MS, Smartphones and Apps

This week from the MS & Me archives series - Helen Farrell looks at her smartphone use...

I have a confession to make; quite often my smartphone gets more of my attention than my husband does, and it is a mutual situation with both of us tapping away in the evening as we read what has happened for friends on Facebook or the like. Years ago I was an avid fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In one episode the crew was taken over by a device that had a game so addictive, they were unable to break free of playing it obsessively (“The Game”). Only a young crew member and his friend were able to realise the evil hold the game had on them and free the crew of it. I am reminded of the episode when I find us tapping away on our smartphones, staring at the screens and ignoring each other and the television as we dual-screen to our hearts’ delight. How has this device such power over us? For information-addicts like me, it is a constant source of learning, entertainment, escapism and more. When I think back about what I did during periods of boredom in the past, I remember reading the back of cereal packets, propping up books as I ate, bringing books everywhere with me for a few minutes of escape. My smartphone obsession is probably no different than how I used to behave. However, I notice I am not as relaxed when reading material online. So much to keep up with! So little time! Books are a much more mindful experience and gentle on the eyes. I am now re-cultivating my paper-based reading and it truly does give a greater feeling of relaxation than browsing constantly on my smartphone. 

Which brings me to a new phrase that I recently learned of, “Sleep Procrastination”? Unfortunately, I have always been prone to the ordinary type of procrastination, relying on the stress of flying by the seat of my pants to wing me through on far too many occasions, although I am improving a little with age! Sleep Procrastination refers to putting off bedtime, or rather, sleeping, in order to read – and it is mostly refers to online reading. It is the cause of sleep deprivation, poorer mental health, weight gain and all manner of bad things. You can read more about it here, but suffice to say we really need to turn off that smartphone or whatever is keeping you up, and prioritise our sleep! Us MS’er’s are already prone to poorer sleep and greater amounts of insomnia, so why are we letting these devices dictate our lights-out time? Just do it! Turn the light off earlier tonight, and you will feel better for it, I promise. 

Used to our advantage smartphones are wonderful things. I have never found MS-tracking apps useful. All they do is to focus my attention on my MS, and that is the last thing I want to do. It already gets far too much of my time, my life and my energy. But there are a load of apps that I DO find useful and they have improved my level of mindfulness and calm. I have an android device and I favour apps that have a low amount of permission requests (for security reasons) and are free from the Play Store. My favourites are: 

The Pedometer app is great for showing me when I am starting to slow down. It can track Kmph as well as the normal step count. Not only does it encourage me to keep trying to walk as much as I can manage, if I see my speed dropping it can alert me to a possible need for more rest, or an upcoming relapse. 

OMM is a cute little 1-minute meditation app that is great for people who are useless at meditation like me. I find I am more likely to do a 1-minute exercise regularly than commit to a longer session. 

The Mindfulness Bell is great for centering yourself, taking a moment to relax and breathe properly. You can set it to ring at different times, different frequencies; just don’t forget about it heading into a work meeting like I did! Another night I went out walking and I had looked up at a full moon with the clouds racing above me, just as I was about to pass the creepy spot where 2 thieves had been hung in the 1800’s for a violent robbery and the mindfulness bell tolled loudly, making me jump out of my skin! 

‘Vowel Please!’ is a Countdown-alike app that’s good for exercising the oul’ grey matter and winding down from all the monkey-mind thoughts and worries whirling around our heads. 

Whenever a new technology is introduced people tend to fret about it. Some people wrote warning articles in Victorian Britain about the speed of railways and how our health would suffer to travel so much faster than natural horsepower. Microwaves would be capable of frying our brains, destroying our fertility, adulterating our food, frying our fertility. Did these things happen? We can recognise panic in the face of technological advancement, but can we equally recognise when we have become obsessive about being used by a device, rather than using it for our advancement and entertainment? It is up to us to make sure that we are using smartphones to our benefit, rather than them having the power. 

Let me know what you think of smartphones; good or bad?

Do you have any favourite apps? 

Originally published August 2016