Throughout my recovery process from depression and social anxiety (which is still ongoing), I have used a number of apps to aid me in gaining more self-awareness and a sense of personal agency. Please note that you do not have to be suffering from a mental illness to self-discover using these apps. Maintenance of mental health is an integral part of today’s busy, rush-rush life, and hopefully these apps might be able to help you out as much as they are helping me.
1. Productive: Free; $5.49 for upgrade | iOS
I used Productive in the past to develop a set of simple habits I want to maintain. The app allows you to write any habit (they give you some great examples if you are unsure), affix a desired frequency and time of day for that habit, and get reminders to check in with these habits (if you want these reminders).
Starting up the app will bring you to a minimalistic list of habits that you have scheduled for that particular time of day (i.e., Morning, Evening, Any Time). Swiping left or right allows you to either skip a habit, or mark it as complete.
The Life Log feature allows you to look at your progress in completing all your habits holistically, but for me, I found it difficult to maintain “perfect days”, and quite frankly, I don’t feel that the point of making a habit is to expect perfection in the process. However, the ability to look at any specific habit and how I am doing with that habit was helpful, so I can be aware of my development of each habit separately.
The free version gives you 5 habits that you can add, and the upgrade gives you unlimited habits.
2. Balanced: Free; $5.49 for upgrade | iOS
I do not use this app as much anymore, but it was helpful for being aware of the variety of activities I take part in everyday. Back in first year of university, I recognized that I deleted many hobbies and activities from my life to accommodate my academic perfectionism. I used the app to list hobbies and activities I wanted to take part in again, and made a conscious effort to check back with the app and make time for these activities. You write an activity and set a desired frequency for that activity. When you complete the activity, you swipe to mark it as completed.
The interface is very similar to Productive (as the creator is the same), but this app features the Life Pulse. This is a line graph that shows you how well you have been mixing in a variety of desired activities into your life for the past 30 days. Their fixed goal is a 75% done on time rate, but I tried to BKTM and realize that I would have ups and downs and that is okay.
3. Sleep Cycle: Free; Premium is a recurring subscription | iOS, Android
I have used this app for as long as I can remember. It is a staple to my phone, and I use it every night.
All you have to do is set a 30-minute time interval where it is acceptable for you to wake up in the morning (or longer/shorter intervals or even just a regular time), and place your phone face down on your endtable next to your bed. The app will sense your sleep rhythms throughout the night (awake, sleep, or deep asleep), which you can then view when you wake. If you set a time interval for waking, the app automatically calculates the best time within the 30 minutes to wake you up according to your sensed sleep rhythm. It wakes you up gently, using a smart snoozing system that slowly lifts you from your sleep by increasing the volume of your set alarm each time you snooze. Snoozing is simple too – just requires a tap on the back of your phone.
You can write Sleep Notes, which you can customize to write certain things that could affect your sleep (e.g., “Yoga”, “Running”, “Coffee past 3pm”), and tick them off to explore associations between these activities and your sleep quality.
I really like this app because of the variety of information it can tell me about my sleep. There are sections that compare your sleep quality to others, but what I find the best to look at is my bedtime/waking time, length of sleep, sleep quality, and some sleep note patterns. If you are curious, my personal sleep notes include “had a conflict”, “had coffee past 3pm”, “had tea”, “yoga”, “happy day” and “sad day”.
I’m not sure what the premium features are, as I have never considered them. But the free version is fully stocked with features on its own, so I highly recommend it.
4. realifechange: Free; has some paid features | iOS, Apple Watch
I used this app for only a short while, but found it to be a great app to track changes in mood over time and to practice attributing personally appropriate positive and negative impacts of daily occurrences.
In each entry, you can log the type of occurrence (e.g., emotion, action, decision, experience, etc) and write however much you would like about that occurrence. The app uses a hashtagging system to help you discover what things are associated with your positive and negative impacts. The app can also note where you experienced that particular entry, if you would like to see patterns surrounding location.
