It may come as a surprise to those that know me that I would recommend the use of technology as the skill of the month this month. Today, we seem to be unable to leave the house for 5 minutes without our cellphones close at hand. As I type this, my cell phone is right next to me. When our phones are lost or the battery is dead, many of us have trouble remembering how we got along without them! To be honest, I actually attribute cellphones especially to the rise in anxiety disorders as we no longer have to "wait and see". We can immediately google it when we have the slightest discomfort and we have lost practice in just waiting discomfort out! Nevertheless, I'm not advocating that we all throw our cellphones into the nearest recycling center. Instead, the intentional use of technology can be very helpful to us as long as we are using it intelligently. We have so many more resources available at our fingertips it can be very overwhelming at times so setting timers, using reminders, and limiting ourselves is imperative. If we USE technology effectively, we can help ourselves improve our mental health.
Here are a few of my favorite apps and on-line resources. You will note that all of them are free, which is very important to me as I like to try out things and have frequently downloaded several apps that are supposed to do the same thing but then I delete several of them leaving only the one that I like best. I wouldn’t feel quite so at ease doing this if I just paid $0.99 or $1.99 for an app. I will occasionally update this list as new apps become available.
If you struggle with Pleasant Activity Scheduling: Positive Activity Jackpot is an app that uses your location to suggest some things to do. You can choose the category of activity and then have it randomly suggest an activity in that category. It is a light-hearted way to generate some new ideas for building positive experiences which we know to positively affect our mood.
For DBT on the go: DBT911 is an excellent app that gives you reminders about DBT terminology but my favorite part of it is that you can fill out a diary card in-app to keep track of your moods every day, save them, and then share them during session with your therapist. If you’re in crisis, you can have the app generate a random skill for you to use, and it allows you to create your personal crisis list of skills (with your favorite or most helpful skills) so that you can quickly help yourself out of crisis mode.
For meditation: Calm is an excellent app that I have recommended to many clients. It will remind you to meditate. You can do the “7 days of calm” which guides you through meditation if you’re a beginner or want to brush up on how to meditate. I have also been known to use the app as a simple timer as the “alarm” at end of session is a less intrusive bell than a traditional timer. Take a Break is another app that is very simple to use and will lead you through various meditations. Smiling Mind is also good as it allows you to input your age and gives you meditations that are geared for younger folks (as young as 7) and gives all kinds of variations you can try.
For mindfulness throughout the day: MindBell is an app that you can set to randomly sound the bell throughout your day, each time reminding you to, just for a moment, come out of your head and spend a brief moment in mindfulness.
For yoga: I like to use Simply Yoga Free which, without purchasing the paid version, allows you to participate in a 20- 40- or 60-minute yoga session. The instructor leads you through each pose in real time, giving helpful direction so if you’re a beginner, you can feel like you are doing it “right” and if you’re more advanced, her direction is good reminder to keep your form. I especially like that you can “fast forward” through poses that you don’t want to do at that time with just a single button press. If you purchase the paid version, you can customize the routine and have access to more advanced poses. Another good app is Down Dog. This app is a little more “modern” in that it provides an option for a funky musical background. The still photos help to check your form and the instructor gives a good, although somewhat fast-paced direction so that the routine flows very naturally. You can also determine how long of a practice you would like to do.
For CBT and general Positive Psychology, Happify is a great app that has a variety of games, articles, infographics, and other useful tools. This is also one that you can use on your computer (I actually like the computer version better than the app as it is a bit easier to navigate). Another good app is Cognitive Diary CBT Self-Help which has a lot of great information about CBT as well as a diary card feature. MoodSpace is a simple app that lets you complete a thought record for use in identifying and working with automatic thoughts.
For Affirmations I like Happy Habits, which will give you a positive affirmation every time you log in.
For Anxiety try MindShift. This app is a great resource for information about anxiety and provides several affirmations to cope with a variety of anxiety provoking situations (test anxiety, social anxiety, panic, etc.) Another good app is Stop, Breathe & Think. I especially like the “list of meditations” included in this one as you can choose from 15 or so guided meditations varying in length from a couple of minutes up to 20.
For Exercise I honestly love Pokemon GO! because it encourages you not only to go outside and walk but gives you goals (“walk 2K to hatch this egg!”) and allows for some social interaction (there’s nothing like finding another member of your “team” and discussing what Pokemon you’ve caught and how you did it!). Walk for a Dog is a good app to donate money to your favorite K-9 charity.
For Building Mastery: I like to use Duolingo which is an app on which you can learn a bit of a new language (or brush up on your Spanish that you haven’t taken since high school!) There are a lot of different languages to choose from and there are several built-in reinforcersto keep you motivated.
For help in using Thoughts to distract you from distressing events, there are a million apps to choose from: USA Map Puzzle lets you put each state in its correct space, or US States and Capitals Quiz, Animals Quiz, Famous Monuments, Flags of the World are all good to quiz yourself. No matter what subject you know a little bit about, there’s most likely an app you can play these to distract yourself and maybe learn something, too!
As you can see, there are lots of apps out there to help with a variety of things you’d like to work on, strengthen, or practice. Once again, my favorite setting is to allow the app to “remind” you that “it’s time to…” and then actually do them. Enjoy using technology to help you gain better mental health!