So managing all feelings, and particularly difficult feelings like depression and anxiety, was a big part of the early days and months of getting sober for me. Even now I’m always on the look out for new sober treats and self-care tools to make this easier for all of us. The new Feel Stress Free app released this year, is the second mindfulness app I have tried as I have talked on the blog before about Headspace.
For me psychological self-care and fitness is as important as physical fitness and self-care so this was a great addition to my sober tool-box particularly on the go when life gets tricky. As you know I’m a District Nurse and some patient visits can be emotionally difficult so having an app in my pocket that I can tap into, potentially between patient visits if needed, is a much welcomed respite. The apps image and sounds of a desert island, lapping waves and seagulls with background calming music was lovely every time.
This above image is the first screen that greets you once you have downloaded for free the Thrive’s Feel Stress Free Mobile App which is available for iOS and Android. It works on a subscription basis,which can be purchased for one month, three months or a year. For one month it will set you back £4.99, for 3 months it will cost £3.33 each month and for a year it’s £1.99 each month. I was lucky enough to get a month’s free trial from the developers 🙂
This is what their website says:
Be Stress Free has been created over two years of development and research to pro-actively prevent and manage stress and anxiety.
- Keeps track of your mood over time
- Enables you to train your thoughts so you can manage how you feel about different situations
- Trains you in 4 relaxation techniques that give you control over your stress
Stressed or anxious? We can help! Using evidence-based techniques, we help you learn to relax and build your resilience to these common—yet hard to conquer—problems. Featuring our thought trainer, zen garden, and unique ‘message in bottle’ social feature, there’s plenty to explore!
I loved the zen garden and ‘message in a bottle’ social feature (that enables you to send a message of encouragement to others using the app) and fed back to the developers:
“Have recently spent a year training part time to be a child and adolescent psychotherapeutic counsellor at the University of Cambridge and one of the therapeutic tools we used was a sand tray! It was lovely to be able to immerse myself in that way again and very valuable.”
I wasn’t the only reviewer who really liked this as Moonlolly in the City agreed: ‘If you swipe left, you go to a second island called the ‘Zen Garden’, a virtual Japanese rock garden used to aid meditation. Here you can design your own space and save your best designs. I loved this part, probably because I’m a big kid – it was one of those absorbing exercises akin to adult colouring books. Totally on board with this.’
One of the things I liked about this app is it is designed by clinicians:
Dr Andres Fonseca – CEO, is a psychiatrist with almost 20 years of clinical experience. He believes the way mental health services work at the moment is very broken. Services are focused on intervening when people are in crisis, which is already too late. He believes therapeutic software that is fun to use is the way to help people Thrive.
A bit more detail about some of the key features:
Start every day tracking your mood to receive the best recommendations to get through it. Based on your results the Mood Meter will recommend different activities. It will record your results on your progress so you can look back and see what works for you. It will learn itself what you find helpful and get better at advising you over time.
Our cognitive behavioural therapy based thought trainer is how we help you to re-frame your negative thoughts. We all have negative thoughts at times, but is there a better way we can think about things? That is what the thought trainer is here to do. It tracks how you feel, giving recommendations and helping you to see a positive in the negative. With everything tracked in Progress and the app learning more about you as you use it, the Thought Trainer will soon personalise itself to your experiences.
Computerised Cognitive Behavioural (cCBT) therapy has accumulated 10 years of evidence. It has been shown to work as a self-directed treatment without intervention from a therapist. In 2016 Jill Newby and colleagues from St Vincent’s Hospital in Australia undertook a review of all the evidence of cCBT used for depression and anxiety showing it is a very effective technique and comparable to face to face therapy. Here is a link to the study.
This is the simplest technique, one that you can learn in the app and practice anywhere you are. It is based on the fact that increasing chest pressure by taking very slow and deep breaths, and then reducing by slowly breathing out, triggers a reflex. This reflex slows down your pulse and gives you a relaxed feeling in your body. As body and mind are connected this then results in relaxation in your mind. Give it a go for 3, 5, 7 or 10 minutes!
Deep slow breathing is an essential technique incorporated in many relaxation exercises. It has been extensively examined in the literature in different setting. A good review of the evidence behind it and its uses can be found in General Principles and Empirically Supported Techniques of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Chapter 14 by Hazlett-Stevens and Craske. You can read a preview of the chapter here.
Progressive Deep Muscle Relaxation
In this technique we also take advantage of the mind-body connection. We will teach you to contract and relax various muscles progressively allowing you to enjoy the difference between the tense sensations in the muscle and the relaxed sensations that come after you have let the tension go
Since its description by Jacobson in 1938 this technique has a record of proven efficacy. There is a 2007 review of the literature that summarises all the available evidence up to that date which you can find here.
Not for everyone but those of you who are able to reach a state of hypnosis can benefit greatly from this technique. We will try to teach you to put yourself into a hypnotic trance. If you are able to achieve it, he will help you teach yourself a word of phrase that will quickly bring you back to that state of relaxation whatever your circumstances.
It has proven efficacy in anxiety related to many situations. It has been particularly studied in people going through different medical treatments like dialysis, chemotherapy, surgery and dentistry. There is a 2010 review that goes through all that evidence. The main issue with hypnosis is that the person must be suggestible to benefit from it. Here is a recent study on how suggestibility influences outcomes in using hypnosis to manage pain.
Simple to learn but hard to master this is quite a powerful technique for relaxation. It requires dedication and practice but if you persevere it can bring about the most benefits. You will need a quiet space and to achieve a sensation of comfort. You will be able todevelop a passive attitude that allows you to just watch your feelings, sensations and thoughts as they pass through your mind. You will also use word or phrase to help you refocus.
This is probably the technique that has received the most attention recently. It requires practice to master but everyone can use it if they devote the time to learn it and practice it. There is a complete review and meta-analysis of all the evidence of meditation in the management of anxiety published in the British Journal of Psychology in 2012.
And you can track your progress:
Progress keeps track of everything you do in the app. It is what the app uses to give you better and better tips. If you are working with a therapist you can use Progress as your full-fledged therapy journal.
You can choose how long you want to do each exercise for, from a quick 3 minutes of deep breathing to 25 minutes of meditation, which is great if you want to fit a session into a busy day. The app also remembers which exercises you’ve done before and how many times, encouraging regular use and making the whole experience feel very personalised.
Echoing the words of Moonlolly: if you’re going to invest in a mindfulness app, it’s worth bearing in mind that this is one of the first to have actual CBT therapy incorporated and be officially ‘clinically proven.’
So next time you’re feeling stressed or anxious rather than reaching for a drink, or thinking that a drink would help, why not try this?