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Stressed? There's an App for That!

Stressed? There's an App for That!

Darragh Worland | Tonic

May 26, 2010

Ever wished you had access to your therapist 24/7, without the high price tag of all that supervised navel gazing? Well, help is on the way in the form of what some psychologists are calling “mobile therapy” — applications you can download to your cell phone to help you track and manage your moods between therapy sessions.

Dr. Margaret Morris, a clinical psychologist and health technology researcher at Intel Corp. is designing a cell phone app to help patients manage stress levels, with a view toward reducing cardiovascular disease, reports NPR.

At random times throughout the day, a mood map pops up on the cell phone. “People drag a little red dot around that screen with their finger to indicate their current mood and based on your mood, the phone offers therapeutic exercises,” Morris tells NPR.

Those exercises range from assisted breathing visualizations — where patients match their breathing to a blue circle expanding and contracting on their cell phone screen — to practical tips for detaching from stressful situations. A patient can also chart their energy levels, sleep patterns and activities, the food they’ve eaten and more. The information can be charted, printed out and discussed with a therapist to identify triggers and solutions.

Morris’ research was recently published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, where she writes that by using the Mobile Therapy app, participants were able to increase “self-awareness in moments of stress, develop insights about their emotional patterns and practice new strategies for modulating stress reactions.”

Even patients with more severe mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, stand to benefit from mobile therapy. NPR reports that University of Pennsylvania researcher Dimitri Perivoliotis is working on a digital watch that displays personalized scrolling messages. One way patients are taught to manage hallucinations, for example, is to ground themselves in the moment by identifying and naming objects in a room. One patient who tested the digital watch had his programmed with reminders to practice the technique several times a day.

“It really did the trick,” Perivoliotis tells NPR. “It kind of broke him out of the stream of voices and his internal preoccupation with them.”

Similar apps and mobile devices are being developed to treat addictions and even phobias, as well. And this is likely just the beginning. With Mobile Health 2010 underway today and tomorrow in Stanford, Calif., researchers in the health and technology industries will be highlighting all kinds of ways they’re using mobile technology to change health-related behaviors and improve personal and public health.

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