Anxiety & the Apple Watch: Pros and Cons

For almost 2 years now I’ve worn an Apple Watch nearly every day. I was going to write about it in another post I’m working on about technology and its effects on mental health (both good and bad), but what I wanted to say about it, and similar wearable devices, expanded to the point of needing its own post.

I’ve had a very complicated relationship with the Apple Watch. On one hand it’s helped me form better, hopefully more healthy, habits. On the other hand, it has affected my anxiety in a way I didn’t expect, but probably should have. I’ve been reconsidering my use recently, and it’s led me to think about whether I even can balance the pros and cons.

To start with the pros, the Apple Watch has led me to be more active. It’s especially been helpful this last year when it’s been hard to get out. I don’t always meet the goals I’ve set to be more healthy, but I’m closer than I would have been if I didn’t have this device on my wrist reminding me to get off my butt.

On to the cons though, the watch has made me hyper-aware of my body. This may sound great on the surface, and for most people I think it’s great. But for me, as someone who has a lot of medical anxieties, it’s maybe not the best. Things like average resting heart rate are important keep track of, but it’s too easy for an anxious mind like mine to obsess over even the slightest variation. It’s dangerously easy to start thinking, “oh, my resting heart rate was 3BPM higher today than it was yesterday, I’m probably dying.”

It’s become a very unhealthy obsession, at least as far as my mental health goes. It’s at the point where working out with the watch on can give me anxiety so bad I have to stop. But I can see the same workout through to the end without the watch.

When I’m wearing the watch I get more concerned about my stats than the workout itself. Is my heart rate where it should be? Am I burning calories at least as efficiently as I did yesterday? I get bogged down in all these anxieties that I don’t have when I’m not wearing the watch, because I can’t simply glance at my wrist to feed myself the fuel to overthink and hyper-analyze.

But again, I can’t deny the positive effects the watch has had. It not only nags me when I’m not as active as I should be, but, at least for me, it successfully “gamifies” being active. I feel the same sense of achievement and rush of dopamine when I fill my activity ring as I get when I unlock a PlayStation trophy in my favorite video game, or when I solve a particularly difficult programming challenge. It keeps me motivated.

So I’m left at a bit of an impasse: Do I sacrifice my mental health for the benefit of my physical health, or do I risk impacting my physical health for a little peace of mind? Things aren’t black and white, there must be some balance I can strike, but until I’ve figured that out I’ve decided to take a break from my Apple Watch for the first time since I got it nearly 2 years ago.

I can already feel that a weight has been, both literally and figuratively, lifted from my wrist.

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