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Mental health

How women can use technology to empower their mental health and happiness

By Talia Soen, founder and CEO at Happy Things

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Talia Soen, founder and CEO at Happy Things

Technology is not just about convenience; it’s a potent tool for nurturing our mental health and happiness.

I’m 36 years old, and I spent most of my life feeling like I wasn’t happy enough. To my surprise, it didn’t matter what milestones I achieved throughout my life – completing my degree, securing my dream job, finding love, getting married. I accomplished these goals, yet happiness remained elusive.

This search has eventually led me to found my first company, Happy Things. Based on the science of positive psychology, Happy Things is trying to change the paradigm that happiness is a goal to be achieved.

With the Happy Things app, we’re trying to teach users that happiness is a skill, learned and honed through simple, daily habits.

In this journey of building Happy Things, me and my team – we’re all women, by the way – went through it all: pregnancies, fertility treatments, and of course, “just” dealing with our periods.

During that time, something clicked. As women, life events, as well as physical, biological and hormonal changes affect our mental health. So how come most mental health solutions available out there don’t address our unique needs and experience? 

As women, we should be taking into account all the different components that make up who we are. While there is a lot of information out there, we still have to do most of the work ourselves; learn more about the connection between our bodies and our mental health, develop healthy habits that work for us; empower ourselves to change the happiness paradigm. Technology can help us do that.

Mind-body connection: menstrual cycles and mental wellness

One area where technology is making remarkable strides is in helping women understand and embrace the changes that come with their menstrual cycles.

Menstrual cycle tracking apps, for example, offer a profound understanding of the intricate relationship between a woman’s body and her mental well-being. These apps empower women to record physical and emotional changes throughout their cycle.

Tracking enables women to make informed self-care decisions. During the menstrual phase, rest and self-compassion can alleviate mood swings, while the ovulatory phase, characterised by high energy, is ideal for physical activities.

Aligning routines with these insights fosters harmony between body and mind, enhancing mental wellbeing. In a hectic world, tracking apps help women reconnect with their bodies, prioritise self-care, and nurture their mental health. 

The habit loop: how tech can help us create better habits

At the core of wellness and happiness lies the formation of positive habits. Habits are the small, consistent actions we take daily that shape our lives. Whether it’s practicing mindfulness, maintaining a balanced diet, or getting regular exercise, these habits have a profound impact on our mental and physical health. 

Yet, new habits are hard to acquire, and even harder to sustain. Imagine this: your smartphone becomes a wellness coach, guiding you toward healthier habits. It offers reminders for your daily meditation practice, tracks your nutrition, and monitors your sleep patterns.

Through wearable devices, you gain real-time insights into your physical activity and stress levels. These tools turn abstract wellness goals into tangible actions.

Practical tips to build wellness habits with technology

Tracking: Apps like Happy Things, the Apple Health Kit, or period tracking apps offer habit-tracking features that can help you monitor your daily wellness routines and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small.

Notifications and reminders: Leverage technology to set reminders for your wellness habits. Whether it’s a morning meditation session or a midday mood check, automated reminders keep you on track.

Mindfulness apps: Explore mindfulness and meditation apps that guide you through relaxation exercises, deep breathing, and mindfulness practices. These can become daily habits that enhance your mental wellness.

Community support: Many wellness apps offer community features where you can connect with like-minded individuals. Joining a supportive community can reinforce your commitment to wellness habits.

The future of mental health tech: personalised wellness

In the world of femtech, where innovation meets the unique needs of women’s health, one key area that often remains unexplored is the profound connection between mental wellness and our bodies.

As we navigate the intricacies of our menstrual cycles, fertility journeys, and life events, there’s an opportunity to leverage technology not only to track and manage these aspects but also to build healthier habits that enhance our overall wellness and happiness.

One of the most exciting aspects of where the wellness industry is currently going is personalisation. New developments unlock the potential for more personalised tech products than ever before, products that almost… understand you, and therefore, provide you with the most useful assistance for your journey.

At Happy Things, for example, we believe that personalisation should take into account the unique needs and experiences of women because our vision is to make happiness a skill that every woman can cultivate.

