Technological advances supporting better health and wellbeing Essay

SLUG LHS: Tech for good SLUG RHS: Mental health and wellbeing HEAD: Technological advances supporting better health and wellbeing SUB: From digital assistants in our phones to virtual reality systems that can combat PTSD and depression, tech can be used to assist us in so many areas of our lives. We explore five key areas tech is changing how we look after our mental health and wellbeing. BYLINE: Bonnie Evie Gifford ---- PQ1: According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of us have felt so stressed we were “overwhelmed or unable to cope” at some point over the past year. PQ2: Different types of home-based tech can help us optimise our environments to suit our needs. ---- We’re living in an exciting time of technological advancements. It feels like we’re constantly hearing about new ways tech can help change our habits, and help us live happier, healthier lives. While there’s a lot of mixed messages about the impact some areas (social media) can have on us, for better or worse, let’s be honest with ourselves: we’re (almost) always going to be connected in some way. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, smart watches, fitness trackers - we’re rarely far from some kind of tech designed to keep us connected. Why not embrace these technological advances and their potential power for good? From mindfulness apps in your pocket to tech that changes your environment, we share some of the different devices that look to improve the ways we take care of ourselves. There’s an app for that It feels like there’s an app for everything. From tracking your menstrual cycle to finding quick and easy gluten-free recipes, chances are, if you can think of it, someone’s made an app for it. Convenient and often cheap (or free), apps can be a good addition to helping with a number of issues (though they shouldn’t be a replacement for professional advice and care). For apps that claim to help with symptoms of mental illness, it’s always worth checking their credentials or running it past your healthcare practitioner. Boxout Did you know… the NHS Apps Library recommends a wide range of trusted apps and digital tools you can use to help improve your wellbeing? Split into easy to navigate sections recommending options for those looking for apps to assist with mental health, cancer, maternity, social care, and long-term conditions. There are currently over a dozen apps to help with stress, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and mood tracking. Mindfulness and meditation apps are amongst some of the most popular apps out there. In 2018, Apple named ‘self-care’ its app trend of the year, while in 2017 it named Calm, one of the leading mindfulness and meditation apps, iPhone app of the year. Along with other leading apps such as Headspace, Calm helps users learn how to practice regular mindfulness as a form of self-care. With short guided meditations for beginners to pros, many also offer additional features such as calming background noises, bedtime stories, and guided videos. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of us have felt so stressed we were “overwhelmed or unable to cope” at some point over the past year. While it can’t help with everything, organisational apps can be a simple way of helping us plan, create goals, and use scheduling to decrease the stress and strain that can come from having too much to do. Acting as a personal task manager, the award-winning Things app is easy to use, letting users keep all of their to-dos in one place. For more visual thinkers, Trello acts like a mixture between a bulletin board and a collection of sticky notes, letting users drag and drop notes, lists, photos, and colour-coded tabs with set time limits to organise their workload by app or on desktop. Families looking to split the load should check out Wunderlist, a handy app that makes task sharing (and assigning) simple and easy. Calm app: free 7-day trial, $59.99 USD annually or $399.99 lifetime subscription [they don’t officially have a british pricing plan on their site, but it’s about £45.59 or £304.01 according to, 3 April] Headspace: free 30-day trial, £9.99 monthly or £71.88 annually, £14.99 family plan available monthly Things 3: £9.99 Trello: free (in-app purchases available) Wunderlist: free (paid upgrade available) Professional support anytime, anywhere Speaking to a counsellor or qualified therapist has never been more accessible. Thanks to video chat, email, and instant messaging, online counselling has become more and more popular. Often offering lower wait times, convenience, and a lower cost, those with mobility issues or living in remote areas can now gain greater access to professional support outside of their immediate area thanks to online counselling. Expert opinion is divided on if online counselling is quite as beneficial as traditional face-to-face sessions, however, its’ combination of affordability, accessibility and convenience make it a popular option to fit around busy schedules. If you are considering using an online counsellor or digital service that provides therapists, remember to check that the site or service you are using only use qualified individuals who belong to a professional body (as this can help ensure higher standards, professional oversight, and up-to-date care). Online counselling: cost varies. Visit to find out more. Gamify your wellbeing/ Using virtual reality to change your reality Virtual reality (VR) isn’t just about playing the latest horror game using the Oculus Rift or Playstation VR. Experts are using VR as a therapeutic tool to help with a number of conditions including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). The Institute for Creative Technologies’ Director of Medical Virtual Reality spoke with Vice back in 2016 about how gaming hardware is being used to help those with PTSD. Early research suggests that VR can help with both clinical assessment and treatment. Further research has shown VR may be able to help those with ADHD, as well as being used as part of the rehabilitation process for those who have experienced traumatic brain