Election stress? Here are eight apps to support your mental health

By KATIE KINDELAN and ANGELINE JANE BERNABE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — With hundreds of thousands of votes still being counted across the country to determine the results of the history-making 2020 U.S. presidential election, and cases of COVID-19 still rising around the world, it’s no wonder people everywhere are feeling stress more than ever.

In a survey conducted by the Harris Poll on Behalf of the American Psychological Association, 68% of U.S. adults said that the election is a significant source of stress in their lives.

And, when one adds the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the anxiety only gets worse for many.

“One thing that we as humans do not like is uncertainty and unpredictability,” said Dr. Mark Seery, a researcher on stress and coping at the University of Buffalo, during a 2018 interview with ABC News’ Good Morning America.

Dr. Tania Israel, a professor of counseling psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, agreed.

“Uncertainty is stressful,” Israel told ABC News. “The election, the global pandemic and social unrest are all adding to a sense of uncertainty in our lives.”

While many are experiencing intense emotions right now, stress is normal and there are steps and strategies we can take to cope.

Thanks to technology, there is help online and on our phones. Here are eight apps that can provide mental health and mindfulness support on the go:

1. Headspace

Headspace has hundreds of guided meditations, including ones you can do on the go. It offers tips on everything from managing stress to getting better sleep.

2. Insight Timer

This app offers nearly 10,000 free guided meditations to choose from. Users can modify the meditation to what they need at the moment, choosing calming tunes such as ambient sounds or the sounds of bells.

Insight Timer also has more than 3,000 discussion groups and local meet-ups run by users.

3. Happify

Happify is one case where playing games on a smartphone can serve a meaningful purpose. The app, free with in-app purchase options, has different tracks coached by trained professionals. It can help people who need parenting advice, suffer from anxiety or need to feel more confident in themselves. As a user, you choose tracks and then play calming games to help you reach your goal.

4. Talkspace

Talkspace allows users to connect virtually with a licensed therapist. For $49 per week, there’s private access to a therapist via text, audio or video chat, as often as daily or multiple times per day.

5. Stigma

Creating a word cloud may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of therapy, but it is a tool in this app. Stigma provides an easy way to journal and then visually display the prominent words in that writing as a way to track thoughts and feelings. The app can also track mood in a visual calendar and graph how each person’s mood adjusts over time.

6. Anxiety Reliever

The clouds featured on this app’s background give a clue to where it leads: a calmer and more peaceful state. The subscription-based app has audio sessions that focus on relaxation and overcoming anxiety and stress.

7. 10 Percent Happier

This app, created by ABC News’ Dan Harris, features guided meditations, videos, talks and sleep content. The app also now features a Coronavirus Sanity Guide that offers free resources including a daily “live sanity break” and weekly podcasts.

8. Calm

Like the Headspace app, Calm is an app for sleep, meditation and relaxation to help users get better sleep and lower stress through guided meditations, sleep stories, breathing programs, stretching exercises and relaxing music.

Bonus resource

Heal the Healers, a new initiative which launched on April 6 by the David Lynch Foundation, helps provide transcendental meditation to many battling COVID-19, including medical providers. Through transcendental meditation, users are able to reduce anxiety, boost resilience and heal trauma.

Still looking for more ways to cope? Here are some tips from experts:

1. Set limits on how much news you consume

According to Seery, research shows that if you say you won’t think about a topic like politics, all you will think about is politics.

The APA also pointed out that when uncertainty strikes, many people immediately think of worst-case scenarios.

So instead of dwelling on things you can’t control, take action by setting time limits on your phone for certain websites and apps.

“If following the news, watching the debates or scrolling through social media is causing you stress, limit your media consumption,” the APA noted. “Give yourself permission to take a break from the news.”

2. Get involved

Uncertainty can be paralyzing, so taking control of your own actions is an easy way to reduce stress, Seery said.

And, if you’re frustrated by politics, get involved in a campaign or volunteer. The APA also suggests finding an activity you enjoy and spending time doing it.

“Get involved in issues that are meaningful to you,” the APA said.

3. Stay active

Moving your body diminishes overall anxiety levels, said Dr. Gail Saltz, an associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Going for a walk, taking an exercise class or going for a jog a few times a week can help calm your body, said Saltz, who also recommended calmer activities like warm baths, breathing techniques and meditation.

4. Read good news

Offset the daily news you consume with inspiring stories of kindness, bravery and humanitarianism around the world.

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