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4 Apps I’ve Used for Treating Mental Illness and Chronic Pain

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There was a point in my life when, in the midst of a divorce and unpleasant work circumstances, my mental health started to spiral downward. I felt like I was no longer able to cope, I was crying several times a day, hiding out in my office while I broke down, and I no longer trusted myself to make good decisions for my staff or clients. My migraine attacks also started to increase. I went to see my doctor, who agreed I needed to take a medical leave.

Besides dealing with these mental health issues, I am also a professional who works in the mental health field. I had a pretty good understanding of some of the steps I needed to take in order to get better. At the same time, we all need resources. In these days of budget cuts, it can be hard to find or afford the kind of healthcare we need. Even in Canada, where I am from, although we have government-funded healthcare, there are limits to what it covers. Things like counseling or appointments with healthcare practitioners other than medical doctors often depends on having private insurance. Or you pay out of pocket, which is often not affordable.

One of the benefits of the time we are living in is our technological connections. So, I turned to apps. I have used a variety of apps to help me with health and lifestyle issues. In the year I was healing, they became particularly important to get me functioning and whole again.

Here are some of the categories of apps you might find useful in your own health journey. I’ll talk about the ones I used, and will also mention others in the same category which I haven’t used but you may want to try.

1. Depression and anxiety.

I was lucky enough to find a program that offered me counseling, and I find there is really no substitute for face-to-face contact. However, there are a lot of days outside of those counseling appointments and an app helped me to continue working on what I needed to do to recover.

I used the app “Pacifica,” which is designed to help people with depression and anxiety. It is based on the well-recognized approaches of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness. While I was familiar with CBT through my training and work, there is a difference between knowing it and practicing it. The writing exercises helped me to focus on some of my core beliefs that contributed to my anxiety. There is also a way to track healthy activities, whether they’re suggestions or making up your own. Tracking good things to do, such as exercise, sleep and contact with friends, made me more likely to follow through. There is also a section for setting goals which added to my motivation to do life-building activities. Charting my moods and emotions helped me to become more aware of what my emotions were, a necessary skill after I had been stuffing them for a while.

Other apps to check out for stress, depression and anxiety: Moodpath; iCBT; Happify; Moodtools; SuperBetter.

2. Mindfulness.

I am well aware of the trend of mindfulness and meditation, and sporadically tried to introduce it into my life. I found it difficult to do, however, so I knew I needed a tool. “Headspace” was that tool for me. I particularly liked it because it wasn’t coming from a certain religious or philosophical base.

Headspace contains many different packages of meditations, designated for different issues such as learning meditation basics, self-esteem, stress, anger and pain management. It has a grouping of single meditations for things like doing housework, taking walks, preparing for an interview and handling conflict. There are also mini-meditations that are one to three minutes long. I have used the sleeping meditations on many occasions to help me settle at night; almost always I will end up falling asleep with the use of those tools. Supplementing the meditation audios are a series of animations to help learn meditation techniques. The whole presentation of the app seems happy and friendly.

Other apps to check out for meditation and mindfulness: Calm; Stop, Breathe and Think; Breeth; 10% Happier; Buddhify.

3. Chronic pain.

Along with mental health, I have dealt with chronic pain for years. Mental health conditions can worsen pain. In fact, the basis of all pain is in the brain, and how we respond and react emotionally can have a huge influence on how we perceive pain.

The app “Curable” was started by three people who found that through recognizing and addressing the mind-body connection, they could change their brain and their pain. The website features medical doctors and doctorate students who make up the scientific advisory team. The user interface seems personal, as there is a character, Clara, who guides people through exercises. The four aspects of education, brain training, meditation and writing exercises offer very practical ways to influence the mind-body connection to bring relief. And there is a panic mode that people can access when they are in pain.

Other apps: While there are a lot of apps out there for tracking pain, Curable seems unique in its mind-body approach.

4. Migraine.

Many migraine practitioners will tell you charting migraines helps us to notice patterns, and that knowledge can lead to a better understanding of what triggers and what works. Factual information helps our healthcare providers to know how to care for us. I have used the “Migraine Buddy” app for quite a while now. Every time I have a headache or migraine attack, I take time to click on the things that apply to me, like the accompanying symptoms and possible things that could have triggered it. I also record the medication and other types of reliefs I use and whether or not they seem to have helped. Before appointments with my neurologist, I will print off reports and bring them in, so he knows exactly how many episodes I have had since the last time I saw him. We can tell if treatment seems to be helping over time. Migraine Buddy will even track your sleep patterns.

Other apps to check out for migraine: iHeadache; N1-Headache.

What apps do you use to address your health challenges? Please comment!

Photo by Guilherme Stecanella on Unsplash

Originally published: April 15, 2019
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