Can a smartphone bring you happiness? Not really. However, a growing selection of apps is making it easier to improve your mental health with a little help from your cell phone.
While happiness isn’t synonymous with good mental health, there’s no question that good cheer trumps feeling depressed, overwhelmed or stressed out.
Good mental health, however, is about more than being happy. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, it comes from “striking a balance in all aspects of life: social, physical, spiritual, economic and mental.”
How can apps help you find that balance?
Do A Mental Health Check With Mental Health Apps
To get a sense of your current mental health, take the M3 self-test; it takes about three minutes to assess how you’re currently feeling, and you can retake the test periodically to track your progress. You can access the test online or via the smartphone app ($0.99 on iOS and android).
Social Aspects of Mental Health
We’re a stressed out group of people; Statistics Canada says more than 1 in 4 working Canadian adults describes their days as “quite” or “extremely stressful”. That’s not much of a reason to throw a party.
However, times of stress are exactly when your social network can step in to lift you up. “Numerous studies have demonstrated that having a network of supportive relationships contributes to psychological well-being,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
The only way to add more social activity in your life is to make it a priority: Plan dates with friends and family ahead of time and block the time in your calendar.
Pocket Informant ($9.99 on iOS, android) keeps your schedule and To Do list handy wherever you go. Access and update your calendar via the web-based Pocket Informant Online ($15 /year) or sync it with your free Google Calendar.
Physical Aspects of Mental Health
Research shows that being active and eating a healthy diet can have a significant impact on mental health.
“Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function,” explains one paper from the National Institutes of Health.
The UK’s Mental Health Foundation is just one of many organizations advocating that good nutrition can also boost your frame of mind. “Nearly two thirds of those who do not report daily mental health problems eat fresh fruit or fruit juice every day,” the Foundation notes. “This pattern is similar for fresh vegetables and salad.”
Couch-to-5K ($1.99 on iOS, android) is a training plan that alternates walking and jogging over a 30-minute workout, building endurance over a period of nine weeks.
Zombies, Run! ($7.99 on iOS, android, Windows) turns exercise into a game; as a story plays out through your headphones, sprint to escape zombie hordes and collect supplies.
Spiritual Aspects of Mental Health
To some, faith and religion provide a sense of peace. To others, spirituality is about finding peace within themselves.
“Learn to balance what you are able to change about yourself with what you cannot change,” advises the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). “Get to know and trust your inner self.”
Create time alone to pause and reflect, meditate, practice breathing exercises, or simply spend time doing something you love.
The 21-Day Meditation Challenge from the Chopra Center provides three weeks of guided 15-minute meditations. Available for free through the website, an app (free on iOS) let’s you take the meditations with you, which most sessions available for $0.99.
Relax (free lite version or $2.99 full version on iOS, android) is a simple program that uses sounds and music to guide your breathing for a set period of time of five minutes to one hour.
Economic Aspects of Mental Health
Nearly 1 in 4 Canadians loses sleep because of financial concerns. How can you find balance when economic issues are keeping you awake at night? Canadian Living suggests the first step is to create a plan, then leave it alone so it has time to start making an impact.
Lift is a simple goal-setting app (free on iOS); choose your goal, track your progress, and check in daily with others working towards the same thing. For example, more than 8,400 app users are trying to save money.
Mint.com is a free web-based service that helps manage personal finances through goals, mobile alerts, and bill reminders. Through the smartphone app (free on iOS, android) you can monitor your finances and easily add new transactions.
Finding Overall Mental Balance
Matt Killingsworth is a researcher who’s working to scientifically identify the causes of happiness. What has the data revealed so far? “There is a strong relationship between [letting your mind wander] now and being unhappy a short time later,” Killingsworth explained during a recent talk for TEDxCambridge.
Whether you can focus on what you’re doing now has a surprisingly big impact on your emotions. “Mind-wandering very likely seems to be an actual cause and not merely a consequence of unhappiness,” Killingsworth observed.
To find that ability to focus, you may need to retrain your brain, says author Leo Babauta. “Our brains have been trained by technology and society to switch tasks often.” Start with one minute, he advises, and build from there.
The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity system based around focused chunks of time: focus on one task for 25 minutes, then take a five-minute break. There are numerous timer apps available for iPhone and android smartphones (free or priced options).
If you’re having trouble clearing your mind, Unstuck (free, for iPad only) uses creative methods to help shape your ideas when you’re not sure what to do next.