Apps Help Manage Stress and Depression

By Emma McDonald

Many people might blame unhappiness or stress on technology, but could technology help combat those things as well? Many new smartphone apps target wellness — from apps like MyFitnessPal that deal with exercise and nutrition to ones like “The Worry Box,” an app that works to reduce anxiety in a password-protected journal-like format. I’ve used some of these new apps and reviewed them below.

HAPPIFY 

New website and smartphone app “Happify” claims to use research from studies done at Harvard, UPenn and Stanford to help you get happier without looking up from your phone. Research has shown that happiness involves five essential skills: savoring, thanking, aspiring, giving and empathizing. Happify makes games and activities that target and develop each of these skills. It might ask you your goals for the day or week, or a time that you helped someone else.

One of my favorite activities on Happify is “Uplift” where you get points for pressing hot air balloons with positive words on them. After playing on Happify for one week, I found that the app helped me to slow down and focus on gratitude, the things I like to do, my friends and family and my goals. I do not condone spending more time on one’s phone than most already do, but this app does provide a simple way to make use of the five minutes before class starts that you may normally spend on Facebook. Happify is free but prompts in-app purchases if you want full access; I found the free version was plenty to occupy me during the week.

SMILING MIND

Smiling Mind is a meditation app that is designed to help add tranquility and balance to the lives of the tech-savvy. When signing up, you choose your age and it tailors the app to your choice. It focuses particularly on meditation for young people and incorporates a body-scan guided mediation technique to begin. The non-profit that offers the app (free of charge!) is running a pilot program in Australia involving meditation in schools to help children cope with the stresses of school and social life.

Smiling Mind takes research showing meditation’s positive effects on anxiety, depression and stress and transforms it into a simple and useful app. It’s incredibly easy to use Smiling Mind and it is available on the web for those who don’t have smartphones. Like Happify, it provides a constructive and relaxing way to spend a few minutes that you might otherwise waste.

Smiling Mind guides those unfamiliar with meditation through basic exercises and gets more sophisticated the longer you use it. It sends you daily reminders (if you want) that gently coax you into a daily meditation routine. Smiling Mind also gives you the opportunity to rate how you feel before and after the meditation – an interesting way to reflect on whether you found that particular exercise helpful. As a free and simple app targeted toward young people, I would recommend Smiling Mind to any stressed or unhappy college student.

T2 MOOD TRACKER 

This app allows people to monitor moods on six scales: anxiety, stress, depression, brain injury, post-traumatic stress and general well-being. Every time you use the app, you rate and record your mood.

The app plots all your ratings on a graph so that you can track your mood over time. Notes recorded simultaneously with ratings can help determine what can be causing mood changes in your life, whether it be academic stress, new medication or hormones. This app is very useful but could use a few minor tweaks; sometimes the graphs are hard to read and the reminder system only works sporadically. However, as an alternative to hand-notation of moods and well-being, this app provides a much more convenient and useful way to look at mood, especially over time.