Smartwatches. Health monitors. Pedometers. Activity trackers. Virtual reality headsets. They’re all part of the emerging landscape of wearable technology, developed to improve our total health functioning. With wearable technology, it’s become easier than ever to learn more about ourself- tracking how we eat, sleep, exercise, and react to our environmental surroundings in real time. With a touch of a button, we can even communicate and gain support from peer communities based on our specific health problems like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and PTSD as well as a range of medical conditions including asthma, cancer, diabetes, smoking cessation, and weight management. While nearly 1 in 5 Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, and about 1 in 10 experience mood disorders like major depression, others of us experience a wide range of emotional challenges in our life, but do not require professional mental health treatment. Wearable technology is not meant to replace the keen eye of a health professional’s diagnostic and treatment abilities, but when utilized properly, the information it provides can be invaluable for maintaining optimal mental health. While most of us understand the basics- tracking our wearable data to ensure consistent and adequate sleep and regular exercise, what else can we track to stabilize and improve our emotional functioning?
Here are 6 ways you can put your wearable device to use for improved emotional health:
1) use physiological parameters measured by wearable sensors (such as ECG, accelerometers, EMG, body impedance, skin conductivity, heart rate variability, blood volume pulse, breathing rate and volume to determine nervous system reactions) to track when your body is experiencing ‘the stress response’ , then plan to execute brief relaxation strategies to better regulate your body’s reactivity signals.
2) manually enter your mood and/or other personal self-ratings, such as productivity, or fatigue the same time each day, so you can start to better understand how your unique biological fluctuations pair with your emotional fluctuations
3) pair brief, self-administered mood interventions (such as diaphragmatic breathing, ergonomic stretches or social breaks) at preselected data points/targets on your wearable device
4) If you’re willing to try some simple programming for your wearable app, try using IFTTT. This free consumer app allows you to create ‘recipes’ which help to keep you emotionally/behaviorally motivated through your wearable device’s app.
5) Set up detailed behavioral reminders to engage in activities that contribute to optimal wellbeing based on your lifestyle. Simple yet effective, having an electronic reminder to ‘hydrate after being at a bar for 2 hours’ might be the turning point to a much better ‘morning after’ happy hour. Download the ‘Do Button’ on your mobile device to tell your loved one you’re on your way home, which might be the turning point to a peaceful reunion with your partner.
6) Share a summary of data from your wearable with your executive or personal coach, or other mental health professional to explore in your collaborative work together. This information can serve as a discussion guide for better understanding how your overall health functioning is shaping your emotional functioning.
Dr. Christina Villarreal is a mental health expert, executive and personal coach/consultant, and educator in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA. For professional inquiries, please visit her website at www.drchristinavillarreal.com