Mental health & smartphones: my experience

There is an endless supply of articles, videos, tweets, statuses, blogs, and TV shows out there to tell you how to stay mentally healthy in this current smartphone-centric society. How to not let smartphones affect your mental health, and how to spend less time on your smartphone so you don’t worsen your symptoms.

Great! If you find smartphones anxiety inducing, or stressful, or you feel you’re using yours too much and it’s affecting your mental health, go read those articles. Those articles are necessary and important, but I am yet to see anything of the other side.

So here’s my version of the other side, because smartphones aren’t all evil, time-sapping, anxiety-inducing, stress-creating devils of the technological era.

Speaking as a chronic over-thinker, distraction is my weapon of choice. I cannot stop the constant barrage of thoughts in my head. It is, quite literally, every waking second of every day. There is no reprieve. There is no moment where my brain is just quiet. Ever.
For that reason, mindfulness, unguided mediation, and basically anything that is ‘super good’ for mental illness & involves ‘quieting your mind’ or ‘being in the moment’ is basically the worst plan ever for me.

The inevitable metaphor

Let’s imagine for a second that your thoughts are water, and your brain is a field. You need a good supply of water to keep it fertile, growing, and healthy, but too much water will cause damage to crops, and possibly longer term damage to the ground itself if it becomes water-logged. So, to protect the field, you build some flood defenses, invest in keeping them maintained, and pray it doesn’t rain for 3 weeks solid.

Let’s jump back to mental health & smartphones though!

When my thoughts are left to their own devices, i.e. I have no defenses up, there is literally no way that I can manage the onslaught of them. Thoughts that range from “who am I?” and “what is the meaning of life?” to graphic, gruesome & macabre visions, to “I wonder if friend A is ok?” and “maybe I’m thirsty.” Thoughts that can be full of self-hatred, or frustration at the world, or worry about the future, or fear at what my mind can create, or just boring & ‘normal.’

So, instead of being a complete mess of thoughts & emotions, unable to function due to the overwhelming level of brain activity, I distract. For me, that looks like 100 tabs open in my browser, or podcasts playing while I shower, or watching YouTube vidoes while I change the bed. But it also looks like using my phone.

Smartphones as a mental health toolkit

My phone is my entire mental health toolkit; it allows me to distract when I feel thoughts gaining momentum, it connects me to people who ‘get’ me & who can offer more distraction or helpful suggestions, it contains a multitude of apps that can record my emotions/thoughts, along with thought-challenger ones, and breathing exercise ones, and guided mediation ones.

When my social anxiety was at its peak, smartphones were my saving grace. Burying my face in my phone while Tweeting with friends got me to several places I would never have gone had I not been able to distract like that. While I was recovering from social anxiety, Pokemon Go got me out & about without feeling so exposed and scared. And now, distraction, especially through multi-tasking, mostly in ways that engage multiple senses, is my flood defense.

If you need to step away from your phone, you do that. Good on ya. I totally support you. But my smartphone stops me drowning in the tsunami that is my mind, so ease up on the judgement, we’re all coping in different ways.


Not sponsored, but I would totally recommend the following apps (all on Google Play, not sure about iOS):

  • Pacifica – for mood & health tracking, and guided meditations. (Freemium)
  • Thought Challenger – for fighting irrational thoughts with logic (Free)
  • Breathe – For a super simple app to regulate your breathing (Free)
  • Breathe2Relax – For guided breathing (Free)

2 thoughts on “Mental health & smartphones: my experience

  1. Great post. I’m going to look at those apps, they look helpful.

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