Smart phone technology is here to stay. It is everywhere. But much of it really isn’t all that good for us. Excessive or inappropriate device usage is shown to interfere with sleep, relationships, academic difficulties, and physical activity and health. These each influence wellbeing in important and positive ways, so when devices are not used in mindful ways, outcomes are often poor.
However, In recent years there has been a surge in the development of apps designed to help with our mental health and wellbeing. Some of these apps are best used in consultation with a psychologist to monitor wellbeing and inform therapeutic delivery. Others are fun and clever ways to monitor happiness and mood, or other things related to wellbeing – like sleep or fitness.
There isn’t much evidence that these kinds of apps work to genuinely improve our mental health. However, if we are going to be on our smartphones (or our teens and tweens are going to be on theirs), we may as well be focused on good things rather than Snapchat, Kik, itube, or Candy Crush, Fruit Ninja, or Duet. Those apps have little to do with wellbeing at all!
Here are 7 apps that can potentially help us achieve greater wellbeing, health, or other goals.
My Mood Tracker
This was rated as the best health app a few years ago (so it’s been around a while). The app is used by describing what mood we are in and what has been happening in our lives. Users also provide information about additional things like sleep, menstrual cycles, and so on. A lite version is available for free, but the paid version is superior because it gives a full history. Using this app, users can identify triggers for good and bad moods, recognising patterns of behaviour and subsequent mood cycles, and improve their thinking and reacting habits.
Sometimes sleep is hard to come by. We get into bed and toss and turn, and it seems our brain is on overdrive. This app works through a progressive muscle relaxation session, helping listeners get to sleep fast. It is a smart choice for anyone always buzzing and resisting rest. (Also, check iSleepEasy as an alternative.)
If you or your children experience anxiety issues, this may be your must-have app. The app is designed to help people experiencing anxiety develop more helpful ways of thinking, and become proactive in dealing with anxiety-inducing situations.
Once again, along the same lines as other mood-tracking apps. I found it particularly interesting that reviews for this app all referenced the way the program helped users share data with their doctors. It is a mood-charting app that helps users monitor their moods, develop and monitor strategies for dealing with difficulties, and identify when things start to go pear-shaped… with the assistance of their GP if needed.
This app asks, ‘What’s my M3?’ It is a 3-minute depression and anxiety screening tool that uses validated assessment to help identify risk of depression, bipolar, and anxiety disorders. Simple reports are provided that recommend a way forward, and a history log is also kept and available for download through the app.
Developed in association with the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence and their highly successful empirically validated program for building emotional intelligence and understanding, RULER, this app requires the user to check in as often as they want in order to record the emotions they are feeling, and what they are doing. It works in a similar way to My Mood Tracker. The app is designed to expand the user’s emotional vocabulary (great for building emotional intelligence), spot behaviours that are precursors to different emotions, consider strategies for improving their emotional regulation, and even see reports linking emotions with outcomes.
This is one of dozens of fitness apps that anyone who wants to exercise more should get hold of. The Strava app (which means “to strive”) is switched on when exercise (for example, a run) begins. It measures distance and time. The route is mapped via GPS so the user can see precisely where they’ve been and what they’ve done. And kms and time are tracked over weeks and months so cumulative totals can be reviewed. The user can also create ‘segments’ and compare him or herself to track improvement over time. They can also compare themselves to others on their own segments, or segments others have created. Plus it has a positive social aspect. ‘Kudos’ are given by friends when someone achieves a goal, so it has a fun social side. Apps like strava promote goal-setting, optimism, social connection, and physical health – all of which are powerfully linked to wellbeing.
While fun, many of the ‘wellbeing’ apps available are nothing more than pop-psychology. Some are made by app-developers and are marketed without any psychological testing. Several that I wanted to refer to in this article make claims that extend well beyond what science teaches us. And I have left out the therapeutic apps because they’re best used in consultation with a psychologist or other health professional.
The cool thing is that smartphones can be used productively and in ways that might contribute to our wellbeing, or at least a better understanding of it. Try the apps and see for yourself.