The holidays are literally right around the corner. As a clinical psychologist, I’ve often been asked tips for de-stressing around the holiday season. Recently, however, someone asked me if I thought mobile health apps might offer any potential to help people cope with some of the challenges that can pop up around the holidays. This is a great question, and not one I had been asked before. I see three important ways that apps could help: (1) they travel with you wherever you go, (2) they can be used discretely and quickly, (3) they can help address many of issues that can be triggered during the holidays.
1. Apps on-the-go.
Unlike a provider, who you may leave behind when you travel or who might be traveling at the holidays themselves, you get to take an app with you wherever you go. Apps are also available 24/7, which might be especially important if you travel across time zones and need to access support at a time your typical support network might be unavailable. This can be especially important to make sure you don’t fall out of practice of doing the things that help you most. Even if you’re not connected with a provider, apps offer these same benefits. Most apps can be used even when you don’t have cell service or WiFi connection, which might be particularly important when you’re away from home. Apps can offer that in-the-moment support you need at the time you need it most – which brings us to the next issue…
2. Discrete and quick.
Apps can be used discretely and quickly. When things pop up, you can open up an app and use it straightaway, without it being apparent to other people what you are doing. Listening to an audio track to do some meditation or deep breathing can look like you’re listening to your favorite song. You might even consider using apps that are not specifically “health” apps for support. For example, try making a Spotify list that contains audio tracks that are helpful to you, or YouTube videos that provide therapeutic techniques. Importantly, these uses don’t have to be long. In a study of one set of mental health apps intended to reduce depression and anxiety through providing skills and exercises, participants used the app for only 1.4 minutes on average each time1.With that in mind, you’ll be able to get the support you need without missing out on the holiday festivities.
3. Dealing with the stresses and challenges of the holidays.
Apps can support many of the things that come up around the holidays. Have trouble sticking with your goals and staying focused? Maybe an app like SuperBetter can help you achieve your Epic Wins. Maybe the holidays trigger feelings of loneliness and loss? Virtual Hope Box can help remind you of the positive things in your life. Research has found that Virtual Hope Box can improve people’s feelings of coping, as well as reduce perceptions of stress.2 A mindfulness app, like Insight Timer, might provide you just the tracks and exercises you need to take a moment to yourself and find some personal peace and calm. These are just a few examples of apps that might be particularly relevant around the holidays – but remember if there’s an app you find useful for yourself at other times of the year, going back to that app will likely be helpful as well.
We hope this is a helpful guide in thinking about the support that apps might be able to provide throughout the holidays. And from everyone at the PsyberGuide team, we hope you have a very app-y and Happy holiday season!
- Mohr, D. C., Tomasino, K. N., Lattie, E. G., Palac, H. L., Kwasny, M. J., Weingardt, K., … & Caccamo, L. (2017). IntelliCare: an eclectic, skills-based app suite for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Journal of medical Internet research, 19(1), e10. doi: 10.2196/jmir.6645
- Bush, N. E., Smolenski, D., Denneson, L. M., Williams, H. B., Thomas, E., & Dobscha, S. K. (2017). A Virtual Hope Box: Randomized Controlled Trial of a Smartphone App for Emotional Regulation and Coping with Distress. Psychiatric Services, 68(4), 330-336. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.201600283