I love technology. I can keep in touch with friends all over the world through social media. With the click of a button, I can order groceries, shoes and furniture. I can even use apps on my phone to help manage my mental health and medications. Having easy access to so many things can be wonderful, but it can also be dangerous, especially for someone with bipolar disorder.
I’ve discovered six ways technology can fuel bipolar symptoms like mania and depression, and I’ve found solutions for each that work for me. They may work for you, too.
How Online Shopping Fuels Mania
It seems there’s nothing you can’t buy on Amazon. The problem with easy access to online shopping is just that: It’s too easy. It’s simple to buy things, so it’s virtually effortless to spend money impulsively, especially during mania. The instant high I get when I click “Submit” in the shopping cart can be addictive and financially destructive.
Solution: When I’m hypomanic or manic, I delete the Amazon app from my phone and I remove my credit card from their website. I don’t close my account altogether, but I make it harder to purchase with one click. This eliminates the dopamine rush that accompanies online buying, so it keeps me from pursuing the addictive reward system in my brain.
Since it can be hard to maintain that level of self-awareness, I’ve made an agreement with my boyfriend that if he notices a lot of Amazon packages appearing at our door, he'll gently say something to me like, "Hey, it looks like you've doing a lot more online shopping recently, how are you feeling?" And that signals that I’m symptomatic, and I may need to delete the app.
Many websites display email newsletter sign-up messages that offer discounts for opting in. Then, they bombard my inbox with urgent messages like “SHOP NOW!” With little time to think through the consequences of my actions, I’ll buy things I don’t need because why not, it’s discounted! Then, the things I shouldn’t have purchased show up on my doorstep and I’m overwhelmed with regret.
Solution: I don’t sign up for these email newsletters. No discount is worth the cost of destroying my bank account, and the shopping high never lasts. It just becomes buyer’s remorse.
eBay is a great place to find deals on everything. The thrill of the bid in a heated auction can be addictive to everyone, not just people with bipolar disorder. I noticed something interesting recently while I was on eBay, searching for a cord for my cell phone. I watched a couple of items, so I could remember them and come back later when I’d done my research and compared prices. Then I got an alert email pressuring me to jump on the sale. The message said something like “There are only 2 hours left, Carrie!” I can imagine this sense of urgency is unhealthy for anyone, and it certainly wasn’t good for me. It could lead to destructive impulse buying.
Solution: I don’t watch items on eBay anymore, so they don’t know what I’m thinking about buying. I’d rather just bookmark the links to the items on my computer or email myself a list of links, so I (and only I) know what’s on my mind. That way I’m not pressured into buying anything.
I love to travel as much as possible, within reason. Unfortunately, reason doesn’t always guide my decisions. It’s just as simple to reserve hotel rooms and purchase airline tickets online as it is to buy jeans, and travel costs a lot more than clothes. The other problem with booking online is most reservations are non-refundable, so I could be stuck with a bad decision.
Solution: I don’t save my credit card data on travel websites, and I refuse to subscribe to their email newsletters. That way I’m never tempted to jump on the latest last-minute deal for a cheap flight.
How Social Media Can Worsen Depression
I’m linked to both local and distant friends on Facebook, and I often interact online with people who live around the corner instead of in-person. When I’m depressed, it’s hard to motivate myself to get out of bed, much less get out of the house. Because of that, I end up replacing healthy face-to-face interactions with virtual connections on platforms like Facebook. It turns into a cycle: The less I go out to meet up with friends, the harder it is to get out of the house, and this can deepen my depression.
Solution: I make a concerted effort to spend quality time with friends and family that live nearby. I call on the phone to make plans. Often just hearing a friend’s voice on the other end helps pull me out of my own head. The get togethers don’t have to be big events. Sometimes just calling a friend and scheduling an hour for an afternoon cup of coffee is enough to keep me from feeling alone and disconnected from the world around me. It keeps me from falling into the vicious cycle of isolating myself and spiraling downward into the darkness of depression.
I follow interesting people and friends on Instagram. The thing is, no one posts pictures of themselves in yoga pants with uncombed hair, laying around on the sofa. Everyone shares their ideal image. When I’m stable, I find these posts inspirational and positive, but when I’m depressed, they make me feel worse. I tend to compare myself to others, and when I’m struggling with a depressive episode, I feel like a worthless failure when I see the supposedly perfect lives of others in my feed.
Solution: I remove the Instagram app from my phone when I’m depressed. By removing the trigger, I’m practicing self-care that will help me avoid this pitfall and hasten my recovery.
For me, recovery means being self-aware, asking for and accepting feedback and help, and taking action when needed. And that applies to my use of technology. It’s what keeps me healthy.
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