How your Notes app can be your anxiety-hacking secret weapon


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Photo: St. Martin’s Press

Known as “the world’s most connected person,” Chris Dancy has between 300 and 700 systems running at any given time—including fitness trackers, a smart-mattress, social media, and time-tracking apps (to name a few)—in order to capture continuous data about his life. You know how Google Calendar defaults to being set up in 15 minute increments? He’s set up an alternate view for his, giving a second-by-second rundown of every choice he makes throughout the day.

In these times it’s oft-repeated that you need to be disconnected to be present, which makes being so plugged in feel downright rebellious. But while Dancy is clearly Team Tech, which he makes abundantly clear in his new book, Don’t Unplug, he doesn’t think you need to go on an app-downloading spree in order to use technology to make your life better. It’s one of the most basic phone features of all, the Notes app, that’s played a big role in helping with his anxiety.

“I’ve had anxiety attacks since I was 16,” he says. “Anxiety has a way of masking every other time it happens,” so that each anxiety attack feels like the first one you’ve ever experienced—and it’s terrifying. Which is why he started using his Notes app to log what he calls his “Wikipedia of fear.”

“I would write down my symptoms as they were happening, like my heart rate increasing and starting to perspire,” Dancy says. “What that allowed me to do was the next time I had an anxiety attack, I would go look at my log entries and it would show me, ‘Yep, I know what this is.’ It really helped me get through it. Anxiety is insidious in that it makes you think every [instance] is different, but logging my anxiety attacks in real time was a big move forward for me because it showed me that it [can be consistent].” And inherent in that idea is that he’s been able to come through it before.

“We can’t live in a world where we’ve made it so crucial to be connected and weaponize those tools for connection at the same time.” —Chris Dancy, author of Don’t Unplug

Logging his symptoms in the Notes app evolved into Dancy using another standard phone feature—the voice recorder app—to record himself having anxiety attacks as they were happening. The reasoning was the same: It helped him recognize what was happening and remind him that he would be able to get through it and be okay.

For him, using technology in this way was a mental health game-changer, which comes back to his philosophy of how technology isn’t inherently good or bad—but the way we choose to use it could be. “We live in an age where people are saying a lot of dark things about technology,” he says. “At the same time, we live in a time where you almost can’t do anything without a piece of technology. We can’t live in a world where we’ve made it so crucial to be connected and weaponize those tools for connection at the same time.”

Another surprising mental health booster: horror movies. And here’s why social connectivity is a must for everyone’s happiness.

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