If you’re a client or a friend of mine, you are probably well aware of my feelings on the devices—phones, tablets, computers—that have become such a huge part of our lives (read: they are the worst).
Only kidding…sort of.
Hyperbole aside, phones and devices can be these amazing tools when used mindfully and in moderation. They allow us to be connected to people in ways we could not have dreamed of a decade ago, but they also can alienate us from others, as well as could lead to us neglecting our existing, real-life relationships, including the one we have with ourselves.
Before launching into a list of apps to enhance your wellbeing and maximize your self-care rituals, here is a free tip (Don’t worry, they’re all free): You can change your entire relationship to your devices simply by being more intentional.
What does that mean, you ask. Great question!
Oftentimes, checking our devices, especially our phones, can become habitual, almost feeling like a compulsion at times. It’s also easy to lose track of time when scrolling through our devices. One way to combat this is to be more mindful when using them. For example, with phones, you could check-in with yourself and wonder: What is the purpose of using my phone right now? How am I feeling while engaging with my phone? Sometimes there is a reason or a purpose, but you may be surprised at how often you’re engaging with a device out of habit or avoidance, not for purposes of satisfaction or fulfillment. A simple trick if you want to just peruse social media and the internet for a bit, which is totally fine in moderation, is to set a time limit for how long you’re consciously willing to dedicate to that task and honoring that commitment when the timer goes off.
Now, how do we get that phone to start working for you and your wellbeing?
General Apps for Enhancing Wellbeing and Self-Care
SuperBetter (free): An app created by game designer Jane McGonigal during a period of her own depression (watch her TED talk about it here). The app approaches anxiety and depression, physical, professional, and relationship goals, and any challenge you can probably think of, the same way you’d tackle a video game: Through a series of creative tasks. Why try this one: Well mostly because it’s fun, but also because it can be sort of like a digital companion in working through your struggles and onward toward your goals.
Pacifica (free with in-app purchases): Aimed at addressing anxiety, depression, and overall stress, this app has various features including meditations, health tracking, groups, and community interaction. Why try this one: The app covers a lot of different areas of wellness. The community and group features allow you to connect with others dealing with the same issues and gain unique insight. (Caveat: As with anything on the internet, a discerning perspective is necessary as not all feedback may be useful.)
Happify (free with in-app purchases): As the name implies, this app is geared toward maximizing emotional wellbeing by offering games, articles, and tasks specifically targeting whatever it is you’re working on or through. Why try this one: You can tailor your tasks by choosing a track that meets your needs. Examples of current available tracks are Cope Better with Stress, Beat Burnout & Build Resilience, Stop the Worry Cycle, Build a Stronger Marriage, and many, many more.
Charity Miles (free): We all know giving back and being charitable enhances our wellbeing. This app allows you to donate to charity every time you walk, bike, or run. The app monitors how far you’ve gone and you can earn $.25 per mile you walk or run and $.10 for every mile biked to go toward a charity of your choosing based on the ones they are partnered with (e.g., Save the Children, World Wildlife Fund, Wounded Warrior Project, Habitat for Humanity). Why try this one: You probably already have your phone with you, why not make it work for you and for others?
Headspace (free with in app-purchases): First 10 meditations are free and walk you through what to expect when trying meditation for the first time. Why try this one: This is a great starter app for those new to meditation and includes psychoeducational videos along the way. Also, the narrator has a British accent so you’re inclined to feel centered and fancy.
Stop, Breathe & Think (free with in app-purchases): Over 15 free meditations with low cost ($.99-$2.99) add-on packages related to specific types of meditation, including one narrated by k.d. lang. Why try this one: The app allows you track your physical and emotional sensations and picks a meditation tailored to your state, including one specifically about addressing anxiety.
Calm (free with in app-purchases): Various meditations included guided single meditations (e.g., Emergency Calm, Commuting, and Deep Sleep), as well as several programs (e.g., 7 Days of Managing Stress, 7 Days of Calming Anxiety, and 7 Days of Self Esteem) which you can have access to through monthly or yearly subscriptions. Calm offers one free program called 7 Days of Calm, 2 basic guided meditations, and unguided meditations. Why try this one: The free program offers a great introduction to meditation with helpful prompts along the way, as well as offers calming scenes of your choosing to accompany the guided meditation allowing you to listen to rain falling or waves gently crashing on the beach, among others, while practicing.
Relax Lite (free with in-app purchases): A simpler app as it only offers breathing exercises and one meditation. It’s sister-app, Relax, can be bought for $2.99 and has more options, as well as was voted Top Mind & Body App of 2014 by Leading Doctors. Why try this one: The breathing exercises in this app are a great alternative to guided meditation and can help you build confidence in your capacity to address anxiety by managing your breath.
10% Happier (free with in-app purchases): The tagline for this app is “Meditation for fidgety skeptics.” If that appeals to you, this one may be just the ticket for you. It was created by Dan Harris, a ABC news anchor who had an on-air panic attack in 2004 prompting his exploration into meditation. Why try this one: If you’re skeptical of the process, this one was tailor made for you. Plus, it provides videos to accompany the meditation that help you better understand why and how meditation works.
This may feel like an obvious one, but podcasts can be a great way to transform an experience like a long commute or household chores. Some basic standbys that often address wellness and mental health issues are podcasts like the Ted Radio Hour, On Being, 10% Happier with Dan Harris, The Mindful Podcast, Real Simple Podcasts, and Mental Illness Happy Hour (note: some podcasts may have adult content). Or ditch that train all together and find something in your wheelhouse. You love movies? Find a podcast about movies. You love gaming? There is a podcast for that. You want to laugh? There is podcast to meet almost any area of interest these days (…even a podcast to meet your Real Housewives obsession, speaking to no one in particular).
Remember!! None of these apps, or any app on our phones, are replacements for the impact therapeutic treatment and personal relationships have on our lives. They can merely further support us in our journey toward wellness and transform the way we look at and use that thing sitting in our pocket.