The iPhone Ended My Panic Attacks - Could Smartphones Help Others, Too?

I suffer from panic attacks. At least, I used to - I've not had a single one since I got my iPhone. And I'm convinced these two things are related.

You may not know this, but panic attacks are surprisingly common. According to a study backed by the National Institutes For Health (NIH), 1 in 8 Americans will experience a panic attack at least once during their lifetime. 

Perhaps any smartphone would help, or even any device capable of creating both distractions and social connections. For me, though, having my iPhone always nearby, always on, its many features and functions ready to occupy my mind, my eyes, ears and fingertips, is often enough to reduce the onset of an attack. The device seems to draw out, bit by bit, all those fears, worries and repetitive patterns that used to conspire to throw me into despair, fear and then panic.

If it really is the iPhone that's helped mitigate my symptoms, and I believe it is, then perhaps others who suffer from similar attacks - and own a smartphone - can also find some relief.

What Is A Panic Attack?

The Mayo Clinic defines a panic attack as:

A sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you're losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.

In a panic attack, the overwhelming sense of fear, as real as it is inexplicable, wreaks havoc not only on your psyche but on your daily contribution to the world. An attack can strike seemingly at random: at home, with friends at a bar, at work, standing in line at Starbucks; anywhere, anytime. That's what makes them so debilitating. 

Twice, I went to the hospital, convinced my symptoms meant an impending drop-dead heart attack. Both times I was told I was not having a heart attack. Eventually, I was diagnosed as suffering from anxiety disorder - which can lead to panic attacks. 

To treat anxiety, doctors recommend exercise, meditation, more sleep and visualization techniques. For those who suffer full-blown panic attacks, professional help is suggested, as is medication. I was prescribed Prozac. Since getting an iPhone, however - though my case absolutly may not be typical - I have been able to gradually reduce my daily Prozac to its lowest available dosage. I expect to soon be off it entirely. I have also stopped seeing a therapist.

Using The iPhone To Improve My (Mental) Health

The potential for the iPhone to aid physical healthcare delivery and diagnostics is well documented. The market for smartphone tools that aid mental health is far less robust. But they do exist. For example, the iPhone app Viary, leverages traditional cognitive behavior therapy techniques:

Together with a therapist, Viary’s clients choose specific actions that will help them achieve a desired goal. For example a client may decide that exercising, eating healthier food, and listening to classical music makes them feel less depressed. Viary sets reminders for these behaviors - walk for 15 minutes every morning, take a vegetarian lunch, tune into some Beethoven etc, - and the app then collects data on these completed actions. Therapists or coaches can then monitor a client’s progress in real time and even respond. 

For me, however, I'm convinced that simply possessing an iPhone has improved my mental health. No matter what symptom crops up, using the iPhone helps calm me down and makes me feel more connected. If I feel inexplicably worried, no matter where I am, no matter who I am with - and this is out of necessity - I pull out my iPhone and start texting. I later apologize to those I am with.

If I feel alone, I call someone. If I get angry, I play a game - preferably online, with friends. When I am bored, I read on my Kindle app. When I can't get a song out of my head, I take to Twitter. If my breathing seems off, I make reminder lists of what I need to do for the day, the week, the rest of my life. If the feelings persist, I open Evernote and scroll through all the notes that have a "thankful" tag attached to them.

If I feel like I can't leave the house, I check my Fitbit app, find out how many steps I've taken that day, then tell myself I will go outside just long enough to add 1,000 more to my total. This usually works. 

Sometimes, when things get really dark, I scroll through my photos, which makes me happy. If that's not enough, I make notes to myself of everything I am grateful for - then email them, knowing my wife can later access the account. 

And when I feel good, good enough even to help others, I sit in the sun, pull out my iPhone and write a blog post. Like now.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock