I admit that the first week I owned my smartphone, it actually made my life worse, not better. All the apps to install, menus to click through, and websites to explore left me mesmerized but ultimately exhausted. A smartphone, I realized, was an easy way to throw mental pacing and relaxation, both of which played an important role in my getting better, right out the window.
Over time though, I was able to transform this attention-sucking, energy draining monster into an untiring, ever-attentive coach and assistant that’s helped me prevent crashes and nip my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) symptoms in the bud on a daily basis. Today, two years after I got my first smart phone, it has become a key ally in maintaining my near pre-ME/CFS functionality and above pre-ME/CFS happiness.
- For Johannes story, click here.
I hope this article will give you an idea of what’s possible if someone chooses to use a smartphone as a way to reduce distractions, minimize stress, and improve their well-being and health. This article also aims at providing you with a step by step guide on how to apply the outlined techniques in your life.
Two Things Before We Get Started
Cost–If your budget is tight, the good news is that getting a smartphone may cost much less than you might you think. A one-time investment of about $70 will allow you to get a phone with which you can do most of the techniques described in this blog. I’ve included a short shopping guide for you near the end of this article.
Please note that some of the techniques in this blog can be done without a smartphone. I’ve included them anyway, because using the smartphone made them easier and more convenient.
Now, let’s take a look at how I’ve used the smartphone to improve my health and well-being, and how you might, too.
Using Your Smartphone to Improve Your Health and Well-being
Over time I’ve able to transform this attention-sucking, energy draining monster into an untiring, ever-attentive coach and assistant that’s helped me prevent crashes and nip my symptoms in the bud
Calming Your Mind: Making Your Rest Breaks Really Count
If you have ME/CFS or Fibromyalgia, you’re probably familiar with the following scenario:
You sit or lie down to rest—but your mind keeps running a million miles an hour, thinking about what you did before the rest, what you want to do after, or giving the person you spoke with yesterday the piece of your mind that was really meant for them.
If you think this racing mind isn’t a huge energy drain, think again. It’s likely making your heart pound, causing stress chemicals to be produced, and putting you in the ‘fight or flight’ response that studies indicate is often present in ME/CFS. Until your mind settles down it’ll be difficult to get your body to enter into the ‘rest and digest’ mode it needs to rejuvenate and heal itself.
The core of the issue is how to make your racing mind calm down, and—believe it or not—my smartphone has helped me with this.
Here is how: I click a button on my phone to open my notepad app and then write down the thoughts that occupy my mind. Something magical happens when I write down my thoughts and concerns. Once I see the thoughts “on paper,” my mind, no longer stressed at having to hold onto them, relaxes.
Writing down my thoughts not only helps me calm my mind, it also serves as a welcoming transition from doing to not doing, which makes taking breaks feel less difficult.
Let Your Smartphone Guide You into a Place of Total Relaxation
Joining a meditation group is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done during my recovery journey. Soon after joining a group, however, I noticed that traditional forms of meditation just didn’t work for my ME/CFS brain. My version of ME/CFS comes with ADD-like symptoms that make the prolonged periods of focus required for meditation very difficult.
The solution to my meditation disability?
My smartphone (of course J): Listening to a guided meditation, such as my free Melt away tension and experience peace audio, helps me overcome my lack of focus by frequently reminding me to return my focus to the object of my meditation.
During the three to five meditation periods I engage in throughout my day, I let my smartphone guide me into a state of deep peace and contentment.
All Day Stress Busters
I have such an easily stimulated mind that when I walk in the park or putter around my house, my mind doesn’t just become calm and relaxed like it would for most people. Instead, stimulated from the movement and sensual impressions around me, it produces an exhausting whirlwind of thoughts.
This, along with the general sensitivity to stress that I’ve developed since ME/CFS, is the reason that simple activities, such as refilling my pills or preparing dinner, can leave me stressed out and exhausted.
Regardless of whether we have an overly active mind, are sensitive to stress, or both (like me), the solution to the problem is the same. We can prevent our mind from going into stress mode by keeping it engaged in a focused activity such as listening to an audio book or studying flashcards.
I like to study flashcards with the AnkiDroid app (or AnkiMobile for IPhone) during my morning walk and I listen to books on tape with the Smart Audio Book player when I refill my pills or clean up the kitchen.
Cut Overwhelm: Mini-Task It on Your Smartphone.
If something I want to do consists of more than one step, it threatens to overwhelm me, regardless of whether it’s taking a shower, preparing for a call with a client, or making dinner.
My trick for reducing overwhelm is to cut a big task into manageable smaller tasks (or in my case in manageable mini-tasks). As I arise from a rest and think about what activity to engage in next, I pull out my smartphone and journal about the many manageable mini steps that I can divide the task ahead of me into.
For example, let’s say I want to install a new shower head in my shower, which I’ll do immediately after writing this section of this article. I write down—or speak using the smartphone’s astonishingly well-functioning voice recognition feature—the following:
A beautifully-installed, refreshingly awesome showerhead
Get the pliers from the garage
And the shower head from the living room
Go in the bathroom and open the shower curtain
Place the pliers and shower head near where I stand to fix the showerhead
Remove the old shower head
Put on the new one
Enjoy the new shower!
Just as I wrote this down, my feeling of overwhelm dissipated and a big smile spread itself across my face. Each of the little steps feels easy, the big task now feels manageable.
This is all about getting over the overwhelm that tasks present to your ADD challenged, working-memory-obliterated brain. Studies show that the cognitive processes hit hardest in chronic fatigue syndrome are those used to organize, plan and carry out tasks (executive functioning). We all need some help in this area and breaking down tasks, putting your thoughts on ‘paper’, etc. are two ways to give your brain a break.
My smartphone lends itself for journaling for more than one reason. First, I always have it with me. Second, I can speak my text in it using the voice recognition system, which is much less energy-intensive than typing them in. Third, if I use an app called Evernote, it will sync my entry to my computer, which is nice if the task that I need to complete is computer-based.
Give Your Brain a Break – Let Your Smartphone Do Your Scheduling
Since I am so easily overwhelmed, stressed-out, and exhausted, I try to spare my brain any work that is not absolutely needed. One of the tasks I like to outsource from my brain into my smartphone is remembering what to do when.
I need to remember to ask Erin over dinner if I can use her car next Wednesday? I simply type the task in my Remember the Milk app, so that it reminds me with a beep and a message at 7pm tonight.
I need to remember to think of something nice for her every three weeks? I simply put “think of something nice to make Erin happy (‘A happy wife is a happy life!’)” in Remember the Milk as a recurring reminder.
I need to remember to buy Milk at the store? I’d be surprised if Remember the Milk couldn’t do this one as well!
A sense of relaxation and peace has been essential for my wellbeing and happiness since ME/CFS, and Remember the Milk together with my other awesome smartphone applications has helped me tremendously with achieving it.
The Self Care Hour—Tap Into The Power of Community
Do you ever feel like you are the only person who needs to rest all the time while everyone else is having fun being active?
For me and many of my clients, the most powerful antidote to feeling this way is having a community of fellow resting buddies. Just like in a yoga class, doing relaxing self-care activities together with others makes them more enjoyable and effective.
So how do you do it?
I do it using the (still) free Online Self Care Hour Community. I pull out my smartphone, open the app we use for our Online Self Care Hour meeting room, and am immediately immersed in an atmosphere of renewal and relaxation.
In our Online Self Care Hour meeting room, Jane might have just written that she engaged in some gentle stretching and Paul that he is about to enjoy the Melt away tension and experience peace guided meditation. The energy of renewal and positivity is palpable.
Even if prior to joining the room I don’t feel particularly motivated to refill my pills, meditate, or work on transforming my stressful beliefs, this soon changes once I’m there. We’re all doing it together, so I am motivated by the reciprocal accountability and community.
Get in a Positive Mental State Through Your Personal Selection of Pump-It-Up Music.
I used to have a hard time functioning in the mornings. One of the ways that I learned to turn a grumpy Johannes into a happy one and a trudge into a spring in my step is to listen to the right music first-thing in the morning.
I often listen to music on my smartphone using the “YouTube” app which gives me free access to nearly all of the greatest music ever made.
What tunes will help you to enter a positive state of mind depends on what type of music you love and which songs evoke your positive emotions. In my case, even though I’m not a very religious person, certain sections from classical masterpieces, such as the Hallelujah from Haydn’s “Creation” and this section from Handel’s Messiah get me moving!
How to Get a Smartphone Without Breaking the Bank
What do you think; do you need a smartphone?
For less than $60, Get a Perfectly Adequate New Smartphone from Amazon.com.
When I discovered through my research how cheap the LG Optimus Logic, a smartphone Amazon.com reviews suggested was perfect for applying these techniques to ME/CFS and fibromyalgia, I thought: “This is too good to be true!”
So I purchased the phone and thoroughly tested it this last week.
The result: The phone holds up to its promise! I discovered that it is indeed ideal for our purposes- and highly recommend it. Click the following link if you’d like to read my detailed review of the LG Optimus Logic for people with ME/CFS or Fibromyalgia on Amazon.com.
Get Started Improving Your Health and Life
Now, if you’re ready, take these four simple steps to get started with using a smartphone to improve your life with ME/CFS or Fibromyalgia:
1) Get the necessary equipment for implementing the techniques from this article by buying the LG Optimus Logic for $50, this $2 or $5 headset and this $4 headset clip. (Health Rising receives from 4-8% of the products price if you purchase it from this page).
2) Keep in mind that once the phone arrives, you will not need to activate the $50/month prepaid plan they send you with it. You can if you want, but if you are on a budget, I recommend that you eliminate the high monthly cost by only using the phone’s internet on your home Wi-Fi or places with public internet, such as Starbucks or your public library.
3) Get started with using your phone to improve your situation. Just choose one of the many self-help techniques from this article to start with, install the required app for it like so, and enjoy a better life
The Smartphones For Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia Series
I’ll have lots more information on using your smartphone to improve your health and life in the second and third parts of this series when I tackle how to use your smartphone to:
- Improve sleep
- Exercise within your safe limits
- More quickly find the life-style that’s best for you
- Free yourself from isolation
Possibly the most important, I’ll also detail how you can prevent your smartphone from leeching your energy and time (and why, to achieve this it’s important that you use an Android smartphone, not an iPhone.)
Sign-up for the free CFSRecoveryProject newsletter to ensure that you will not miss the second installment of this series of blogs.
Have you discovered ways in which your smartphone makes your life with ME/CFS easier or better?
Please share your insights and questions in the comments section below.
Johannes Starke is a health coach for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia who has come a long way in recovering from the illness. He is the founder of the CFS Recovery Project, where he supports people with ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia in regaining their health and happiness.
To benefit from more of his work, sign up for his free CFS Recovery Tips Newsletter or join over 130 participants in his free ME/CFS Health and Happiness Fundamentals email course.