This weekend has been very busy, especially as I only have a couple of days to see friends and family and tick off a massive list of things to do. I thought that today I post a larger post which I have been putting off.
This is going to be a review of anxiety apps which you can use on your phone or tablet. All of the apps I am going to review were free (there are ads and in app purchases for some) and all of them are available on Android, as I have never used an iPhone or Windows phone I am unsure what those operators have to offer.
I find the idea of anxiety apps very appealing, I have been struggling recently with worse anxiety that usual, never mind crowded places or public transport, it hits me hard even when I’m at home doing nothing. So whether I’m on the move or staying inside I find it extremely useful having apps on my phone to help me through it. With so many of these apps on the market, which is the best one to download? That was a question I asked myself when I was scrolling through the Google Play store, so I downloaded as many as I could to try them out.
1) The first app I tried is called the SAM app, it’s made the University of the West of England. It features a guide to using the app which includes links to organisations which may be able to help, including the Samaritans. The second button features ‘help for anxiety NOW’ there are two tasks here; calm breathing, a visualisation for regulating breathing and a picture task which gives you a black and white image to colour in (a distraction task). The breathing task was slightly annoying in that the part where you breathe out was too long a period for me which caused me to panic a little a few times. There are other breathing apps later in this review which I found better. The colouring in task didn’t really help me either, it wasn’t much of a distraction, no matter how hard I focused on the image in front of me. A note to make here is that you can rate each of the tasks, but you can also add the ones which help you to your personal toolkit for easy access. There is a third button which allows you to rate your anxiety and levels of worrying thoughts, unpleasant physical sensations and avoidance, you can save this rating, this then forms a chart which you can access further down the page, enabling you to track these ratings over time. The app also contains a self help guide full of information on anxiety, anxious thinking, changing the focus, relaxation exercises including grounding yourself in the here and now, something I have found vital in the past. Additionally there is a social cloud but I did not create an account to see what it entailed. Overall I think this app would be useful for someone who has just started experiencing anxiety and doesn’t have a lot of coping mechanisms under the belt to control it. I found that I knew a lot of what was being said here, especially after a degree in psychology, it wouldn’t be my go to app for when anxiety hits.
2) The second app I tried was Mood Tools, this is an app which is more for depression than anxiety but as I have both I gave it a go. It features a detailed section on what depression is, including symptoms, suicide prevention and treatment. I liked the level of detail here but I felt like the app should make people aware that they should speak to a medical professional, especially if they experiencing suicidal thoughts. There is also a self help section on this app, this includes challenging thoughts, setting up social support networks, exercising, eating and sleeping properly, and getting enough sunlight. While these are all absolutely fantastic suggestions the app fails to acknowledge that for someone with depression all of these self help techniques may seem impossible. It has taken me years to attempt to incorporate these practices into my life, and I know it’s not the same for everyone, but I just feel like someone who might have not sought professional help yet could feel disheartened that they aren’t doing what the app suggests will make them feel better. Although I should mention that they do suggest taking small steps. Obviously you aren’t going to jump straight to into being a sunlight basking, 8 hours peaceful sleep at night, positive, social gym bunny who eats three balanced meals a day but little steps in the right direction while learning to challenge your thoughts and speaking to a professional can really help. Additionally the app includes links to therapists and listeners, a depression test which tracks your score over time, videos including guided meditation (a useful practice), soothing sounds and some interesting Ted Talks. As well as these the app offers a thought diary, especially useful if you are going to practice Cognitive Behavioural Therapy on the go. There is also an activity tracker with suggested activities and you can rate your mood before and after, this could be useful for seeing which activities can lift your mood, these could then be factored into a tailored plan of coping mechanisms. Finally there is a safety plan, you can enter your coping strategies, places for distraction, add the names of friends and family you could talk to, any professionals that you see, ways to make your environment safe and reasons to live. The app includes a contact list which you can also add numbers to in case of a crisis. All in all I think this is a very well rounded app with a number of useful aspects and a wealth of information to back it up. I can definitely see how this app would be useful to someone with depression.
3) The third app I tried was Headspace, this is a very clean and simple looking app which provides guided 10 minute meditations. The first ten sessions are free after which you can pay for extra meditation sessions. If you try the app and want more then it’s £7.95 a month to subscribe, this is cut to £4.99 a month if you choose an annual subscription. With so many free guided meditations around I’m not sure it’s worth it but I do like that they have tailored sets of meditations such as depression, stress, change, acceptance, happiness, and creativity. I find the voice pleasing, it’s easy to use and you can do it anywhere, even on the bus on the way to work. I feel like meditation is important but I can’t always remember to factor it into my schedule, Headspace comes with reminders to meditate which I find immensely useful. At the moment this is my go to app for meditating on the go, but as I won’t be subscribing I only have the ten sessions, luckily they can be repeated.
