At least once a week, I wonder what I did with all my time before I had an iPhone. I like having my little supercomputer in my pocket, with all the world’s information (and my friends’ selfies) at my fingertips, but I’m old enough to remember the years before my family got our first desktop computer too. It was a childhood unplugged—full of running around outside, playing make-believe, and reading all afternoon long. But the ’90s are long over and it’s 2018, baby; if you aren’t connected, people are going to look at you like you’ve got three heads.
Unfortunately, there have been plenty of studies that show a negative link between the use of technology and mental health issues. As wonderful as technology is for modern medicine and maintaining far-flung friendships, some researchers have associated heavy social media usage with mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, and with poor self-esteem, attention-seeking behaviors, and difficulty regulating emotions—not what we’d call great news.
On the other hand, I was fortunate enough (ha) to experience depression, anxiety, and body image issues years before Snapchat was a gleam in Evan Spiegel’s eye. Lucky me! So while I completely understand the researchers’ point, for me, correlation doesn’t equal causation.
In fact, I’ve found a way to make technology work for me and my mental health. Through careful curation of my social feeds and researching apps that support my well-being, I’ve found a few tools that actually help me when my mental health is suffering—and I love that I can keep them all right in my pocket.
These are the apps that I use when I need a little pick-me-up (or calm-me-down).
The OG meditation app is a tried-and-true classic for many, which is why almost everyone has heard of it. Though I’ve practiced yoga (off and on) since I was 15, I never got fully into the whole meditation thing—that is, until my anxiety hit a major level a few years ago and I could not figure out what would calm me down when not my Lexapro was not doing its job. Enter on-the-go meditation: With a pair of earbuds, a charged phone, and Headspace, I’ve been able to meditate everywhere from the middle of HealthyWay HQ to my daughter’s soccer practice.
I’ve learned a lot of coping mechanisms for my anxiety over the years and those, in combination with my SSRI coursing through my veins, have made a huge difference in how I live my life. The best technique I’ve learned when I’m really feeling it is mindful breathwork. However, if you’ve ever had major anxiety waiting for a concert to start because you notice the room seems too small for all of us and what if we run out of oxygen and we never see our families again?—well, sometimes reminding yourself to breathe isn’t at the top of your priority list.
This is where Oak comes in handy. There are meditations available on the app, but my favorite part is the Breathe feature, which will lead you through one of three breathing exercises, complete with visualizations for you to focus on as you calm your wild mind.
Download Oak for iOS.
A Soft Murmur
On occasion, I experience anxiety that manifests itself as insomnia—no matter how tired I am, I just can’t sleep. While I do have a sleep playlist always ready to go on Spotify, not even the sweet sounds of Ludovico Einaudi’s piano is enough to lull me off to dreamland.
That’s when I need to bring in the big guns: A Soft Murmur. This background noise app lets you create your own mix of ambient and white noise sounds. (My favorite mix is of ocean waves, rain, and thunder.) While it’s a more passive form of relaxation, my mental health definitely suffers if I don’t get enough sleep at night, so this is a must-have on my phone.
Like most teenage girls, I had body image issues. For me, those body image issues came out in the form of disordered eating behaviors, like restricting and purging. While I’ve managed to get those behaviors under control in the years since college, it’s still hard for me to focus on any sort of “diet” without triggering an unhealthy mindset. Counting calories, for instance, is out of the question for me, as it’s far too easy to fall back into patterns I’d rather avoid. That said, when I want to analyze what I’m eating to make sure I’m making good nutrition choices, it’s nice to have an app that won’t encourage me to eat less or compete with others.
Recovery Record helps you log your meals and snacks and helps you track your emotions before and after you eat, so you can stay on track and understand your eating patterns—in a healthy way.
You might wonder what the hell I’m talking about, putting Instagram on this list, but hear me out. It’s true that if you’re following hundreds of models who love FaceTune a little too much, bloggers who are constantly posting #spon content, and your frenemies from high school, your Instagram experience probably isn’t all that fun. It can breed feelings of competition and jealousy and can compel you to engage in performative behaviors you don’t even enjoy. But the beauty of Instagram (like most social platforms) is that you can curate your feed—which is exactly what I’ve done.
When I’m having a crappy day, I always head straight for Instagram. There, I know I will see photos of baby elephants (because I follow at least four accounts dedicated to pachyderms). I’ll find beautiful pictures of people and places around the world (because I’ve followed local photographers from cities big and small) and art that makes me think (artists on Instagram are peak #inspiration). I’ll be able to watch videos of babies giggling and babbling away (because I’m a total creep and follow chill moms who are doing their best). Best of all, I can see snaps from my sweet friends, sharing the things they care about. If you’re feeling icky about Instagram, follow my lead and unfollow everyone—then build your feed back up to accounts that bring a smile to your face every time.