Struggling with anxiety? There are (lots of) apps for that

Gamified anxiety apps are flooding the wellness market, but is more screen time really the key?

September 27, 2019

U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Micaiah Anthon

Practicing yoga, meditating, and eating well are a few ways the Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends combating anxiety. Or, you could try an anxiety app.

A growing number of apps are using clinically approved treatments and gamification to ease anxiety — and they’re getting encouraging results, Vox reports.

Anxiety is on the rise in the US, and so is ‘anxiety consumerism’

Anxiety  is the most common mental illness in the US. One-third of American adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, and 18% of adults are affected each year.

Gamified apps like Happify, Mind Ease, Personal Zen, and SuperBetter — to name just a few — emphasize that their anxiety and stress-reducing exercises are steeped in scientific research, measure progress in a quantifiable way, and deliver quick results.

A 2016 study stated that users who played SuperBetter for 10 minutes a day over 30 days reported substantially reduced depressive symptoms and anxiety compared to a control group.

Is the answer to anxiety more screen time?

While there’s evidence that gamification is good at motivating people to form new habits, studies show a correlation between lots of screen time and lower psychological well-being. 

Founders seem to understand that prescribing an app raises red flags, and some have made clear that their goal isn’t to pull people into time-consuming interactions. 

“We’re ethically bound to try to create the briefest interventions possible, with the biggest bang in terms of efficacy,” says Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, the creator of Personal Zen.

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