Managing mental illness on the go

Published

Laurie Clarke
Editor

Laurie Clarke looks into the potential of “lifestyle apps” to support mental health in the modern day

It’s January, the weather’s shit, and most normal people are miserably returning to routine. Of course, there are always outliers, and for every hundred or so people snoozing their alarms there’s bound to be one person breakfasting on kale.
I am not this person. I’m not the person snoozing their alarm either because, honestly? I’ve probably slept through it.
In a recent exposé The Times profiled three contenders for Smuggest Bastard of the Year. It went something like this:
Alex Beer, 38, photographer and model begins his day at 5.55 am to immediately rehydrate with raw coconut water, multivitamins and vitamin C boosters.
I can only imagine if someone were to document the beginning of my day it would go a little more like:
Laurie Clarke, 24, student and model begins her day at any point between 8am and 5pm and eventually takes Prozac with last night’s stale water.
I’m not suggesting this is a superior way to start the day, but at least it doesn’t sound like the beginning of American Psycho.
Though the article cited sun-staring (which is exactly what it sounds like), an REM sleep cycle spreadsheet and fist-bumping your concierge as part of the recipe for a great morning, what I resent the most is this idea of wellness. Because as it quickly becomes clear, “wellness” means money and perfect physical and mental health.
As someone with a loose grasp on all three, I need a little extra support to keep on top of things. Like most people, I don’t use a HumanCharger or an Oura tracking ring – I use my phone.
It’s easy to be cynical about relying on anything technological but you’ll probably be surprised by how many people are turning to lifestyle apps. I’ve accepted the challenge of talking about lifestyle apps without sounding like someone who has utterly lost the plot. Here’s a quick rundown of how I use my phone to try and keep my shit together for free.

Mood Tracker
If you’ve never had cause to think about the ins and outs of your mood swings on a daily basis then this might sound a little excessive. Apps like Daylio are especially useful for monitoring mental health problems, but they can be used by anyone to keep an eye on your mood. If you’re receiving mental health treatment you’ve probably walked into a meeting with a doctor/therapist/counsellor/psychologist – or some unholy hybrid – only to find you have no idea how you’ve actually been doing. Not only does logging your mood allow you to review your mental health and identify potential stressors, I find it very therapeutic. One of the most useful pieces of advice I’ve ever been given is to observe changes in your mood, instead of getting caught up trying to fix them, and mood tracking is a practical way of acknowledging or affirming how you’re feeling. You can also personalise your activities (mine include “saw a dog”, “nice weather” and “bad self esteem”) to correlate moods and events. It’s basically a journal for people who lack the motivation.

Step Counter
As someone with hermit potential, not to mention a history of Not Leaving the House, I put a certain amount of stock in how much I’m able to get out and about. While there’s definitely something embarrassing about getting excited over how many steps you’ve taken, it’s reassuring to see information clearly delineated, and it motivates you to set achievable goals. On a good day I’ll make my 10,000 step target, on a bad day I’ll log about 11. It may sound insignificant, but there was a time when my only goal for the day would be to leave the house, just to run an errand or get some fresh air, and most days I still wouldn’t manage. That’s definitely reason enough to feel smug about a step count.

Calendar
I might be pushing it calling a calendar a lifestyle app, but it’s literally the only way I know where I am and what I’m supposed to be doing at any given time. University makes this particularly hard, and you’re left to your own devices to schedule classes, study, extracurricular activities and the general chore of keeping yourself alive. In a burst of productivity at the beginning of the semester I put my timetable info into my personal calendar to make the information as easy to access as possible. Feeling optimistic, I also blocked my time out to try and provide structure around classes. To be honest, this has not worked entirely to plan, but it helps you to feel like you know what you’re doing, even if it’s mostly an illusion.

Checklist & Notepad
Nothing gets me going like checking something off a to-do list. Hell, I’ll put “get out of bed” on my checklist. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting “shower” for an easy – or not so easy depending on the day – win. Typically, the to-do list comes in handiest when I’m going to bed and can’t sleep for thinking about all the things I have to do the next day. It’s simple but sometimes planning the minutiae of tomorrow is enough to put worry to bed for the night. It’s the grown-up equivalent of the sticker chart – of which I’m also a fan.

In the grand scheme of things, goal setting isn’t always so easy, and sometimes things sit there for ages. It took me about a year to finally take my laptop in for a check and get told that yes, it was indeed broken. If executive dysfunction is a day to day struggle, then putting difficult tasks on your to-do list at least acknowledges the issue and saves it for a day when you’re up to the task. My point is that lifestyle apps aren’t just for people with their act together, and they can be a practical way of managing a mental health problem or just your day-to-day life. Wellness looks different on everyone, and everyone will manage theirs in their own way.
And if you still find the concept of lifestyle apps off-putting, just know there’s people out there measuring the pH of their piss.