The Mayo Clinic is reporting around 2,000 downloads of its Anxiety Coach App, which for $4.99 gives people instructions for managing their fears and a log for recording their anxiety levels when they confront their fears. A Star Tribune story examined the strong relationship in children between the avoidance of fears and the development of severe anxiety.
For some people, exposure therapy is necessary to help people gradually confront their fears and reduce their anxiety in the process, said Dr. Stephen Whiteside, director of Mayo's pediatric anxiety disorders clinic in Rochester, Minn. For others with milder fears and anxiety, the app for Apple mobile devices could give them the guidance they need to overcome their fears on their own.
"If someone has some mild fears, this hopefully would be enough for them to break that cycle of avoidance and maybe get all of the improve that they need," said Whiteside, who helped create the app with an adult anxiety disorders specialist from North Carolina. Whiteside and Mayo both report financial interests in the app.
The app works by giving people an initial series of questions and a catalog of common fears. Once people indicate their fears, the app gives them advice on ways to slowly expose themselves to the things that make them afraid. If they are afraid of dogs, for example, they could start by looking at pictures of dogs before petting a neighbor's friendly dog. They are then directed to enter their level of fear and anxiety after completing these tasks. Their entries over time indicate whether they are gaining any control over their fears.
Whiteside said there is no research yet to indicate whether the app is clinically effective, but it is based on research showing that similar approaches through books and computer programs work. Whiteside believes the app could be even more effective, because people generally carry mobile phones wherever they go and can immediately report their anxiety levels when they practice confronting their fears.