Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Aug. 8, 2018

How We Can Use Technology to Improve Mental Health

Intern, Family Online Safety Institute

As a society, we constantly hear about the ways in which we should reduce our screen time or technology usage. This awareness is certainly important to maintaining healthy digital habits, but are there apps or sites that we should be spending more time on? Apps and programs designed to help improve mood and mental state are becoming increasingly available on the internet and hand-held devices.

Nowadays it seems like an app exists for just about everything. Most popular sites, such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or Pinterest, serve to entertain or provide platforms to communicate with others. More broadly, apps and sites typically exist in order to assist users somehow, whether that’s finding the nearest Chinese restaurant, or providing a space to edit a photo. So what about apps that serve to assist you with your mental health? Although it’s common knowledge that certain social media sites and devices can be toxic to one’s mental health, especially when it applies to kids and teens, perhaps what aren’t recognized enough are the apps or devices which aim to foster mental stability and balance. The differences between these specifically designed apps or sites and other social media pages are clear, and subsequently have vastly different effects on users.

According to a survey conducted by the Journal of Medical Internet Research, 76% of people would be interested in free apps which aim to improve mental health or assist with self-monitoring. Fortunately, the digital world provides various outlets which address such issues with many mental health platforms are available to users free through the The App Store on their iOS devices. Here you can find specific programs focusing on meditation, mindfulness, stress management, and more. Other available apps are designed for specific mental disorders, and some are more broadly designed to lift your mood. Simply searching a relevant term on the App Store, such as “mindfulness”, produces a wide range of results, many of which are free. Although other devices or online sites do provide videos, programs, or blogs which target mental health help, using an app specifically designed to track personal patterns might be most beneficial.

While acknowledging the potentially harmful effects of technology is important, perhaps we should also shift our attention to how it can offer unique and helpful ways for kids and adults to maintain self-awareness and improve quality of life. Using programs such as meditation apps or mood trackers can be a simple and fun way to ensure you or your family is setting time aside for self-care and reflection. Openness to such lifestyle additions like digital mental health may help expand the ways in which to improve mood and stress levels in a private and personalized way, whatever your age or situation may be. Below are several apps designed to promote balanced thoughts and mood, self-awareness, and positive thinking:

Calm

Appropriate for ages 4 and up, Calm is an app that focuses on meditation, sleep, relaxation techniques and stress reduction. Its overarching goal is to lower stress levels and promote balance, self-awareness and better sleeping habits. Named 2017’s App of the Year, Calm is recommended for both beginners, intermediate, and more advanced users. Some of the app’s features include stress-reducing breathing exercises, meditation features, sleep stories, and soothing sounds and music.

Happify

Available on the App Store, Happify provides activities and programs aimed at increasing your happiness and improving your mental health. The app allows you to take control of your emotional well-being by choosing areas to focus on, such as building self-confidence or conquering negative thoughts. The app also allows you to track your progress and app use in great detail, which promotes self-awareness and encourages users to gain a well-rounded experience. Although the Happify app isn’t free, it allows family sharing where it can support up to 6 different users.

The Mindfulness App

The Mindfulness App is free to all users on the App Store, although there is a premium version available which provides more features. The Mindfulness App helps users participate in healthy meditation methods and allows you to tailor the app to your personal preferences. It is recommended for all levels of meditators, and allows you to ease into the routine with just 5 minutes per day. Additionally, the app provides daily tips about staying focused and centered.

MoodKit

MoodKit is a mood-tracking app intended for individuals aged 12 and up. The app is centered around the design of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy methods and provides a space for users to journal their daily mood, emotions, and thoughts. The app allows you to monitor your mental state and subsequently avoid negative thought patterns. This mental-health app provides a platform for users to increase self-awareness and develop healthier ways to think by providing activities, guidance, and space for journaling.

Smiling Mind

Smiling Mind is a mindfulness-centered app, appropriate for ages 4 and up. The app was developed by psychologists and educators with the goal of promoting mindfulness, compassion, happiness, and balance within all age groups. The app allows you to check in about your mood, meditate, and has various programs designed to target different populations. Some of these programs include sessions for adults and children, sessions focused on mindfulness in the classroom or workplace, and sport programs.

Breathe2Relax

Breathe2Relax is also accessible through the App Store, and is appropriate for ages 4 and up. Created by the Center for Telehealth and Technology, this app is intended to reduce stress by introducing and encouraging ways to manage stress and worry. Breathe2Relax focuses largely on guided breathing techniques to promote mental stability, but also has features which encourage you to rate your emotions or mood, and provides useful facts about the effects stress has on the mind and body.