Apps That Can Make You Happier

floatinf island meditation

There are those who say that being wedded to our phones is bad for our mental health. But – notwithstanding the fact that in 2018, I am setting a time for a maximum of five minutes on social media at any one time (to avoid being sucked ever deeper into that rabbit hole) – I actually think that our phones are good for our minds, bodies and spirits, too.

OK, your phone is not an ashram. It’s not a yoga class. It’s definitely not a shrink. But I definitely think it’s perfectly possible to change your smartphone from a time bandit to a life-enhancing gadget. Personally, I rely on several different apps in the course of a single day to de-stress, to take some time out from the frenetic pace and just chill, to sleep better – and even to up my fitness levels.

I’ve talked in previous columns about the wonders of Headspace and Insight Timer for meditation – and I still rely on those daily.) But this month, I thought I’d share some other apps which I’m find are brilliant foundation stones of wellbeing.

First off, let me tell you about my favourite list-making app – the wonderful Wunderlist. How can a list-making app be good for wellbeing? Well, quite simply, since I installed this a few years ago, not only do I not forget things – but I don’t worry about forgetting them. (And I hadn’t realised how much I did worry about forgetting stuff.) Brilliantly, Wunderlist works across all my myriad gadgets – iGadgets, in my case (iPhone, iPad, Macbook Air, desktop computer), but if you’re an Android or a Samsung type, it will also sync with those, too. Crucially, Wunderlist also allows you to share lists – I have a list on-the-go with my lovely husband Craig (and have even trained him to look at it!), with my bookkeeper, with Beauty Bible’s Amy, and so on. (Then there’s the just-for-fun list that I share with my Edinburgh-based friend Rachel which is purely relating to outings and exhibitions we’d like to see together.) Best of all? When someone ticks something on their list, I get a notification – cutting down drastically on naggy, chasing e-mails. And anything which cuts down on that is definitely worth making space on your home screen for.

Calm is a meditation/sleep app which I find I’m using more and more. I’ve signed up for the £2.99 monthly subscription – and if you resent spending money on apps, just skip a cab ride or two and walk instead, and you’ll have covered the cost and done your thighs the power of good, into the bargain. It offers a daily guided meditation, some beautiful visuals (just looking at the still lake on the home page today was a brilliant kickstart to my day, today) – and frankly, any meditation app which offers a Winnie the Pooh series of Daily Calm sessions inspired by the characters of that book is going to press my button. You can have your thoughts provoked by Tigger, on authenticity. Eeyore on (what else?) pessimism. Or Rabbit on Busyness (I found that particularly useful, as someone who has trouble sitting still!). I also very much enjoy the Body Scan option, which simply and almost effortlessly enables you to become more present in the moment.

The exercise that keeps me flexible – both mentally and physically – has long been yoga. And to be honest (notwithstanding I’ve actually written a yoga book!), I’ve always found it a struggle to motivate myself outside a studio and/or away from a teacher. But I really love the yoga.com app, for all sorts of reasons (£3.99 for iPhone). First off, it’s good for beginners and experienced yogis alike, with hundreds of postures – as well as general classes, you can opt for a programme to create ‘strong arms’, for instance, or to ease backache. And it teaches you about anatomy, while you’re at it: the postures are accompanied by illustrations which show clearly which muscles are being worked. (A bit nerdy, but I love that.) Now, I basically have a yoga class in my pocket, anytime – and by keeping it on my home screen (sorry, Ocado, you got bumped to the second screen!), it nudges me to do at least a posture or two each and every day.

Perhaps the biggest app revelation for me, though, was discovering that my daily activity was already being tracked by Apple’s own Health app. (It’s the one with that little heart on a white background.) You don’t even need to enter your details; Health is the ‘little brother that’s been watching you since you got an iPhone’ – registering your every step. If that seems a tad Orwellian, think on this: I can identify the moment I discovered that my phone was counting my steps – because it’s the same moment I started to climb from around 7,000 steps a day to my current daily average of 10,216. (It’d be higher if I hadn’t hurt my knee while watching Morris dancing, in May. You can read about that here.)

And last but not least, I’m still relying on Sleep Cycle, which lulls me to sleep with the sound of my choice (weird-but-true: I find thunderstorm sounds very soothing). Then it analyses my sleep – and wakes me up at the lightest sleep phase. No jarring alarms (though I wouldn’t go quite as far as a review in The Guardian which said ‘it feels like being woken up by a mermaid stroking your hair or a unicorn nuzzling your toes’!). I can see when I enjoyed light and/ or deep sleep (and yes, the regular-as-clockwork 3.23 p.m. nip to the loo for a pee registers, too). And just by putting two and two together – ah, that’ll be the extra cup of Lapsang Souchong at 5 p.m. which disturbed my sleep pattern, or perhaps the eating dinner early really is helping me nod off earlier – I’ve been encouraged to develop better ‘sleep hygiene’ habits.

The only challenge? When you need your iPhone to track your sleep, it’s right there by your bedside for a last-thing-at-night scroll through Instagram. And as soon as they come up with a 12-step programme for tackling that bad habit, I’ll be onto the App store to download it faster than you can say ‘digital detox’. So: it may be February (or thereabouts) – but not too late to wish you an app-y New Year, when it comes to better health and wellbeing.

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