We've all heard the headlines declaring smartphones are bad for our mental health, but for many of us, they've been a vital lifeline during the coronavirus pandemic.
Since lockdown began, our smartphones have played an enormous role in supporting us when we aren't feeling great. When we've felt isolated or lonely, they've helped to bring the whole world into our living room – or even our bed. Our smartphones have helped us to stay connected to those we love, however far apart we've been physically.
And as for our mental wellbeing? Well, if you haven't downloaded a guided meditation app over the last twelve months then have you really been in lockdown? Swearing blind by the life-changing effects of Headspace or Calm has been a coronavirus rite of passage as much as baking banana bread or getting obsessed with Tiger King (btw, there are rumours of a second series).
But it isn't just meditation that wellness apps and mental health apps that can help us. There are other ways that using our phones can help promote self care and a stronger sense of wellbeing – here are six of the best.
To support sleep
According to the publicity, you "wake up easy with Sleep Cycle" because "Sleep Cycle tracks and analyzes your sleep, waking up at the most perfect time, feeling rested!".
Bold claims, Sleep Cycle, bold claims – but seeing as a recent study found it is the world's most popular sleep app, there must be something to it.
To nurture calm
"Create a peaceful ambiance at home or on the go" – that is something we can all get behind. To achieve it, download Rain Rain and block out distractions with soothing sounds from rain to waterfalls, washing machines to aeroplanes (each to their own with those last two).
To get focused
There are always times when we need to put our devices down and get on with something else. For these moments, there is Forest. In this app, you set a timer for however long you want to avoid your phone for and a countdown on the screen reminds you to stop looking at it. When the time's up, you earn points that create a virtual forest and ultimately a real one too, as you can use those points to plant actual trees through the Forest scheme.
To build better habits
Apple famously declared "There's an app for that" but in some cases there isn't. In those situations, though, there's probably still an app that can support you in achieving whatever your goal is.
If you're into habit change, for example, try Way of Life. It's a tool for building good habits and breaking bad ones and has been recommended by everyone from Forbes to Business Insider, Fast Company to LifeHacker.
To increase gratitude
Gratitude is good for us. How do we know this? Because Oprah told us. "Gratitude can transform any situation," she says. "It's the quickest, easiest, most powerful way to effect change in your life – this I know for sure."
And there are wellbeing apps that help you to develop a gratitude practice. The Resilience Project, for instance, prompts users to record moments of gratitude every day in order to engage with the positive things in life and remain present in the moment.
To create connection
Want to feel good? Do something good for someone else. Happiness guru Gretchen Rubin goes as far as to label this one of her secrets of happiness:"One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself."
How? We often think of doing good as involving a lot of time or money, such as making a big donation to a good cause or volunteering in a charity shop. But Koromabi is on a mission to make volunteering easy for busy people. This smartphone app lists opportunities for you to get involved and help others according to time, location and issue. You can tell it how long you have, when and where you are or browse listings.