Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
We’ve heard it over and over again — social media and technology in general are making us anxious, depressed, and ruining our self-esteem. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. But what if there were ways to use our liking and texting skills to make us feel better about ourselves? Or to make us feel like we have everything under control?
That’s where the good news comes in: There are a ton of apps out there that can help you do everything from de-escalate a panic attack to remember to take your meds.
These aren’t alternatives to therapy and they won’t cure you of anything. But they will make the day-to-day struggles of living with a mental illness or just run-of-the-mill stress a little bit easier. With these in your pocket, you’ll have new options for handling those moments when you’re not feeling great. And when you do feel better, you’ll be able to see it right in front of you. Ahead, we’ve collected a few of our (free) favorites.
While it’s not a replacement for therapy (and no app is), Pacifica incorporates cognitive behavioral therapy exercises to help make anxiety and stress a little more manageable. And if that doesn’t help, it also includes a directory where you can find a therapist in your area.
Not to be confused with Whats App, What’s Up is a free app that guides you through CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy) methods to help you cope with anxiety, stress, depression, negative thinking, and more.
Plus, it gives you the option to journal out your feelings, or even play a “grounding game” meant to keep you in the present when you’re stressed out.
This app comes recommended by the American Psychological Association for stress management, especially amongst those who suffer from anxiety disorders or PTSD.
Breathe2Relax guides you through breathing exercises to help with stabilizing your mood, controlling anger and managing anxiety. It’s also user-friendly, and can even be personalized to fit to a pace that’s best for you.
Users can share problems, feelings, or thoughts with the community, and get feedback from others. How does this help? The idea is based on a form of a well-established cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) technique called “reappraisal,” which is a way to help reframe negative thoughts. For example, you can share an experience like having a bad day at work, or a fight with your S.O., and the community might offer alternative readings of that situation to help you not jump to negative conclusions. (Like you’re going to get fired or you and your partner are breaking up.)
The best news of all: A 2015 study of the original website found that this approach significantly improved participants depression symptoms after just 25 minutes per week for three weeks.
The main goal of this app is to just “feel happier,” and the program gives you plenty of options for working toward that goal. You’ll get to choose a path of activities that reflects what that really means for you.
You’ll start by taking a test to see where you’re at and how you tend to approach tough, stressful spots in your life. Then the app will suggest a path based on your answers. To move along the path, you’ll complete gratitude exercises, do a little meditation, and learn a lot about yourself along the way.
Flowy is a game app created to help those with panic and anxiety disorders. In the game, you’ll solve puzzles with your breath. You hold down a button while breathing in and let it go while breathing out, sending your little boat forward along its path.
The goal here is to actually retrain the way you breathe: Rather than taking breaths with your chest muscles, which can cause a similar sensation as an oncoming panic attack (and actually start to make you feel panicked), you’ll learn to breathe with your diaphragm. You’ll breathe deeper, your heart will slow down, and you’ll feel calm on the waves.
This helpful app comes to us from the makers of Iodine, a website where patients can share their real-life experiences with different medications. But Start is their app specifically dedicated to helping people manage and keep track of their depression symptoms as well as any medications they’re taking. Because it can take weeks for you to notice any changes on antidepressants, the app is designed to help you spot when (or if) you’re starting to feel better and whether you’re experiencing any side effects.
Remembering to take your meds is tough — until you get a little reward for it. Seriously, we’ve seen gamification of pretty much everything (hello FitBit takeover!), but rarely is it as effective as it is here. Mango Health functions as a medication reminder, but also gives you information about what you’re taking and a heads up for how it might interact with anything else in your regimen. Plus, take your meds when you’re supposed to and you’ll get those precious points, which are entrance into raffles for a chance to win actual rewards — including charity donations and gift cards to places like Starbucks.
Although there’s no substitute for real, live therapy, 7 Cups Of Tea can help you out when you just need someone to talk to, fast. Sign in and the app connects you with a trained counselor (or “listener”) to talk about pretty much anything. You can choose a listener based on what you’re interested in talking about or their life experience. Whether you want to chat about anxiety attacks with someone else who’s been there or you just want to vent about your boss for a few minutes, 7 Cups has your back.
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