Anxiety and panic disorder is a condition that affects millions of people around the world. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia (my country of origin) affecting on average 1 in 4 people in Australia alone. (Australian Bureau of statistics).
One of the major problems that anxiety and panic attack sufferers experience is difficulty in identifying the symptoms of a panic attack. Thus, being unable to identify and consequently ignoring the symptoms of a panic attack sufferers get trapped in an anxiety loop which eventually leads to a full-blown panic attack. Whilst experiencing a panic attack sufferers tend to forget their panic coping techniques, which leads to further anxiety and panic.
How the project will solve the problem:
In-order to combat this cycle, anxiety and panic sufferers must be made aware of their symptoms before the onslaught of a panic attack. Further, during the panic attack itself sufferers must be reminded of their coping strategies and techniques in-order to efficiently and swiftly deal with their panic. The solution needs to be discrete and not draw too much attention to the user as this will create further anxiety.
The minder watch provides the panic sufferer with medically approved psychological coping strategies and breathing techniques that will greatly improve the user's quality of life ensuring that they feel safe and well prepared for a possible panic attack.
How the project might be world changing:
Currently, anxiety and panic disorder sufferers must rely solely on the skills that they have learnt during therapy or from online medical resources. During a panic attack these skills are usually forgotten and in most cases sufferers find it hard to remember their learnt techniques. The minder watch will change this. Instead of having to rely on memory, my device will act as a 'psychologist on the wrist,' prompting the anxious user and providing them with a set of instructions on how best to deal with their anxiety. The minder watch will also recognise the symptoms of a panic attack, warning the user before the onslaught of a major panic attack.
This flow chart visualizes the basic function of the watch, and how the anxiety coping strategies will aid the user during a panic attack.
I programmed 4 different anti-anxiety techniques onto the minder smart watch. If the user finds that one technique is not working they can simply change to the next one until panic is completely dissipated. (note: each of these techniques are explained in further detail in the project log section).
The majority of these techniques utilise 'Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)' which is an internationally recognised anti-anxiety thearpy. CBT hypothesises that how you think affects how you feel, and that your emotions influence your behaviour. Therefore by thinking realistic, helpful thoughts anxiety can be lowered.
Technique 1: Deep breathing exercise
One of the most prominent symptoms of panic is hyperventilation which causes feelings of dizziness, light-headedness, poor concentration and shaking. To combat this, deep breathing exercises can be used to lower the symptoms of panic and restore a normal breathing rhythm. If a panic sufferer begins to use slow breathing as soon as they notice a panic attack then it will be most effective. Deep breathing can be performed in various different ways however it follows the common structure;
Technique 2: Body scan
The 'body scan' technique guides the user to ‘scan’ their body, making them focus on themselves rather than their thoughts. It will help the user block out their worrying thoughts and force them to be in the ‘here and now.’ This is a medically approved technique and is taught by psychologists.
Technique 3: Five senses
This technique is similar to the body scan, however instead of just focusing on the user’s body the program encourages the user to look around their surroundings. One of the biggest problems during a panic attack is that sufferers tend to completely isolate themselves and do not think about the present and what is happening around them. A common technique taught by psychologists is the ‘five senses’ technique, which encourages panic sufferers to use their senses and focus on the things they can see, smell, touch, hear and taste.
Technique 4: Distraction technique
The distraction technique is the 'last ditch' exercise. If all of the other techniques have not sufficiently worked then this technique aims to bring the user back into the 'now.' The distraction technique projects an image of a moving lake, vibrates the watch and changes the colour of the RGB LED on the watch. All of this aims to 'distract' the user from what they are currently doing and bring them back into the present.
I have personally experienced anxiety and panic disorder for over 10 years, diagnosed at an early age I have had to adapt to my mental health condition for the majority of my childhood and teenage life.
From my own personal experience and regular visits to the psychologist throughout the years, I have noticed that one of the biggest problems regarding anxiety and panic disorder is the way in which we respond to the symptoms. Furthermore, whilst experiencing a panic attack I have noticed that I want to be left alone, to deal with the panic attack using my breathing techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. Thus my solution will need to act as a mini “psychologist on the go” and be discrete not drawing too much attention.
I believe that everyone, no matter if you can afford a professional psychologist or not, should be able to access such technology, thus affordability and the open source nature of my project will be a crucial.
By providing access to my product, other suffers will be able to alter the code and even create their own coping techniques. As anxiety and panic disorder becomes more and more common there will be a greater need for technologies that will aid sufferers and improve their quality of life.
I also plan to create an online forum where all 'minder' smart watches can connect, and where anxiety sufferers from around the world can share techniques and communicate with one another. Psychologists could also utilise this feature, allowing them to keep in contact with their patients and provide them with necessary help.
For most sufferers anxiety and panic can attack at any moment and can severely damage their quality of life. The Minder smart watch project aims to build hope for those suffering in silence and uplift the mental health community by offering a positive use of technology. I believe with enough reach this project can have a large impact on those suffering and will change societies' perspective on mental health for the greater good.