Smartphones can help dieters lose weight. They can track our activity levels. They can also help cheer you up and calm you down.
Researchers at Northwestern University have created a series of smartphone apps designed to make you feel good. People who used them over an eight-week study saw the severity of their depression and anxiety symptoms drop by about 50%.
The 13 apps, called IntelliCare, work together to target common sources and symptoms of depression and anxiety — like sleep problems, loneliness and social isolation, lack of activity and obsessive thinking. The apps aren't just for people who are depressed or anxious. They can help you sleep better, meditate, challenge negative thinking and be kinder to yourself. If you have been struggling with certain New Year's resolutions, they may offer useful support.
The drop in the severity of depression and anxiety in the preliminary study of 96 people was comparable to that expected from standard therapies such as psychotherapy or antidepressant medications.
Because the study had no control arm — no one was excluded from using the apps — it can't show definitively that the apps were behind the improvement. It's possible that the people might have gotten better without them. The study does suggest that the apps are effective, and a larger study with 300 people that does have a control group is already underway.
They can help you meditate, challenge negative thinking, and be kinder to yourself.
Among the apps that are available:
The full suite of apps can be downloaded for free. Each is designed by clinicians; and though they have not yet been validated, all are based on validated techniques used by therapists.
The study appears in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.