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May 31, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

News

Professor creates app to spread gratitude and reduce anxiety

In 2017, Laura Campbell Carapella, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education, began to develop ICU Gratitude, an app for Ithaca College students with the goal of reducing levels of anxiety by sharing instances of gratitude online. 

Carapella said she used funding from the college’s President’s Seed Grant, a grant that faculty and staff apply for to help to fund projects that add to the campus community, as well as her own savings. The app is still being tested by focus groups and modified with the goal of being released to the entire campus in Fall 2020. 

She said that the app will work as a medium for students to share anonymous instances of gratitude they experience throughout the day and that her goal is for it to act as a new form of social media.

Carapella said she has found through research and studies that social media plays a role in the increase in anxiety as it promotes judgment and ridicule. 

In her own classes, Carapella said that every semester she asks her students to what extent they have anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10. She said that in recent years, the percentage of students who consider themselves to be highly anxious has risen considerably compared to when she first started teaching 23 years ago. 

“We get to the point where we’re paranoid with the way people are going to judge us, that we are paralyzed in that anxiety,” she said. 

According to a study conducted by the American College Health Association, over 60% of college students felt overwhelmed with anxiety. 

The theory behind Carapella’s app, she said, is that replacing these judgments with thoughts of gratitude will help to reduce anxiety over time. 

“What would it look like if we every day instead of pulling out a social media platform that encourages you to like or dislike something or to compare yourself, it encouraged you to give gratitude,” she said. 

Carapella said she hopes the app will be used across campus, as it is more effective with more students using it. The app will be free to students at the college, and, in the future, she said she hopes it could be utilized on other campuses. 

“What I like to look for rather than just an individual response, like therapy, I want to look for the social response in a domino effect,” she said.

Junior psychology major Madeleine Giroux said she has worked to develop the app, collected the data and helped to conduct studies and surveys.

Giroux said that she became interested in helping with the app when Carapella introduced the idea to her class. Giroux said she has personally struggled with anxiety and found the theory behind the app interesting and encouraging. 

“I understand the kind of challenges that anxiety can bring for some people,” she said. “I’m excited to become part of something that I think could really help people overcome those challenges.”

Giroux said she thinks the app could be beneficial in easing the stress that comes with transitioning into college. The app will be released next fall, and Carapella said she is looking to find a way to incorporate it into freshman orientation. 

“I think the app could be really beneficial to new or incoming students,” she said. “Most people probably experience the exciting but also the anxious nature of becoming a first-year student, so I think the app will create a really positive and safe space for new students to connect.”

Freshman Emily Levine said she thinks the app could act as a way to encourage more acts of gratitude around campus. 

“I think with social media people are under so much pressure to be someone that they’re not,” she said. “By calling attention to [acts of gratitude], other people will end up following that and want to do it too.”

The app will feature acts of gratitude that are going on around the user by using a location-based main feed. Levine said this component of the app will help to make the campus feel more connected. 

“If I do something nice and get put on that app, it would really make my day knowing that I made someone else’s day,” she said.

Carapella said she is excited about the release of the app and is passionate about the work she has done.“The conceptual thought that we could have an entire semester, maybe more, where everybody feels kindness all around them, all the time,” she said. “They’re giving it, they’re receiving it and it grows infectiously. That’s the most exciting part of all of this.”