Being a recovering cynic (my brother and sister were convinced Daria was modeled on me), ‘self care’ is one of those terms that really squicked me out initially. It seemed both too woo-woo and too obvious to be taken seriously. And what did bubble baths have to do with well-being anyways?
Well, fast forward a few years and a few therapy sessions later and I’ve finally (finally!) started to understand the benefits of not shitting all over myself for not being perfect. Self care can take many forms, whether that’s eating and sleeping well, learning to stress less or making the time to pamper yourself, or in my case, giving myself the permission and space to fell crumby when I do.
Some of these things are easier to motivate myself to do than others, so I thought I’d test out some self care apps and see if they really passed the test. While some of these apps also qualify as “self improvement” apps, I think that trying to be your best possible self in a positive way is totally a part of self care, hence their inclusion.
While this one may be a little too simple for some people to really qualify as a ‘self care app,’ I think that staying hydrated is crucial to good mood and energy so I’ve gone ahead and included it in this list. Designed to help you drink enough water during the day, Plant Nanny rides the line between game and app in a way that makes it surprisingly addictive.
When you launch the app for the first time you’ll be asked to enter your weight and choose a plant. Every time you drink a glass of water you hold your finger down on the app to give your plant a drink too. How many glasses you need to drink is determined by your weight and you can choose from different sizes and shapes of glasses in the app to better match how you drink water IRL. Drink enough water enough times in a row and your plant will level up, at which point you can transfer it to your garden so it can generate premium currency you can use to buy new, more exotic plants. Miss a few drinks and your plant will start to wilt.
I love how simple this app is to use and the cuteness of the plants goes a long way towards reminding me to drink up. I just can’t bare to see my plants all sad and wilted when I forgot to drink and it’s definitely had a huge impact on how much water I consume on a daily basis. While it might not be as robust as some of the other apps on this list, Plant Nanny truly succeeds at the one thing that it sets out to do, and it makes it a fun, uplifting activity.
Big Thumbs Up
Although similar app Luminosity’s claims about brain training recently have recently come under fire, I figured it couldn’t hurt to give the free version of Peak a try. Billed as a simple training tool that can improve concentration, memory and other cognitive functions, Peak lets the user decide what aspects of brain function they want to work on and then sends them daily workouts of 6 random mini-games designed by cognitive scientists to target their specific problem areas. Users also decide how many days a week they want to get workouts and additional mini-games and advanced training plans are available for purchase through the app.
While I haven’t been using Peak long enough to really notice much of a difference in terms of my short term memory and other things I’ve chosen to work on, the mini-games are fun and challenging and I genuinely look forward to my thrice-weekly brain workouts. I also like all of the analytic features included in the app, which make it easy and satisfying to see your progress over time. I can’t really say with any authority whether Peak actually works in the long run, but it’s fun and well designed and can’t hurt, so why not.
A solid Thumb Up.
Let me start by saying that I really, really wanted to like this app. Based on the book, Ted Talk, etc. by Jane McGonigal, SuperBetter is meant to gamify mental wellness and help you build emotional resilience. It all sounds great on paper, and maybe it works for some people, but I just HATED it. Maybe it’s just the Android version, which seems significantly less pretty than the iOS version, but I found it to be uninspiring to look at and kinda buggy. After installing it I was pestered repeatedly by the app to log-in and then when I tried to create an account I encountered error after error… the sort of thing that could push someone actually in crisis over the edge, IMO.
Using it is also a little confusing, as they really seem to have tried to just mash a desktop application into a mobile app. Every time you log in there are three types of activities you can choose from to make points to… I’m not really sure. Power-Ups are the easiest and they range from drinking a glass of water to walking around the block. Then, there are quests, which sometimes involve activating a certain number of Power-Ups, but there’s no link between activating a Power-Up and getting credit for it in the quest. You’re just supposed to go back into the quest when you’re done and say you did it… And then there’s Bad Guys, which are essentially bad habits that you’re supposed to vanquish by saying nice things to yourself or getting off the couch. You can also team up with others in the app to encourage each other and complete certain quests.
I guess none of this is bad in and of itself, but I just found the whole tone of it to be a little too patronizing to work for me personally and the confusing and clumsy interface, along with WAY TOO LOUD success noise just made me want to stay away.
Big sad Thumbs Down.
Forest is another mono-tasking app, but just like Plant Nanny, the one thing it does, it does REALLY well. The goal of forest is to help you focus, and in addition to the mobile application they also have browser extensions so you can use it on your computer as well. When you open the application, you’ll need to choose a length of time you want to concentrate for, and then away you go. If you manage not to touch your phone or open a bunch of social media tabs in your browser for the full length of time you’ve chosen, you grow a little tree. Keep using the app throughout the day to grow more trees and unlike different kinds of trees. At the end of the day you can look at the forest you’ve grown and even compare your progress over multiple days.
I love apps like this that take something rather mundane (I mean, really: it’s a timer) and add such a fun and engaging visualization component. Having my little collection of forests is so satisfying to be able to look back on and knowing that allowing myself to be distracted will make my tree wither and die (you’re left with a dead bare tree to remind you of your failure) does actually help to motivate me to stay focused. Forest is great at making something we all say we should do, into something we actually want to do.
Big fat Thumbs Up.
The Fabulous – Motivate Me! is an app that I’d tried out a while ago and didn’t really click with, but I’m revisiting for this list since I think that I’m in a better place for it to be useful for me. The Fabulous bills itself as a sort of lifestyle coach in your pocket. You choose some goals and then The Fabulous gives you some tasks to do every day to help you reach those goals. However, one of the things that I really like about The Fabulous that sets it apart from other similar apps, is that all those tasks are centered around creating rituals. When something becomes a ritual, it becomes habit, making it something you’re much more likely to stick with over time. These rituals can be as simple as drinking a glass of water as soon as you wake up to as abstract as “start a secret project.”
While The Fabulous didn’t work for me initially, that was really because I wasn’t in a place where I wanted to change my habits, but now I’m able to appreciate the simplicity and positivity that the app presents. Unlike SuperBetter, The Fabulous users get to choose what activities (rituals) they want to do every day to help them reach their goals. To my mind this helps a lot with being able to own the activity, instead of feeling like it’s been prescribed from on high, which for me makes it a lot easier to stick with. There are also challenges, but they’re link directly to your rituals, so they’re much easier to keep track of. I also really like that it starts things off simply, one ritual at time, so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Bascially, The Fabulous is everything I wanted SuperBetter to be, but with a more holistic approach to well being.
A sturdy and appreciative Thumbs Up.