The path to a calmer mind may be right at your fingertips.
A new social networking app, Koko, is dedicated to helping users fight stress by crowdsourcing their questions and worries.
Here's how it works: Koko operates just like any other social networking app in which you can post statuses and respond to other users' content. The difference lies in what comes after you publish what's on your mind. App users see your post and use a research-backed technique called "reframing" to make you think about an anxiety in a new way
"Reframing is all about changing how we think to change how we feel. When we’re stressed, we often become our worst enemy. We tell ourselves we can’t do it," Koko founder Robert Morris told The Huffington Post.
"But, we can always reframe our thoughts," he explained. "The problem is that this skill can be hard to learn. Our brain’s ability to think flexibly and with poise gets impaired and so we tend to fixate on the worst possible interpretations."
Let's say you're worried about looking foolish if, during a presentation at work, someone asks you a question to which you don't know the answer. After posting this concern, the users of Koko will help you flip the script, reminding you that colleagues with good questions are a benefit to your work and that no one thinks less of someone who says "I don't know, but I'll find out." As Liz Stinson wrote in Wired:
It was as if Whisper or Secret had repopulated its trolling avatars with actual humans who, for some inconceivable reason, gave a shit about my shit. It was weird and strangely helpful. I gave everyone up-votes.
Reframing is not a new concept; it's a basic tenant of cognitive behavioral therapy, a psychological technique that can be easily adapted online. The program was designed based on research Morris and his team conducted on how social apps can help with cognitive behavioral therapy. Their research, which was reviewed by scientists at MIT, Northwestern and Columbia, found peer-to-peer mental health platforms like Koko may help people with depressive symptoms.
Of course, the use of these apps should be done in addition to treatment plan set up by a physician -- not in place of one. But Morris hopes that in addition to the research-backed benefits, the programs will also help with the stigmatized viewpoint surrounding mental illness.
"I think our culture takes a very antiquated approach to stress and mental health. We wait until there’s a severe problem before intervening," he said. "We don’t teach preventive techniques. ... A social app is a good fit for this because it engages people naturally. We want to take the same principles that keep our eyes glued to Facebook and Instagram 24 hours a day and redirect them to promote well-being."
If platforms like Koko aren't quite your style though, fear not. Below are a few other mental health apps designed to relieve stress and offer help. Check them out and give one a try the next time you need a little support. After all, you deserve to feel better:
If you're feeling overwhelmed or need help managing anxiety, waiting a few days to talk to someone can feel like an eternity. Talkspace allows users to connect with licensed therapists anonymously in order to talk out what's on their minds. The program has several payment plan options, from unlimited message therapy for $25 per week, to 30 minutes of live video therapy for $29. The app is available for iOS andAndroid users.
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Whether you're already seeking help from a professional or just personally interested in the fluctuations of your emotions, Mood 24/7 is designed to be a more consistent form of help. Users are encouraged to monitor their moods through a daily question sent via text message. The program, which employs technology licensed by Johns Hopkins University, even gives you the option to share your progress with your family, friends and doctors.
Happify is an app designed to increase your joy and sharpen your emotional resiliency. The program offers games, videos and the latest happiness research in order to help retrain the brain and banish negative thoughts. The app is available for iOS and Android users.
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Created by the VA's National Center for PTSD, PTSD Coach provides users with information and exercises to help manage stress and depression after trauma. The app's features include a monitoring tool to track stress symptoms and links to hotlines and other resources for friends and family. The service is available on a desktop and for iOS and Android users.
If a game is more your style, try this training tool developed by mental health experts. MoodTune uses task-based tricks to help manage depression and anxiety and was developed after nearly 10 years of research. It also provides tools to help you track and manage your condition. Looking for more apps specifically aimed to help you manage anxiety? Try some of these.
Personal Zen is another app that takes therapy techniques and morphs them into an engaging game, complete with relaxing music. Players are prompted to trace the path of one cartoon character through the scenic grass. Researchers built the game's concept around a cognitive technique known as attention-bias modification training. Its goal is to help users alleviate anxiety, NPR reported.
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Optimism is a self-tracking tool, designed to help the user identify what elements influence their emotional and mental well-being. The app helps detect patterns in health behaviors, then offers strategies based on those patterns. The goal is to ultimately help users self-identify specific mental health triggers. The free program is available on the web and for iPhones and iPads.
Crisis Text Line
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Founded by DoSomething.org contributors, this 24-hour texting hotline provides realtime emotional support for young adults. Crisis Text Line is designed to be a safe outlet for anyone to reach out to when they're struggling with a mental health issue, whether it's feeling depressed, bullied or anxious. The service is run by crisis counselors and is completely confidential and free of charge. To reach the helpline, text START to 741741.
Headspace is all about making meditation simple. The program offers users a way to learn how to do the practice and gives them the resources to do it for 10 minutes each day. Research shows a few minutes of meditation has multiple health and happiness perks. The app is available for iPhone and Android devices.
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Lantern offers daily sessions and one-on-one coaching on a subscription basis. The program utilizes a team of researchers, technologists and clinicians who transform cognitive behavioral therapy techniques into simple exercises. Plans are personalized to each user based on an initial self-assessment. The service will also extend to include a program for eating disorders, Bloomberg reported. Lantern is available for a computer or mobile device.