Although apps can help us track and improve everything from our eating habits, sleep quality, running efficiency and productivity, several studies have shown mobile phone use can actually be harmful to our mental health. Being on our phones can make us unhappy, detached and anxious, especially when we spend long periods of time on social media viewing unrealistic images.
Thankfully, there’s an app for that.
As someone who suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, I decided to test out a few new apps that claim to use cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness techniques to help users manage stress and anxiety. I’ve listed a few of my favourites below. I’ve also included several of my go-to guided meditation apps, as they are also effective stress management tools.
Mentally is a neat app that can track and decrease your stress levels using information collected from your pulse rate. The app uses your mobile phone’s camera and light as a biosensor to collect your heart rate, heart rate variability and blood flow data from your finger placed over your phone’s camera lens. Once the data is collected, it can then assess your stress and focus levels and create a personalized breathing pattern for you to follow to help reduce stress. I’m not sure how accurately the lens can pick up your pulse rate, but the breathing pattern it suggested for me follow definitely left me feeling more relaxed. It would also be helpful to track your stress levels with this app over time.
1. Simply Being
Simply Being is a customizable meditation app that doubles as a sleep aid. You can choose to listen to a soothing guided mediation with background music or ambient sounds (such as ocean waves and rain), just the voice or just the music for five to 30 minutes. I like to start with the guided meditation and rain sound for 10 minutes, then have the ambient sound continue once the mediation is done for another 10 minutes. I usually only last about 5 minutes until I’m fast asleep. This app is definitely worth the $2.29 download price.
Optimism is the ultimate mental health and wellness tracking app designed to help you detect patterns and triggers for everything from anxiety and depression to bipolar disorder and other mental health disorders. Each day you can rate your stress levels at home and work, what kind of food you ate, how much caffeine you had, how many hours you slept, your general mood, if you fought with your partner or not, and more. The app can then creates detailed charts and graphs that can help you and your family physician better detect and treat your mental health issues.
Headspace is another one of my favourite guided mediation apps. Aside from being more approachable (i.e.: less hippy dippy) than most guided mediation apps, Headspace allows you to add buddies so you can track your progress together. Andy Puddicombe, the creator of the app who was a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Northern India for 10 years, has a very soothing voice and effective guided meditation technique that makes it effortless to achieve inner peace in just 10 minutes a day. You can download the app for free to access ten 10-minute mediations, or you can buy a monthly subscription for $7.99 per month for endless meditation programs for everything from performance to relationships.
Much like Optimism, SAM (which stands for Self-Help Anxiety Management) also helps you track your mood and thoughts over time by asking you to rate how you’re feeling about particular situations each day. Aside from monitoring your anxious thoughts and behaviours, SAM also offers an anxiety toolkit with tips and exercises, such as breathing exercises and recording your own voice for reflection, to help you better understand and manage your anxiety.
Out of all of the anxiety management apps I tried, Pacifica is definitely my favourite. Not only can you record your mood and track your progress like the other apps, but also you can set your own goals, track your health and wellness, record diary entries, post anonymously in support groups and work through several guided relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises set to ambient sounds, progressive muscle relaxation and positive visualizations. The app is also much more visually appealing than the others and was the easiest to use.
Have you ever tried a mental health app? What do you do each day to help manage your anxiety and stress? What do you find causes you the most stress?