Technology is not just about convenience; it’s a potent tool for nurturing our mental health and happiness.

By tapping into the wisdom of positive psychology, utilising innovative apps, and building wellness habits, women can embark on a journey of holistic wellbeing. It’s time to unlock your wellness potential—one habit at a time.

Talia Soen is the founder and CEO of the wellness and wellbeing app Happy Things.

Mental health

Eight steps for coping with a chronic illness diagnosis

By Dr Becky Spelman, psychologist and founder at Private Therapy Clinic

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A chronic illness diagnosis can disrupt every aspect of someone’s life.

Emotionally, a diagnosis may cause fear, anxiety, sadness, and frustration. Physically, it can lead to changes in a person’s daily routine, limitations in activities and the need for ongoing medical assistance.

Socially, it may result in isolation, as the person may feel misunderstood or unable to take part in certain activities. Financially, the cost of treatments and medications can add additional stress to individuals and families.

Increasingly, younger women are being diagnosed with long-term conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis and autoimmune diseases, which occur far more in women than men.

Coping with the psychological effects of a chronic illness, however, is just as important as managing the physical symptoms. Here, we explore some healthy ways that may help.

Knowledge is power

Take some time to research your condition, its symptoms and treatment options. You can ask your medical provider to provide you with the relevant information and head to reputable websites such as the NHS website. Understanding your chronic illness can help you to alleviate anxiety and gain a sense of control

Be kind to yourself

It is essential to show yourself kindness and compassion when you’re living with a chronic illness. Know that it is okay to have bad days and that you are doing your best. Make time for self-care activities, rest when you can and be patient with yourself as you adjust to your new reality.

Surround yourself with support

You don’t have to go through this alone. Call on trusted friends, families or a therapist who can provide you with emotional support at this time. Tell them about the diagnosis and any worries you have, it can be therapeutic to express your emotions to others.

Make time for self-care

Self-care, such as exercise or mindfulness, can help you to cope with a chronic illness by promoting emotional wellbeing, reducing stress and providing a sense of control and empowerment.

Try journaling 

Journaling is a great way to acknowledge and process the emotions surrounding your diagnosis. It can help to prevent them from becoming overwhelming and impacting your mental health.

Manage your expectations

You may have to alter your goals and manage your expectations after being diagnosed with a chronic illness, and these should align with your capabilities and limitations.

Accept that some tasks may take longer to complete, and celebrate every achievement along the way. This will help you to stay motivated as you navigate life after a diagnosis.

Seek therapy 

Therapy can be immensely beneficial for someone coping with a chronic illness diagnosis. A therapist can provide a supportive and non-judgmental space for you to process your emotions, fears and anxieties related to the condition.

They can also offer coping strategies, tools and techniques and diagnose any underlying mental health concerns that may arise, such as depression or anxiety and provide further guidance.

Stay positive 

A positive mindset, including focusing on gratitude, can also help to enhance your overall mental health and quality of life.

The diagnosis of a chronic illness can profoundly impact a person’s life. Regularly utilising strategies to navigate the emotional journey of living with a chronic illness can significantly improve a person’s life.

Dr Becky Spelman is a psychologist and founder of Private Therapy Clinic. 

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News

Women on the pill less likely to report depression, study shows

A new study has shown the prevalence of major depression amongst pill users was significantly lower

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Women taking the oral contraceptive pill are less likely to report depression, researchers have found.

The research, which analysed data from 6,239 US women aged 18-55 years old, found that the prevalence of major depression amongst users of the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) was significantly lower, at 4.6 per cent, compared to former OCP users (11.4 per cent).

The study,  published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, was led by researchers at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), alongside experts from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and University of California, Davis.

The researchers have suggested two possible explanations for their findings, which are contrary to a commonly held belief that OCP can cause depression.

One is that taking the pill can remove concerns about unwanted pregnancy, therefore helping to improve the mental health of OCP users.

It is also possible the results could be influenced by “survivor bias”, where women who experience signs of depression while using OCP stop taking it, moving them into the category of former users.

Contraception is a crucial component of preventive health care,” said lead author, Dr Julia Gawronska, postdoctoral research fellow at Anglia Ruskin University.

