It’s Important to Unplug: 6 Ways Technology Can Fuel Mania and Depression

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 change the temperature in my house or turn my living room lights purple. 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 that work for me. They may work for you, too.

(1) PROBLEM: Shopping
It seems there’s nothing you can’t buy on Amazon. The problem with easy access to online shopping is just that: it’s easy. It’s simple to buy things, so it’s virtually effortless to spend money on frivolous stuff impulsively, in the throes of 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 for myself 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.

(2) PROBLEM: Coupons
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 stuff because why not, it’s discounted! Then, purchases I shouldn’t have made 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. The sense of urgency created in these kinds of emails is a trigger, and it fuels impulsivity not only for those of us with bipolar disorder, but for everyone. This is an age-old sales tactic, and retailers know it works.

(3) PROBLEM: Travel
I love to travel as much as possible, within reason. Unfortunately, reason doesn’t always guide my decisions. For someone with bipolar disorder, the impulsivity that accompanies mania can apply to online trip booking too. 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 you 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.

(4) PROBLEM: eBay alerts
eBay is a great place to find deals on everything from pre-owned winter coats to electronics. The people who run eBay aren’t dummies, they know 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, because the auction was ending soon. 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 either. 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. Instead, I bookmark the links to the items on my computer, or I email myself a list of links to the auctions, so I (and only I) know what’s on my mind. That way I’m not pressured into buying anything spur of the moment, my decisions aren’t driven by a retailer like eBay, and I’m not triggered to impulsively shop based on that same sense of urgency I mentioned before.

(5) PROBLEM: Facebook
I’m linked to local and distant friends on Facebook, and I often interact with people who live around the corner online 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 virtual connections on platforms like Facebook with healthy face-to-face ones. 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 take care of my mental health by making a concerted effort to spend quality face time with friends and family that live nearby. This keeps me from falling into the vicious cycle of isolating myself and spiraling downward into the darkness of depression.

(6) PROBLEM: Instagram
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 selves. 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 enable my recovery, and I’m keeping things realistic, and in perspective.

On the flip side, technology can be a great tool to help manage the mood swings of bipolar disorder. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) has a Wellness Tracker app that makes it easy to track your moods, even drilling down to things like feelings of helplessness, impulsivity and agitation. It also allows you to record everything from your heart rate to your medications, so you can document and observe both your mental and physical health over time. I use it regularly, and I’ve found it to be a helpful tool to help me reflect on how I’m feeling.

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