Mental Health Awareness Week: The Tech That Puts The ‘App’ In Happy

pacifica

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. It’s a week that, as you might guess, exists to boost awareness of mental health issues, with the intent of removing the stigma around them and enabling those suffering to get better help. But with cuts to mental health budgets happening in both the UK and US, it seems to be getting further from that.

What’s developing faster is tech. On the app store there are hundreds of people who see the lack of mental health support provided for free, so chose to do something about it. It’s approximately a billion times cheaper and quicker to download an app to help calm your mind than it is to either wait to talk to someone at the NHS, or pay to go somewhere private. Whilst there is no full substitute for talking to a professional, these are the apps that I found eased my worn out and chaotic mind.

Please bear in mind that these are personal recommendations that work for me; I can’t vouch they’ll work for you, but I think they’re worth a shot.

 

Smiling Mind

Mindfulness seems to be everywhere at the minute. About a year ago, I decided to start giving it a go, but being a broke student, couldn’t afford to pay even the tenner a month most decent apps ask for. I did some research on the best free versions, and lo and behold: Smiling Mind.

Unlike most free apps, Smiling Mind lets you have its entire contents for free. Yep, I’m being serious. What’s the drawback? None, unless you don’t like Australian accents. Smiling Mind is an Australian company with the intent of improving the mental wellbeing of the country, but its success has spread across the world to over 1.5 million users. The app provides targeted programmes, first teaching you about the process and benefits of mindfulness, then engaging your mind to focus on improving certain parts of your wellbeing – sport, stress, and sleep to name a few.

If you’ve never tried mindfulness or meditation and you’re a sceptic on the matter, give it a go anyway. I was wary; now I’m totally sold on it. Plus it’s free.

 

Fitstar Yoga

Fitstar Yoga

At uni, it seemed everyone was doing yoga – our halls were tiny so I have no idea how. Everyone spoke of the great benefits of it but I had no idea where to start. I’m already a dedicated Fitbit user so opted for their offering. It doesn’t boast the same level of peace and tranquillity I’d hoped for, but it does leave me feeling good (how much would I have to pay for the voice of Smiling Mind to narrate my yoga?). Plus there’s a free version you can get ample use out of.

Fitbit uses your feedback on sessions to gauge your fitness and tailor sessions to your ability. Unsurprisingly, being Fitbit, it has more focus on strengthening your core and improving you physically than on connecting you to inner peace. But if you go for the paid version you have greater flexibility over what your session includes, so you can set it to super easy and take it real slow. You can also turn off their gym/workout style music and play whatever you wish through Spotify.

Basically, Fitstar Yoga is great if you change quite a few things about it.

 

Pacifica

Boom! An app with the sole purpose of managing stress, depression and anxiety, designed with the help of psychologists. You can pay to get extras, but even the free version has lots of useful features. You can track your mood unlimited times a day and it’ll give you feedback at the end of each week about how it’s been. You can input information about your day; how much sleep you got, how much water you drank, how much time you spent exercising. This makes it easy to track patterns and spot correlations between your behaviour and mood.

There’s also a community section; a forum without all the nastiness and negativity that online forums tend to attract. You can talk about what’s worrying you, what you’re grateful for, or share advice with others. It’s all anonymous.

Pacifica’s free version also offers guided meditation, the ability to set yourself long and short term tasks, and after filling in your mood it can recommend to you the next step to take. With so many functions, Pacifica is a central tool box for helping battle the day to day impact of depression, anxiety and stress.

 

Duolingo

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. This isn’t an app with a basis in improving mental health. Duolingo is a language learning app that lets you learn at your own pace, a tiny amount every day. But I find there are days in my office job where I feel like I’ve got nothing done in a day, so before work I spend a few minutes on Duolingo learning a phrase or two in German I will inevitably never use, like “I am not a banana”.

If everything else goes wrong, at least this has gone right. If I can’t improve anything else today, at least I can improve this. Plus, it’s free.

 

TED Talks

Ted talks app

TED is a company that began by sharing ideas on technology, engineering, and design in 18 minutes or less at a conference. It began in 1984, and there are now hundreds of videos of these short talks on the TED website. It grew and grew and is now a worldwide company covering all sorts of topics, from the intriguing to the inspiring. They’re light, require no prior knowledge of the topic and are available in dozens of languages.

If I’m despairing at the state of the world, I can find some piece of brilliant technology that will bring water or happiness or education to every corner of the globe. Or if I’m despairing at the state of myself, I can find some piece of brilliant advice aimed at self improvement – there are plenty of talks aimed at personal growth and understanding the self.

You can download videos to your phone, plus it’s free.

Other cool tech I use:

Star Chart
Download the app, point your phone at the sky, and the app will tell you what stars you’re looking at. It’s great if you want to be reminded how you relate to the universe and how beautiful the sky is. Plus, it’s free.

Wetherspoons
If you’re like me, there are days and nights when the Wetherspoons bar is a chaotic barrel of drunk men and pushy people, not always the kind of place you want to navigate if you’re feeling under the weather. This app lets you pay for your food from your table so you don’t need to speak to anyone if you’d rather not.

Geocaching
It’s like real life Pokémon. There are little “geocaches” hidden all over the world for you to find. Yes, they’re real. Actual things. It gets you outdoors and works your mind more than Pokémon GO will. The free version is free, the paid version has more tips and clues.

Sudoku
As well as giving me the feeling of accomplishment when I finish a sudoku, this also has the benefit of distracting me and using all my attention in the process. It won’t take my worries away, but it’ll distract them for the time being. Plus, it’s free.

Gratitude Flow
Gratitude Flow is a Chrome Extension, not an app, but it’s free. Simply write in one thing that you’re grateful for that day, and it’ll get shared around the world. In return, the things other people are grateful for get sent to you. Cool bonus extra: there’s a little button that’ll show you an article or two a day that’s really positive – a change from the world’s negativity.

If you have any favourites, go ahead and let me know. But do remember these are not a full substitute for speaking to a professional.

Author’s charity recommendation: Smiling Mind

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