Going for a “digital detox” has become a requirement for relaxing and decreasing stress. In fact, digital technology gets a lot of flack for having a detrimental impact on our mental health and wellbeing, but can technology actually help support us in these areas?
It’s no secret that we’re a smartphone society. The average American checks their smartphone 46 times a day and spends 1.8 hours online– using apps accounts for 89% of that time. But could any of that time actually go towards improving our mental health or wellbeing?
Nicki Sprinz, managing director of ustwo, a company that has collaborated on several wellness and mindfulness apps, says that when used correctly, technology can actually enhance our wellbeing. For instance, the Pause app, a collaboration between PauseAble and ustwo, is inspired by meditation and tai chi. The user moves a finger over an inky blob that begins to grow as the app measures the speed of your movements. The app’s tracking encourages you to control your hand deliberately and slowly - in a similar way to the gentle, deliberate movements of tai chi.
“The mobile phone itself is capable of detecting mindful bodily movements while at the same time providing real-time digital feedback to encourage people to sustain these mindful movements for a longer period of time,” says Nicki.
Pause was created as a way to reduce anxiety and stress. The movement of the finger requires users to concentrate and let go of everything else in their mind.
“We want to create tools that enable people to take control of their mental wellbeing, but to also try and tackle the wider stigma associated with the topic,” she continues.
Phones are often considered sources of distraction, but what if there was an app that could improve your mental well-being and help you assess your long-term feelings and thoughts? Moodnotes is designed to do exactly that. It was created through collaboration between ustwo and Thriveport, and is a journaling app based on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.
It prompts you daily with the simple question: “How are you?” This friendly greeting encourages you to really assess your emotions and helps to journal your thoughts. Journaling is used to focus the mind, bring things into perspective, and help people to understand their feelings.
But sticking with the app is where the real improvements in wellness begin. Over time, you can track your changes in your mood and if you express repeated negative feelings, the app prompts you to identify thinking traps that may have caused them.
“In the most immediate sense, products like Moodnotes and Pause aim to help people increase their mental and emotional capacity, but we hope they also make a contribution to combatting the wider extent to which depression and anxiety is on the increase throughout society,” Nicki explains.
Apps like Moodnotes and Pause are based on ancient practices of meditation and mindfulness that have been used for centuries. Recently they have been recognised by the scientific community for their benefits on the mind and relaxation. Although smartphones regularly hit the headlines for their negative impact on attention spans, it seems apps are just the modern way to access these age old relaxation techniques.
Meditation app Headspace makes it possible to train and improve focus and attention span through the practice of mindfulness. When you open the app, a friendly voice gently guides you through each meditation session, which is a great intro for beginners to meditation. Regular practice of mindfulness and meditation has been proven to boost compassion, relax the mind, and increase focus.
If you want to banish the screen from your session, sit back and relax by listening to soothing, immersive sounds. The Atmosphere app offers everything from the sound of waves crashing onto the shore to the gentle noises of the forest floor. Some users claim that it also helps them cope with panic attacks as the sounds distract them from their anxiety and help calm their bodies down.
Creativity is another way to reduce stress – Cove app is the answer for when you’re feeling emotional but can’t find the words to express yourself. The app allows you to capture your mood or express how you’re feeling by making music and storing it in a personal journal. The objective is to “encourage self-expression during difficult periods of life,” which the app’s creators believe “can improve emotional and mental health over time.”
But what about sleep? When it comes to shut-eye, phones are often maligned for their blue light which can affect our circadian rhythms, but could some apps actually helps us to have more restful sleep?
The Calm app has meditation sessions that range from Mindfulness for College Students, to a guide to awakening the senses while commuting. Calm also has Sleep Stories, 30-minute long stories of both original content and well-known tales – think of it as bedtime stories for adults suffering from insomnia. These stories are narrated by the voices of actors such as Stephen Fry or Game of Thrones actor Jerome Flynn.
The app’s success relies on the paradox of falling asleep: it’s easier to fall asleep when you’re not trying. The stories distract the listener, thereby calming the mind and removing the pressure to fall asleep – which often results in the mind drifting off.
And what if you want to just turn on a TV show to relax? Try tuning into some Slow TV. Essentially nothing happens in Slow TV’s programmes and that’s the beauty of it – there’s no big twist, no build-up, no tense stand-offs, no stressful combat scenes. Instead, Slow TV airs un-edited camera footage of beautifully mundane events, like tracking a train’s journey or six hours of crackling firewood.
So when you want to de-stress, picking up your phone isn’t a complete no-no. Log out of social media, take a break from the news – and know that you can download, plug-in and de-stress with some incredible ground-breaking apps.
Discover how technology brought the meditative experience of a Lush Spa treatment to the big screen - watch The Lush Spa Experiment.
By Jessy Pan