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Mental Health and Wellness Apps

By Kate Fairhurst

Technology is an interesting thing. In many ways, it has opened doors and advanced our understanding of mental health on a global scale. On the other hand, there is mounting evidence that technology - particularly the Internet and Internet-based platforms such as social media sites and smartphone apps - can have negative effects on mental health in a variety of ways. Some research suggests a link between social media use and mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression. Beyond that, there are indirect effects like the effect of screen use (and brightness) on sleep quality (something every college students can never get enough of, amirite?). I think the major thing to keep in mind here is the old adage “everything in moderation”. Not only that, but as the stigma of mental health has been decreasing, major tech companies have been harnessing their brain power to figure out ways to use technology and apps to help improve the mental health of today’s generation.

Technology: A Force for Good? 

As a neophyte clinician, I find that technology resources are great tools to supplement traditional counseling services, as well as a way for counselors to reach larger populations than we typically serve on an individual basis. Not only that, but how much of your day do you spend looking at your phone? Be honest. No judgement here; we all do it. Now let me ask you this: would you be willing to use 5-10 minutes a day of that screen time if it could help you feel better, more present, calm, less anxious, more productive, happier, well-rested, etc.? Seems like a no-brainer to me. This is where mental health and wellness apps come in. 

We all have apps on our phones and I don’t know too many people that go anywhere without their phone. How cool would it be to know that no matter where you are when anxiety, stress, or depression kicks up a notch, you could take out your phone and have a coping resource at your fingertips?

The Starter Pack 

With that in mind, several trainees here at the center (shoutout to Sarah Milam and Chelsea Latorre!) have been compiling lists of mental health and wellness apps as a resource for many of our student clients and I thought I’d pass them along. I’ve tried to categorize them so that you can narrow down your choices based on your needs and interests. 

Mindfulness and Deep Breathing

Breathe
(For use with Apple Watch) The Breathe app guides you through a series of deep breaths, and it will remind you to take time to breathe every day. Choose how long you want to breathe, then let the animation and gentle taps help you focus.  Free.

Stop, Breathe, Think
Stop what you are doing. Check in with what you are thinking, and how you are feeling. Practice mindful breathing to create space between your thoughts, emotions and reactions. Broaden your perspective and strengthen your force field of peace with personalized meditations and activities.  Free with in-app purchases available.

Meditation

Calm
(IOS and Android) This is a meditation app for beginners but also includes programs for intermediate and advanced meditators! There are different lengths of mediations from 3-25 minutes and includes lots of topics such as calming anxiety, managing stress, sleep, focus, happiness, and gratitude, among others!  Free with in-app purchases available.

Headspace
(IOS and Android) Has meditations on everything from stress and anxiety to sleep and focus, help you build healthier relationships with the people you love, help you find a place of calm and relaxation during meltdown moments and even Headspace for Sport packs to keep your mind fit whether you’re shooting hoops, powerlifting or racing for the finish line.  Free with in-app purchases available.

Yoga

Daily Yoga
(IOS and Android) Daily Yoga offers 500+ asanas, 50+ yoga class plans, 200+ guided yoga, Pilates, meditation classes plus the largest yoga pose base that suit yogis from beginner to advanced. Free.

Therapy-based Symptom Management

Pacifica
Pacifica gives you psychologist-designed tools to address stress, anxiety, and depression based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, mindfulness meditation, relaxation, and mood/health tracking. Free wtih in-app purchases available.

What's Up?
This App uses CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy) methods to help you cope with Depression, Anxiety, Anger, Stress and more.  Free.

Gratitude

Zest
Online gratitude journal, which allows users to keep track of moments they are thankful for, upload a picture a day, and see a random feed of what others make public.  Free.

Is It for You?

This is just a starter-pack on some of the apps that exist in the mental health and wellness realm. A great place to start is first to take some time to reflect on this question I often ask clients, “if there is one small thing you could do that might have the biggest impact on improving your day, what would that look like?” Perhaps for you, that might include downloading an app that guides you through some breathing exercises! 

One thing I encourage you to keep in mind in exploring the world of self-help apps is this: it’s a trial and error process. Try one out, see if you like, if it’s not for you, that’s okay! You gave it a try and know just a bit more about yourself then before. Also, these apps may be a huge assist when it comes to managing anxiety, stress, depression but *disclaimer* if they aren’t providing you with the level of support you need, that’s okay too! (Here comes the plug.) 

If more on-going support is what you need, we’re here for you. Come by the Carruth Center and we’ll get you connected. I personally believe that a combination of approaches to mental health is the best medicine, so if you decide to seek support at the center, I encourage you to share your experience with any of the above apps or others! We’re always looking for ways to support our students. 

Consider scheduling an appointment with a clinician at the Carruth Center; they can help you learn strategies through free group or individual counseling. Our center also offers free drop-in hours from 8:15 AM to 3:00 PM Monday-Friday.  Questions? Need more information?  Give the center a call at 304-293-4431.

Kate Fairhurst

Kate is a 4th year study in the combined Ph.D. Sport, Exercise, Performance Psychology Program/ M.A. Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at WVU. She is a clinical trainee at the Carruth Center where she provides personal counseling and group services. Outside of Carruth, she supervises community-based adaptive sport and physical education program for the Monongalia County School District and coordinates the community LAP gymnastics program through WVU. Outside of school, Kate can usually be found in the gym lifting, out on the river fishing, or talking up a storm about all things health, nutrition, and wellness!

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