You’re probably thinking, “Sam, how does a raccoon wearing a fanny pack help with your mental health?” Don’t knock it until you try it.
Welcome to Crazy Talk: a mental health advice column written by yours truly, a mentally ill and queer writer reclaiming his “crazy” to educate and empower. In a world that tries to push us to the margins, I’m all about getting loud and kicking the stigma where it hurts. In this column, we explore what it’s like to live with mental illness without shame or apologies. Expect frank advice, a little self-deprecation and a good dose of humor.
A lot of people falsely assume that if you’re mentally ill, seeing a clinician every so often is all it takes to get well and stay well. But I actually think a regular practice of self-care is just as important. Problem is, without structure, many of us are at a loss as to how to incorporate self-care into our day.
For me, in addition to therapy and medication, I’ve relied on mental health apps to keep it together. Yep, my iPhone is what keeps me sane, and I would quickly lose my marbles without it. Whether you’re in crisis or just looking for a quick tuneup, apps can be a surprisingly great way to manage your mental health and regulate your mood.
Almost every day, I use three different apps to help keep me on track. I’m excited to share them with you now – and even more excited to let you know that every single one of them is free. It’s worth checking out and sharing them with literally everyone (your BFF, your grandma, your angry boss, etc) — because who wouldn’t benefit from a little self-care?
Wysa is a virtual penguin who talks to you about your problems. And no, I’m not kidding. Wysa is an adorable, “emotionally intelligent” chatbot that utilizes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness skills to help you effectively deal with stress.
You’ll work through cognitive distortions in your thought patterns and learn about different coping skills. Wysa can even guide you through deep breathing, gentle stretches, gratitude journaling and a whole slew of self-care tricks that are sure to boost your mood. Wysa can also track your mood and learns over time what is uniquely helpful to you — and what isn’t.
What I love most about Wysa is that sometimes, we don’t want to bug anyone with our problems. And luckily for us, Wysa is a brilliantly-engineered chatbot that’s available to you 24/7, and will never burn out or abandon you. It’s great for those of us who are going through a lot but find it difficult to reach out.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to have a penguin as a therapist, the answer is a download away. I highly recommend giving it a try.
Consider this app the “mood ring” of meditation. Stop, Breathe & Think is a brilliant app that provides you with free guided meditations to listen to that it recommends based on your mood. You let the app know how you’re feeling physically and emotionally, and it matches you with three possible meditations that would be most helpful to you.
For a lot of people, meditation conjures up images of sitting uncomfortably on the floor and (unsuccessfully) wrestling with your thoughts. With Stop, Breathe & Think, it’s a different experience altogether — a soothing voice provides guided imagery to bring you into a relaxed state, which you can tap into whether you’re sitting, hanging out in bed or even taking a shower.
For folks who like positive reinforcement, the app gives you “stickers” as you reach different milestones, keeps track of how many minutes you’ve meditated (or in my case, hours) and tracks your mood before and after to help you visualize the progress you’re making. Bonus: it’s easily the most aesthetically-pleasing app I’ve ever seen.
It’s worth noting that there are other cool features (like yoga videos and bonus meditations) that you can download if you have a paid subscription. I personally don’t have a subscription (because I’m broke — best believe I would have a subscription in a heartbeat if I had the extra cash), but I still love the app and get a lot out of it for free.
As someone who wasn’t really into meditation before, this app made me a believer. I can almost guarantee that it’ll make you one, too.
Booster Buddy is my favorite mental health app of all time.
Every morning, I check in with a raccoon that wears a beret; I tell him how I’m feeling, and then he gives me “quests” to help get me out of bed and get a positive start to my day. I get coins with each completed task to buy him more ridiculous outfits, including a fanny pack and a mustache. And he gives me pep talks and inspiration to keep the momentum going.
You’re probably thinking, “Sam, how does a raccoon wearing a fanny pack help with your mental health?” Don’t knock it until you try it. Booster Buddy is a cleverly designed sidekick that incorporates self-care and distress-tolerance activities; builds healthy habits; keeps track of appointments, medications and reminders; tracks your mood and substance use; gets you started on tasks; and increases real-life socialization through positive reinforcement.
Booster Buddy has an entire self-care library of coping skills that teach you how to deal with a lack of motivation, oversleeping, insomnia, depression, mania, anxiety, hallucinations, delusions and substance use, and it increases your general wellness. It also has a built-in crisis plan for dealing with mental health emergencies.
This app was actually created in collaboration with teens and young adults who have lived these struggles — which makes it an all-around smarter, more practical, and compassionate app. Booster Buddy is all about replacing ineffective habits with healthier and more effective ones. It creates a self-care regimen with proven skills and strategies that anyone and everyone can benefit from.
It’s also from Canada. Which is a bonus in my mind.
You’ve really got nothing to lose when it comes to free apps. I actually believe wholeheartedly in a future in which self-care apps like these become the norm for all of us. The potential for these apps to empower folks struggling with their mental health is promising and exciting.
As someone who uses these apps on a day-to-day basis to manage mental illness, I speak from experience when I say that these apps can make a difference. Why not give ‘em a whirl?