Prana is worn on your waistline by clipping it into the inside of your pants.  It tracks breathing, as well as indicates when you need to improve your posture.  When tension is detected it prompts you to relax through proper diaphragmatic breathing and good posture.  The Muse helps with meditation.  Worn like a headband, the Muse uses brain-sensing technology to measure whether your mind is calm or active.  It translates these signals into guiding sounds to help you stay focused during meditation.  The Pip and the Sona both work similarly to a Fit-Bit.  They are wearable tracking devices that pair to an app on your smartphone.  They track breathing and heart rate throughout the day and, when needed, provide guided breathing and meditative exercises to reduce stress and anxiety.  Among other popular gadgets are aromatherapy diffusers, sound machines, and a plethora of available apps for your smart devices.

Prana tells you when you need to improve your posture

Sona keeps tabs on your heart rate and physical activity to measure your overall stress levels

Let’s talk about the benefits.  These gadgets are convenient.  We live in a fast-paced society and these gadgets provide on-the-go relief.  Also, these tools can help reduce the stigma around anxiety and mental health issues in general.  These cool looking, tech gadgets, are often wearable, which allow for open conversation and awareness around mental health.  They say “I’m taking care of myself” in a very open way.  These also appeal to the mainstream consumer, which can help to normalize anxiety.

There are some concerns and considerations to examine.  Confidentiality is always an issue when treating mental health.  Not everyone would feel comfortable exposing their anxiousness, especially in a panic situation.  Many of these gadgets could warrant unwanted attention. Also, we need to highlight that anxiety is complex, and gadgets themselves give a quick-fix approach to treatment.  Outside of more involved therapy, these gadgets can be useful, however, they are limited in helping process deeper underlying issues or developing more self-sustaining coping skills.

I want to encourage readers to be open to and think critically about the use of tools or gadgets in treating mental health.  What are your experiences, thoughts, and opinions?