4) The next app I tried was What’s Up? It’s tagline is ‘let’s cheer you up a little’ which I found assuming. This is the first mental health app that I’ve come across which you can set a passcode on. I find this a great feature, not that I need it myself, but for someone who is just figuring out their mental health or someone who is private this could be useful. The first feature is for help right now, it has tasks such as breathing, observing thoughts, catastrophe scales, keeping in the here and now and positive affirmations. My favourite task was get grounded where you list 5 things from each category they present (restaurants, things that are hot, black things around you, the list goes on). I found this very useful while being out and about where I have a tendency to zone out and have outer body experiences. The second feature gives information on thinking patterns, managing worries and taking simple positive steps. I found it extremely appealing that this app focuses on positive affirmations and being kind to yourself, that’s the kind of advice which could potentially save someone’s life if they felt able to take it on board. Additionally there is an information section which has detailed information about anger, anxiety, depression, self esteem, and stress, so it’s not just an app for an singular mental distress. Finally there is a section where you can keep a diary and a list of positive and negative habits. Overall this app was great in my opinion, there’s real practical advice but it also feels like they are trying to lift others up. My only issue is I would have liked to see features of other apps such as interactive breathing exercises, videos, meditations.
5) Another app I had a look at was Pacifica, with this app you need to create an account to save your progress, it also takes a few days to unlock all the tasks. The app checks in with you throughout the day to rate your mood, after a while I found this a bit annoying so I turned notifications off. When you open the app the first thing it asks you for is a mood rating, you can also pick an emotion. Based on your rating the app will then offer an activity, I have been offered relax, meditations, goals and thoughts. Without paying for a subscription the options within these tasks are limited. With relax there is a deep breathing exercise, you can set the time of breaths (I’d like to meet someone who can do the 25 second breath, I’m much more comfortable with the 10 second) and pick background music. The breathing exercise only lasts for 8 sets of breaths which is disappointing, I’d prefer to have it continuously and turn it off when I was finished. The meditation is exactly the same as the breathing exercise but with a few overlays of speech asking you what you can hear, see and feel. I found this much less useful than the meditations which Headspace provides. You can also set daily goals and longer term goals which you set up when you create an account, additionally you can type in thought records to keep track. There is a health section where you can add items such as sleep and track how many hours you got per night, then you could possibly correlate this on the chart against your mood. In this way I imagine you could find triggers such as lack of sleep and then work to fix these issues. This could be an interesting way to utilise this app. Finally, there are various communities which you can join and talk to others if that takes your fancy. I’m not sure that I like this app, apart from the idea of being able to track daily events against your mood the app doesn’t offer much, and I don’t know how much more you would get from paying for the upgraded app. In my opinion it’s not really worth it.
6) The next app I used was Zenify, this app gives you assignments such as deep breathing, imagining you are an object which is near to you, listen to music and notice the emotions it brings up. To be honest I found it a bit pointless and the same assignments keep repeating. It costs money to unlock anything above level 1 and you can’t turn the notifications off entirely. I didn’t find it helpful, I wouldn’t put money into it and I have deleted it from my phone.
7) The seventh app I tried was Wellmind, an app developed by an NHS trust. Right from the off in the about section they say that the app is not a substitute for professional help, I feel this is an important disclosure to make. With this app you can rate your mood (but can only choose from happy, so so and sad which is annoying) as well as being able to type what you are looking forward to, what you’ve achieved and what you are grateful for. I feel like typing these out could be useful, when you are feeling really low it can be difficult to think of anything to type but searching for that one positive, no matter how small could be something to hold onto until you pull through. You can save what you’ve written to your calendar and come back and look at it later on. The app also offers help with stress, anxiety and depression (body map of affected areas and 5 steps to help). For anxiety the steps are to stop and think (recognise triggers), take it easy, eat well, problem solving and setting goals (start off with the easiest). The app also offers numbers which you can call in a crisis as well as three relaxation exercises (rapid relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation). Finally there is a snake game (like on the old Nokia phones) which gives you healthy eating tips as pop ups. Again I think this app could be useful for someone who doesn’t know much about anxiety, or stress and depression for that matter, and who needs some simply straightforward guidance on how to manage their condition.
8) The next app I used was Stop, Breathe and Think, when you open the app it asks you to close your eyes and take a deep breath, becoming aware of your body and mind. You can then rate your mental and physical well being. You can also add emotions, based on all this information the app then suggests meditations, all with different lengths. The voice is pleasing and soothing, I definitely enjoy these guided meditations. You can also skip the assessment and pick your own meditation, additionally you can track your progress. I really like this app and have made a note to try it more often.