injuries or a stroke. The University College London (UCL) together with the ICREA University of Barcelona revealed that VR therapy may help people with clinical depression become less critical towards themselves, helping increase their self-compassion and reducing symptoms of depression. Out of 15 patients studied, nine reported reduced symptoms, with four showing a clinically significant decrease in the severity of their depression. What about outside of a clinical setting, can VR help improve our mental health and wellbeing? Still in development, Deep VR is a meditative game you control with your breathing. Played using a custom controller and a virtual reality headset, players explore a mysterious, beautiful underwater world by controlling their breathing to move through the world. Teaching you relaxing, yogic breathing techniques that can help alleviate stress, anxiety and mild depression, the movement of the water matches the rise and fall of your breathing. Players attach the custom controller to their waist like a belt, allowing the system to measure the expansion of their diaphragm. This then feeds back to the player in the form of visual cues, helping link what you are seeing and experiencing to encourage you to slow your breathing and relax. Playable without the use of your arms (or legs), Deep is already a multi-award-winner, showing at conferences and events around the world. If you can’t wait for Deep, Zen Zone helps players visualise their bodies whilst practicing breathing exercises. Players can also tend their own digital zen garden, raking sand and rearranging rocks in soothing patterns. Zen Zone for Oculus Go or Gear VR: £3.99 VR headsets: prices vary (£14.10 – £249.99+) Deep VR: in development Wearable tech We’re all familiar with the basics. Thanks to the likes of the Apple Watch, Fitbit, and retired headline grabbers the Google Glass, wearable technologies have begun creeping into the mainstream. Smartwatches like the Apple Watch Series 4 make simple tasks like checking your messages even easier. With the help of apps and their latest software updates, users can also practice mindfulness, track their heart rate, steps and physical activity. The most recent watchOS update saw the introduction of ECG, notifications for unusually high or low heart rates, emergency SOS, fall detection, and irregular rhythm notifications. Wearable technologies seem to be aiming to be the next must-have. Visualise your stress with the help of the PIP device. A small device you use alongside your smartphone or tablet, the Pip gives immediate feedback about your stress levels. Using the related app, users must turn a winter image into a summer one whilst holding the device between their thumb and index finger; the longer your stress levels remain low, the faster the scene changes, helping users de-stress. The device tracks changes through the pores on your fingertips; combining audio and visual feedback, the Pip helps users externalise their changing stress levels, become more aware of them, and calm themselves. They can then track their progress over time to see how they progress. Prana aims to help users track both their breathing and posture, helping reduce daily stress and strain. Designed to help wearers track their breathing and improve their posture, Prana gives you a score for both, providing training through an app on your phone to help you decrease stress and anxiety through improving your breathing and posture. The Muse headband helps users learn how to meditate more successfully. Just 10 minutes of meditation each day can help increase feelings of wellbeing and reduce stress, but knowing how well you are meditating can be tricky. Muse acts like a personal meditation guide, prompting users to clear their minds if it picks up on a lot of activity, whilst providing soothing sounds of rainforests or beaches. Making meditation practice more rewarding and straight-forward, Muse helps users remain calm and focused. Apple watch series 4: from £399.99 – £1",499 Fitbit Inspire: from £69.99 Pip: RRP £159 Prana: currently under development Muse: RRP £199 21st-century homes App-controlled fixtures and fittings for our homes are becoming more and more popular. From controlling your electric radiator from anywhere with the click of a button with the help of iVista, to setting bedtime and morning routines with the help of Phillips Hue light bulbs, there are so many different types of home-based tech that can help us optimise our environments to suit our needs. Smart light bulbs can be used as sunrise alarm clocks, coming on at set times and days of the week, gradually brightening to maximum to help replicate a warm sunrise and help counter some of the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The Philips Hue can be controlled from your smartphone via the Hue app or through voice commands when paired with Alexa or Google Home device. Smart lamps such as the Terraillon Homni Smart Lamp can not only be programmed to help you gently wake up, but also offer different relaxation and de-stressing modes. Developed in collaboration with the European Sleep Centre, the Terraillon Homni Smart Lamp can also analyse the environment it’s in, using motion sensors to monitor your sleep. When paired with the smartphone app, users can check to see how disturbed their sleep may have been, or play soothing music through the lamp as it doubles as a speaker. Smart home assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo can not only be used to voice control other smart techs within your home, but can provide a surprising amount of comfort and entertainment in itself. According to a recent study by Rotary Great Britain and Ireland, as many as 7% of us have asked our electronic assistants a question to help combat the silence and feelings of loneliness. With 41% of us feeling most alone when we return home from work each evening, digital assistants can make simple tasks feel more like interactions. Philips Hue Bulb Starter Kit - RRP £59.99 - £169.99, bulbs from £24.99 Google Home Mini from £49 Amazon Echo Dot from £49.99 iVista radiator from £299 Images:

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