There is a rich array of pattern tracking available (which you unlock for free just by continuing to add entries). This app is great for those who would like to work on their emotional awareness and for those who would like to understand what life elements/events are correlated with each positive or negative impact. It helped me understand that emotions are often transient, and that they do not necessarily remain happy or sad for very long. But that that is okay.
5. Perspective: Free | iOS
I also started using this app for a short while, but found bullet journalling shortly after beginning to work with this app, so I decided not to continue using it. Perspective is similar to realifechange in that you can add ‘entries’ whenever you would like throughout your day to check in. It is an interesting system, as it is almost like you are texting the entries to the app. The app will not respond, but the interface looks like a texting screen, including a timestamp to each ‘text’.
At the end of each day, one will rate their overall day in terms of a range of good or bad days. There is also a screen where you are able to see a year in perspective. This is a calendar that shows you all your days’ ratings at a glance. This app is useful for helping you realize that not everyday is horrible, and that not everyday is amazing either. The essence of life is the experience of the ups and downs.
6. Day One: $54.99 (Mac); $13.99 (iOS) | Mac, iOS
This app is rather pricey, yes, but it has been an amazing journalling app for the last 6 months. It is simply the best of the best in terms of journalling, in my humble opinion. You can have multiple journals, see all your photos in a collage form, use markup language for entries, embed videos and links…honestly just go check it out. It is jam-packed with features and is amazing for anyone who loves taking pictures. Heck, I don’t even really take pictures and I think it is amazing.
I’ll be writing a post in the future about the benefits of journalling in the recovery process from mental illness, (or at least my own since I cannot fairly extrapolate from my own illness to others).
7. Flo: Free | iOS, Apple Watch, Android
This app is for the ladies. (Boys keep out! Just kidding. I mean if you’re really curious…)
I’ve tried many menstrual cycle tracking apps and I think this one just tops the rest of the competition. It has, hands down, the best-looking interface I’ve seen from a menstrual cycle tracking app. It makes period predictions based on a whole host of factors (sleep duration, weight, nutrition, number of steps, sport, water, sex/sex drive, mood, physical symptoms, or any symptom you want to log). These factors can either be logged automatically through other apps (e.g., I use Sleep Cycle so that’s how the app registers my sleep durations) or entered manually.
The app makes accurate predictions about when my period will occur, but also shows me my ovulation cycle and informs me about which days I have the lowest and highest chances of getting pregnant. If this isn’t all enough, the app also offers “health insights”, articles updated daily to be relevant to your expected stage in your own cycle.
I tend to get extremely down when I have my period (both in energy and mood), so knowing when to be careful and aware of this is helpful.
8. Sleepytime: Free | iOS
This is a very simple app that tells you when you should sleep or wake up in order to feel optimally refreshed. I use this in tandem with Sleep Cycle to try and wake at the best time I can. The app works both ways. You can tell the app you are going to bed now, and it will tell you when you should set your alarm for (I assume it includes the average of 14 minutes to fall asleep in its calculation) to wake around when you are in the lightest part of the sleep cycle. Conversely, you can tell the app that you need to wake up at “this particular time”, and the app can tell you when you should be going to bed for optimal rest.
9. Wunderlist: Free | Just about any platform
This may not necessarily be important for everyone, but I do love my to-do lists. And Wunderlist is hands down one of the nicest looking ones. The trick was to make lists of to-dos that were attainable, and to exercise BKTY by allowing yourself the freedom to cross out, move, or change any goal at any time. I even sometimes wrote to-dos retrospectively (after I had completed something, writing it and immediately checking it off).
For me, this helped because a couple of weeks ago, one of my biggest internal struggles was feeling like I was unproductive with this time I gave to myself. That each day, I wasn’t doing anything important, and that ultimately I was wasting time. This app helped me realize that I am doing my best to fill my days with activities, and that this effort is enough.
Always remember to BKTY (be kind to yourself),