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Are habit-tracking apps good news for our mental health?
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Are habit-tracking apps good news for our mental health?

Do trackers meet the purpose for which they are installed or worn? Experts and regular users of such apps give a 360-degree review
Representational image | Shutterstock

Ananya Bhat, an architecture student in Bengaluru, tracks her daily steps through a built-in app in her phone.  

Bhat,18, like many others, relies on technology to improve her overall wellbeing. However, of late she has turned off the notification in the app to avoid getting daily reminders on her progress.  

“I now complete my daily quota of steps at my own pace and I check my progress when I want to. This practice is easier on my nerves,” she laughs. Earlier, whenever she was notified of the number of steps she did or did not do, it used to demoralise and annoy her.  

Tracking apps can come across as a helpful tool to those who want to improve their overall health with a good routine.. And  there is no dearth of such apps range from habit tracking to productivity.  

But while some feel that apps are a perfect way to track and achieve one’s fitness goal, many beg to differ. Happiest Health gives a lowdown on such apps.  

The bright side: achieving targets 

Vivek Vyas, a Delhi-based landscape ecologist, is a compulsive organiser who has a the habit of planning and listing things to the T, both at work and at home. He finds the productivity apps a boon for meticulous people like him..   

For the past eight years, Vyas has been using the productivity app OneNote, which is a digital equivalent of a physical notebook. He finds that maintaining a diary or notebook is cumbersome but digital notebooks are useful..  

“The best part about these productivity apps is that whether you are on your laptop or mobile phone, you can access them anywhere, any time,” says Vyas. “They are detail oriented and help me to make the most of my time.”   

“These apps are useful to those who want to achieve their goals but need help with tracking their performance over time,” feels Joshna Akula, a Hyderabad-based counselling psychologist and life coach.  

Like her, Himanshu Panwar, a Delhi-based fitness coach, feels that tracking apps are the best way to break out of unhealthy habits and keep a tab on one’s performance. According to him, “With these apps, one can compare their present fitness level with what it was six months ago.” 

Panwar uses the Fitbit app to track his steps and also monitor his heart rate and sleep.  

Noida-based senior citizen Dwijadas Chakrabarti uses a pedometer app for fitness and health. His aim is to gather information on the distance walked and calories burnt – on daily, weekly and monthly bases. says he is satisfied with the data.  

According to a 2022 review, wearable activity trackers are associated with improved physiological outcomes such as reduced BMI (body mass index), reduced blood pressure and increased aerobic capacity, which might occur with an increase in physical activity.  

Trackers also have the potential to improve psychosocial outcomes, such as depression and anxiety, through increased physical activity, the study noted. 

Guilt and stress on the flip side  

While tracking apps have the obvious advantage of monitoring one’s daily goals, research suggests that they may also be raising one’s stress and anxiety levels.   

A 2020 qualitative study was done by researchers Tariq Osman Andersen, Henriette Langstrup and Stine Lomborg to understand the experiences of chronic heart patients with wearable activity data. It concluded that while supporting self-care, activity data from wearable devices also constrain the users and create uncertainty, fear, and anxiety in them.  

The possibility that apps and wearables can also be a source of the users’ anxiety showed that measuring one’s activities can be more a problem than a benefit, the study found. 

The notification beep is a constant reminder of unmet tasks. “Some people may get anxious because of the constant reminders these apps send,” says Akula.  

Ananya Bhat agrees: she used to feel bad and restless whenever the tracker showed the daily steps target falling short. “I muted the notification feature after a few months.” 

This demotivation, Panwar says, can affect one’s sleep patterns, appetite and overall health.  

Set a realistic goal  

Despite studies and research in this space showing mixed results, experts insist that one can effectively use trackers for self-care.  

According to Vyas, the problem occurs when goals are not realistic, and one is forced to meet them. Many do not continue with the plan they sign up for because the targets seem too high.  

People who are susceptible to stress and anxiety should start slowly and increase , the game gradually, says Tanu Choksi, a Mumbai-based psychologist. “If you start doing more than your capability then it will have an adverse impact on your physical as well as emotional health,” she sums up.  

Sources

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/landig/article/PIIS2589-7500(22)00111-X/fulltext#seccestitle20 

https://www.jmir.org/2020/7/e15873/ 

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