“Most women tolerate taking the oral contraceptive pill without experiencing depressive symptoms but there is a subset of women that may experience adverse mood side effects and even develop depression, and the reasons are not entirely clear.

“Unlike some previous studies, we found that women currently taking the oral contraceptive pill were much less likely to report clinically relevant depression compared to women who previously took the pill.”

She added: “Taking the pill could provide positive mental health benefits for some women, simply by removing their concerns about becoming pregnant. The ‘survivor effect’ could also play a part, with women who experience symptoms of depression more likely to discontinue taking it, placing them into the group of former users.

“However, stopping taking the pill without a suitable alternative increases the risk of unintended pregnancy.

“It is important that women are fully supported, provided with full information, and offered alternative forms of contraception if necessary.”

The cross-sectional study used data collected by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the US.

In both users and former users, researchers found that widowed, divorced or separated women, obese women or those with a history of cancer were more likely to report depression.

In former users, depression was more commonly reported in Black or Hispanic women, smokers and those with lower levels of education or experiencing poverty.

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Pregnancy

Maternal depressive symptoms could start in early pregnancy, study finds

Maternal depression can negatively affect a child’s nutrition, physical health, cognitive functions and socioemotional development

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Maternal depressive symptoms could begin from early pregnancy and last up to two years after childbirth, a large-scale international study has shown.

While health professionals often emphasise the postpartum stage after childbirth as a high-risk period for the onset of depression, this latest research has found that maternal depressive symptoms can appear from early pregnancy.

The study, led by researchers from A*STAR’s Translational Neuroscience Programme of the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS) in Singapore, involved seven prospective observational cohorts across the UK, Canada and Singapore.

The researchers analysed the maternal depressive symptom trajectories of 11,563 pregnant women, spanning multiple decades in the largest such analysis to date. Each cohort included depressive symptoms measured at multiple perinatal time points and analysed independently.

The data was based on prospective maternal self-reports of depressive symptoms, eliminating the potential bias collected from retrospective reports.

The study showed three distinct clusters of mothers with stable low, mild, and high symptom levels over the perinatal period – the period from the beginning of pregnancy up to two years post-birth. The trajectories of depressive symptoms were present for all mothers.

This was true even in the case of those who met clinical cut-offs for probable depression indicating that more serious instances of depression in women begin prior to the birth of the child.

“Several recent studies, including one conducted locally suggest that maternal depressive symptoms may begin before conception, which is why interventions, guidelines for care, and public health policies aimed at alleviating maternal depressive symptoms should target as early as preconception, at least during pregnancy, in addition to the postnatal period, for more effective outcomes,” explained Dr Michelle Kee, research scientist at A*STAR’s SICS and first author of the paper.

Professor Michael Meaney, the director of the translational neuroscience programme at SICS, said: “The medical media continues to refer to maternal depression as ‘postnatal depression’, implying that the onset of symptoms occurs following the birth of the child.

“This extensive analysis shows that the onset of symptoms is in the prenatal period and remains largely stable thereafter. This is true for women in the community as well as for those experiencing more severe symptom levels.”

He added: “The results of this study point to the early antenatal period as a crucial time point for the identification of stable trajectories of maternal depressive symptoms and emphasises the critical importance of prenatal intervention.”

Associate Professor Helen Chen, senior consultant, department of psychological medicine at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, said: “This study provides strong evidence across populations that it is crucial to address depression during pregnancy so that mothers are well and ready to receive their babies, rather than to wait until the postnatal period, for postnatal depression has traditionally been the focus.

“Given what we know about the impact of perinatal depression on child development and health outcomes, the paper will help to inform healthcare systems to direct resources upstream to the antenatal period.

“This will benefit our mothers and their children, and population health of future generations.”

Previous findings from the Growing Up in Singapore Towards healthy Outcomes (GUSTO) project showed that prenatal maternal mental health plays a significant role in the brain development and health of babies.

Research found that maternal depressive symptoms can negatively affect a child’s nutrition, physical health, cognitive functions, socioemotional development and academic achievement, in some cases increasing the risk of ADHD and depression.

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