For the past two weeks, Pokemon GO has been taking over news channels, Facebook feeds, and twitter timelines all over the world. It's a simple concept, allowing users to become trainers and live their dreams of being the best there ever was, by walking around their communities to catch the best and coolest Pokemon. As I am writing this, I am sitting at a dock with 300 other strangers trying to catch rare Pokemon that spawn here.
Almost immediately, there were stories of Pokemon GO positively affecting people mental and physical health. However, these stories have been shadowed by a negative and fear based narrative that always comes with new Tech Fads. Stories of folks walking off cliffs, robbings, the dangers of AR or other fear based stories. These stories forget that Pokemon GO, like all games, is a tool. It's not inherently good or bad, it's all about how someone users it.
So, I thought I would share how I have been using Pokemon Go as a tool for mental wellness in my life. As a tool, Pokemon Go has changed my life. It's such a simple tool (and let's face it, not a great app or game as it crashes constantly and is riddled with server issues) but it's vastly improved my mental and physical health in the two weeks I have been using it.
Here are the ways it has helped me:
1) I am not scared to talk to strangers
After years of social anxiety and Asperger's therapy, medications and self care, I assumed that I would spend my life afraid and disconnected from other people. Even though I am a public speaker and community mobilizer, other people have always been a huge point of stress for me.
I am always worried that I will say something the wrong way, accidentally hurt someone, or otherwise mess up in a conversation with someone. I am the girl who orders Starbucks through her app, even though I am standing in the store waiting -- just because I can't build up the confidence to talk to the person at the counter. Even though I can stand on stage and talk to thousands of people at once, one on one connections have always been difficult for me.
Since starting to play Pokemon Go, I have found myself starting conversations with strangers without thinking twice. It's given me an easy connection to talk to people. Usually, I am worried about being weird, but with Pokemon GO -- everyone is playing is doing something that is as weird as what I am doing.
Most importantly, It's given me confidence to know that I can have connection with people, even if temporarily, and that's helping me to realize that I can connect with people in other parts of my life - be it work, friends or family. It's an amazing feeling.
2) It's made outside less scary
Pokemon Go has made me excited to go outside, to walk around, to talk to strangers about where that rare pokemon are. It's shown me that I can talk to people, I can listen, and that I can do all of this without it feeling worn down. It's creating a wellness level in myself that I can safely say I have not felt before. Most days, leaving my house is a huge chore full of worries and anxiety about what might be waiting for me outside. But now, I know the Pokemon are outside, so I go out with my backpack and batteries packs without thinking twice. It's helped free myself from staying in all day alone with my thoughts. Which has lead to...
3) It's helped me rediscover the joy of walking and the beauty of my city
Since getting Pokemon Go, I have been reaching my Apple Watch steps and exercise goals every day, which I have never been able to do consistently before. It's made me more active and excited to explore my city. I have revisited parts of Toronto I love (like the Jack Layton Ferry Dock, the Island, cool downtown cafes) and brought me to explore parts of the city I would never go to before.
It's shown me amazing cafes, parks and places that I can set up shop and work on stuff. As a work from home person, it can be easy to sit at home for days on end and not go outside or move around. But since I have started playing, I have found cool work spots in in parks, cafes and other places with great wifi.
4) It's given me a place to fit in
It's given me the confidence and connection to know that I can find a place to fit in. It's given me a way to engage in self care that requires movement and human connection. It fights the voice inside my head that says hanging out with people will be work, that people will hate me, and that isolating is more comfortable than talking to people. It's shown me that people can be awesome and friendly. That my friends want to run around the city with me at 4 am and just talk. That hanging out with people is fun and can refresh my energy.
I can't believe all this has happened because of Pokemon, and I am confident to say that even when Pokemon Go is an app of the past, that I will remember this experience and push myself to have more fun interactions with people. To keep learning how to connect with my friends and strangers. Because for the first time in my life, I am not scared of people, going outside or finding a community to fit in.
Will people use Pokemon GO for bad things? Not pay attention while playing and walk into/off of things? Could people become addicted to this? Of course, but all of these things do not invalidate the good that Pokemon Go has done good for so many people.
I am excited to see how it will grow and change, and what people come up with next. More importantly, I am excited to see someone figure out how to make fun games that include movement -- and think that this is a wonderful tool for people to capitalize on in a healthy.
Until then, good luck to all you trainers out there and hope you become the best there ever was.
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