Waynesburg social worker develops anxiety app
Anxiety, the feeling inside so many people carry around with them from morning to restless night, may have finally met its match. Thanks to the determination of licensed clinical social worker Jonathan Johnson of Waynesburg, there is an app that can be downloaded into a smartphone that can help address anxiety wherever and whenever it might happen.
“I call it Anxiety Resolver because I want to help people focus on becoming mentally healthy,” Johnson said. “I look at it as learning to become mentally healthy on your own. If it’s in your iPhone or iPad, or even on your home computer, it’s something you can use every day whenever you feel the need. I tried to think of everything that I’ve experienced in my lifetime that led to my own anxiety. I’m the person in the app who is talking to you. You may not be ready to walk into a therapist’s office but this app opens the door and gives you some of the tools to recovery.”
Johnson works with clients from his office at Southwest Regional Medical Center’s Center for Recovery and Wellness in the Greene Plaza, Waynesburg. He also is an adjunct professor at West Virginia University’s Graduate School of Social Work.
“I’ve lived 18 years in this community and I’ve seen suffering across the board,” he said. “I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this way – I have a wonderful life.’ When people feel shut off, disconnected and disattached, they need help. I’m hoping that this app will reach the 60 percent of those who struggle with anxiety but don’t receive treatment.”
Using drugs for anxiety can only go so far, Johnson pointed out.
“I noticed that there are only a few meds for anxiety out there and I was seeing people who relied on those drugs rather than dealing with the causes. I want to give people more tools to work with to build better habits. Sometimes it’s just a matter of breathing,” he said.
Johnson got the idea to build an app to share his clinical smarts four years ago and it was an idea that wouldn’t go away.
“I talked about it but I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “As time went by, I realized I didn’t want to be that person who had a great idea but never followed up on it. So in 2012, I contacted an agency in Florida and they helped me create the concept and the logo. But I was still not sure how to go forward.”
Johnson’s idea came into sharper focus when he attended a small business development class through the Katz School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh and began getting his business plan in order. There, he met a representative of the programming company True-Fit in Cranberry who would design his app to run on the Apple smartphone as a first product.
“We were up and running on Dec. 18, 2013, and I began using it in my practice and getting the word out,” he said. “We now have people who are using it as part of their therapy and they are giving me valuable feedback. I will be starting weekly tutoritals that explain the features and posting them on the Anxiety Resolver webpage.”
A new user will find that setting up a profile is the first step and writing positive things about themselves comes in handy when anxiety does strike, Johnson said.
“You have the chance to list things that you’ve succeeded at or are proud of so when you’re feeling anxious you can read your own words to remind you of your strong points,” he said.
The app also offers questions to help identify the stressors that trigger anxiety and separate out physical tenseness from the mental triggers such as fear and anticipating negative things that might happen.
“There’s a whole section on breathing exercises. Anxiety is energy and either you expend it or it takes its toll on you. You can track your exercises and see your improvements,” Johnson said. “Personally, I swim three or four times a week at Waynesburg Central High School. There’s a group of us who go there after work but sometimes we’re the only ones there. I can’t believe more people don’t use it. Stop worrying so much about how you look in a bathing suit. Swimming is a great stress buster.”
Johnson’s daughter, Olivia, 13, an eighth-grader at Margaret Bell Miller Middle School, considers herself her dad’s first satisfied user.
“I like that you can have your own music and monitor your sleep and exercises,” she said. “I do the breathing exercises and I use it on a daily basis as a journal. My age or high school-age people have trouble talking about their anxiety or they don’t want to admit they have it. This way they don’t have to talk about it, they can write it.”
Johnson wanted the app to be user friendly.
“I wanted ... (to) be able to reach a wide range of ages so we worked features into it make it more personal. You can drag your own playlist over for your relaxation music. Everyone has songs that work for them,” Johnson said. “I’m hoping teachers and teenagers will be able to use this and I’m working on an interactive part of the program that will allow me to answer questions as they come up. Our next step is to adapt the app so that it can be used on android platforms. I want to help as many people as I can and I’m taking it one step at a time.”
Olivia, who was there through the creative process that turned Johnson’s great idea into the Anxiety Resolver app, has learned firsthand something about the healing power of a job well done.
“He wanted to get it developed and he was determined and when he finished it I could see how good that made him feel,” she said.
The Anxiety Resolver app costs $2.99 and can be purchased at the Apple Store under iPhone apps.