The Cut’s guide to self-improvement without spending a million dollars.
There are so many reasons why people aren’t in therapy when they’d like to be. Maybe your regular therapist has abandoned you to tend to personal problems (note: need to talk to therapist about issues surrounding abandonment). Maybe it’s that time in August when all the therapists seem to take a simultaneous vacation to the Berkshires. Or maybe you simply don’t have the money, time, or willingness to commit to 50 minutes on a couch in a soothing, good-smelling office.
The following apps all have the potential to be helpful, you might want to pay them an exorbitantly high hourly rate.
Moodnotes: When I use this app, it sometimes feels like my therapist literally climbed into my phone and is waving at me. Moodnotes ($3.99) operates on the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), using actions to help correct the faulty or negative thinking patterns that lead to negative behavioral patterns. At a specific time every day, the app asks, “How are you?” and you answer by rating your mood with one of the smiley or sad-face options. The app then peppers you with a series of follow-up questions (What is contributing to you feeling this way? Did you fall into any traps?) and often suggests the sort of negative thinking that might be at play (i.e. catastrophizing, blaming, fortune-telling). By tracking your moods, thoughts, and emotions, users can begin to see unhealthy patterns and get the tools to correct them. Sometimes it’s hard to know if I’m feeling just flat-mouth face or full-on sad face, but the point is engaging with the app forces me to stop, think about what I’m feeling, and recognize what might have caused me to feel that way.
Breathing Zone: Sometimes the fastest way to combat anxiety or an oncoming panic attack is just to remember to breathe. There are a bunch of apps that offer guided breathing exercises, but I like Breathing Zone ($3.99) for its simplicity. All you have to do is open the app, select which guided sound you’d like (Celestial Choir or Indian Singing Bowl, for example), press play, and breathe along with a circle that expands and contracts to help you set your pace. You can also opt to have a voice guide tell you when to “breathe in” and “breathe out,” but I find it a little annoying. If you’re feeling anxious, taking deep, even breaths while focusing on something else really does help calm you down.
Pause: Meditation has a myriad of benefits for mental health, as does mindfulness — or so I’ve been told. But meditation is also a little bit intimidating and boring-sounding. Pause ($1.99) offers a “meditation experience” that draws on “ancient Tai Chi and mindfulness practices,” but it feels more like an iPhone game. Pause involves moving a lavalike blob around your screen, slowly and with focus, until the blob grows big enough to cover the whole screen. Move too fast and you’ll be told to slow down. Once you “win” by making the blob grow, you’ll be rewarded by a prompt that tells you to close your eyes and savor your calm before diving back into your stressful life.
Talkspace: Sometimes you just need to talk to a living human person, even if it is over your smartphone screen. Talkspace offers on-demand therapy (and couples’ therapy) sessions via video chat or text within 24 hours, which is a godsend for anyone who needs immediate relief but can’t get an appointment until a week from next Tuesday. Pricing is quite fair too; sessions start at $25.