9) The ninth app I tried was Calm, I used this a bit when I first downloaded it, it’s basically guided mindfulness with a selection of background music to choose from. The reason why I haven’t continued using it is because it now crashes every time I try to use it.
10) Another app I downloaded was Mindshift, this app has a useful quick tips section for when you need immediate help including breathing techniques. For when you have more time the app includes ‘anxiety 101’ which has information on the anxiety triangle and where anxiety comes from. Useful information if you are just beginning to understand your anxiety. You can add situations which trigger your anxiety, check and rate your anxiety level. One of my favourite parts of this app is the thinking right feature which includes realistic thinking exercises, I find that one of the struggles of both anxiety and depression is distorted thoughts, and these can sometimes be the barrier to getting better. There are also specific thought tasks such as coping with test anxiety and tackling social fears. As well as the thinking exercises the app also provides chill out tools including breathing exercises, visualisations and mindfulness strategies, all of which have been useful for me. There are also inspirational quotes which I don’t think really need to be part of the app. I should mention that this is the second app so far which offers password protection if you require privacy. I will probably use the exercises from this app from time to time when I need to, however I did think that the guided relaxation was more appropriate for home than on the bus as it asks you to lie down.
11) The next app I used was Paced Breathing, I really liked this app because you can really customise the time breathing in, holding and breathing out. There is a noise which signals breathing in and out so you can even plug headphones in and close your eyes, alternatively you can turn the noise off and have it vibrate instead, or mute it altogether and watch the visualisation. It’s simple, does it’s job and works really well for me. It’s my favourite breathing app out of all the apps that I tried.
12) The twelfth app I used was Mental Health First Aid, this turned out to be an app which is very brief and to the point. It gives good information about supporting others who have a mental health condition. This could be a good app for someone who hasn’t experienced ill mental health to learn how to talk to a loved one about the difficulties they are experiencing, respect the individual they are talking to and prevent their suicide.
13) Anxiety United is another app that I tried, it offers some podcasts related to anxiety, numbers to ring in a crisis, information on panic attacks, information on realistic thinking, and sleeping tips. There’s a section labelled videos but there are no videos available. To me this feels like an unfinished app, a few podcasts from the internet and a bit of information. I know it’s a free app but it is lacking in useful content.
14) I also downloaded two yoga apps, the first is Daily yoga. This is a simple app which allows you to download tailored packs of yoga sequences such as those for strengthening the back or office yoga (bear in mind that downloading a lot of packs will take up a fair bit of memory). There are also pro packs which you can pay for. The tutorials are step by step videos which automatically skip to the next pose so you don’t have to keep getting up to touch the phone. There is verbal guidance throughout, you can pick from a selection of session lengths and background music is played. The app also has a section for yoga music if you feel like you know enough poses to go it alone. Other apps have mentioned that exercise and meditation are great for your mental health, I feel like yoga is a perfect combination of the two, it’s gentle and soothing, I personally find it the way form of exercise for my mental health.
15) Yoga Tools is the second yoga app I have downloaded, it provides guided videos with titles such as ‘yoga for success’ and ‘yoga for peace’. The app also lists the benefits of yoga and practice guidelines. It’s a straightforward app which is easy to use.
16) I also find it really hard to get to sleep sometimes, or just need a bit of distraction from the noise of public transport so I downloaded some sound apps. The first is Nature Sound. This is a cheap looking app which allows you to pick from one of 13 sounds, each with a background picture. It has a timer so you can fall asleep with it on. That’s about it, it’s pretty simple. It has sounds ranging from waves to the jungle to snow in the winter.
17) The second app is Relax Melodies, this app allows you to mix and match the sounds you want to hear which is interesting. I quite like water sounds so I could mix the ocean with rain etc. Again, it’s really simply, has ads on the screen, and you can pay to unlock the full range of sounds.
18) The last noise app, and the last app of this review (phew) is White Noise. This is my absolute favourite app to use when out and about and to get to sleep. The range of noises is great from the usual ocean and forest sounds to cats purring and airplane noise. There’s air conditioning, crowded room, boats swaying, camp fires. The choice is great. There is also an option to download the White Noise market app and get even more sounds to listen to. It has a timer which is great for when you’re using it to sleep, it has mixes which are preset but you can customise them (I currently sleep to amazon, beach, fire, ocean waves and thunder). Additionally you can favourite sounds and make playlists. It’s just a great app despite it being so simple.
Okay well that’s it, I’ve been putting this one off for far two long and have been writing it all day. I thought it made more sense to keep them all in one post.
Hope you’ve had a great weekend