Two Phone Apps That Make Me Feel Less Crazy When I Use Them

I have been working closely with some applications on my iPhone for the past few months that have contributed greatly as an aid to balancing my mental weirdness.
Publish date:
September 26, 2013
tech, apps

When I was in the midst of obtaining my BFA in graphic design, I took a number of interactive design classes - one of which focused on user experience and mobile design.

This was 2008-2009 (just after the birth of the iPhone) when flip phones were still hanging on and smart phones were this intimidating presence that the ever-transitioning design community and society at large were scrambling to keep up with.

One of our projects involved pairing up with a product design student to design and market a phone that would be theoretically released 10 years into the future. Based on projections about current and future technologies, we all did our best to anticipate what people would be using their mobile devices for in the year 2018.

After a while, it seemed most of us had reached a consensus: In the future, we would be looking to our phones (or more accurately, "mobile devices") to provide us with the answers to everything.

While my partner and I decided to come at the project from a "green" angle (solar powered smartphone, anyone?) many of our peers were designing phones and apps meant to direct and advise the future human populace through life's many problems.

I remember saying out loud rather clearly during a critique, "If I ever end up relying on a device to go about telling me how to live my life, shoot me in the face."

It seemed like such an unrealistic cop-out, then.

Now, while I don't exactly encourage a hand-to-iPhone kind of life (I am mindful to take breaks and set limits on technological use in order to maintain reality-based wellness), I do think there is something valid to be said about the evolution of smart phone applications and their ability to improve upon our quality of life - should we choose to utilize them as helpful tools.

I have been working closely with some applications on my iPhone for the past few months that have contributed greatly as an aid to balancing my mental weirdness. While they don't guide me through every issue I could hope to come across (nor would I want them to), they have made a genuine difference, and I frankly cannot recommend them enough.

My findings are as follows:

Lift: Personal trainer and self-help extraordinaire.

The summary on their website spells it out pretty simply:

"Lift helps you track and achieve habits through data visualization, streaks, and community support."

I've tried out a lot of applications that promised to help keep me more motivated, more organized, less stagnant - but nothing else I've tried compares to Lift.

It's actually really simple, and the reason why it works is simple too: it is unbiased, free of shame, easy to use, and constantly reminds me that I am actually not worthless.

There are some who use Lift for the social support, community groups, and "props" from followers as encouragement. I personally do not find this aspect necessary to my user experience and use it very simply: to track my habits and the things I do every day.

I think it is important that the habits you track are positive ones and that some are unique to you.

For instance, I've included "do one more thing I don't have to do" and "take a step toward embracing discomfort" to my list - two habits my therapist and I have established to help me face my daily struggle with chronic anxiety.

I sometimes make little notes as I check habits off of my list as well, which are fun to read back on.

In fact, I find myself opening the app to scroll through all my green-highlighted habits often, just as a way to remind myself of everything I've accomplished. (This is especially helpful on those deep dark depressive days when I feel no more productive than a turd wrapped in a quilt.)

And once you've used the app for a decent amount of time, you get to reflect on all the statistics and the frequency at which your daily habits are accomplished.

For instance, I realized that I do a lot more finessing than I give myself credit for, and have even learned to stop being so hard on myself during slower periods. Like, who cares that I haven't done pilates this week? Look at everything else I've done! I AM SUPERWOMAN.

Overall, Lift has helped me recognize my own strengths without allowing me to fall into the habit of guilt-tripping or shaming myself for "not doing enough" in one day, because there are no merits attached to how you track things, and it's understood that there are no steps backward - only forward.

When we focus on the positive possibilities and the necessity of mindfulness rather than our perceived shortcomings, we can continue forward-moving momentum much more easily. Using Lift has helped me understand that my good habits are always there, waiting to be swiped and checked off - so no matter what, I am always making progress.

SAM: Self-help Anxiety Management

Having used this app for a couple of months now, I can personally attest to its calming effects and useful tools for managing anxiety.

It comes with a number of features: tools, tips, tricks, exercises, and even a "social cloud" to connect with other app users, which functions like a message board.

The "What's it for?" section of the app goes a little deeper into explaining its purpose, and I will use each point of use as a jumping off point to describe my own experiences with it.

1) "Use SAM to: Observe how anxiety affects you over time."

This has by far been the most interesting. The "anxiety tracker" lets you track the state of your anxiety at any point of the day (I've used it up to five times in one day), records it, then spits the data out as a handy little graph.

For instance, I've found that when my anxiety crawls upward at a steady pace for a few days - I am likely to feel some pretty unpleasant physical sensations (stomach issues, migraines, muscle pain) as a result.

Also, my anxieties seem to walk hand in hand with avoiding things I fear, which is always something worth thinking about.

2) "Learn how thinking and lifestyle can contribute to anxiety."

Having access to the "anxiety tracker" means that when I am really struggling, I have something to turn to, to record my feelings and reflect on them. From there I have literally dozens of other tools at my fingertips to help me comprehend my own thoughts, which are so often buzzy and hard to pin down.

As a result, SAM helps to keep me mindful - and mindfulness is essential when it comes to understanding how anxiety effects your body.

3) "Identify situations where you want to reduce anxiety."

The "things that make me anxious" section helps to cultivate a list of triggers and asks you to consider how and why each trigger makes you anxious. Identifying these things is the first step in the journey to helping you face them.

4) "Practice self-help options for managing anxiety."

This thing is PACKED with tools. My favorite ones to use are "Picture Peace" and "Calm Breathing" because I am a very visual, fidgety person and wiping to reveal a photo (you can use their photos, or upload one from your camera roll) is somehow mega-calming to me.

Also, deep breathing is MY JAM. Seriously, I feel like no one ever truly understands how essential it is. Various exercises have been known to save me from myself on a daily basis and I really like how this app provides a visual cue as it counts down your in's and out's.


What other sorts of apps exist to help calm your crazy or organize your thoughts and habits? Do you find apps like these as helpful as I do, or do you fear a future world in which humanoids are directed in life by nothing but their apps and mobile devices? Share your thoughts, self-help app picks, and technological dystopian theories in the comments!