AAustralians are the world’s largest consumers of health and wellness apps, far exceeding our weight per capita in our quest for optimal physical and mental condition, according to a study by telecommunications company Uswitch. Over the past few years, we’ve been making them too – with everyone from fitness influencers to mental health advocacy groups launching digital products.
I myself have a soft spot for movement and mindfulness on mobile, but I have a complex relationship with wellness. While I love green juices, pilates, and my “ness” being “good,” I can’t stand many contemporary uses of the word. In food, fitness, fashion and other industries, “wellness” may sound like barely repackaged “weight loss”, while “healthy” has replaced “slim” as companies respond. superficially to the body positivity movement without really changing their habits.
Despite a healthy start in the 1950s, wellness is often touted as a goal for the financially and genetically privileged – and don’t get me into pseudoscience.
So I choose a cautious cynicism when engaging with wellness and wellness products – but I’ve also been home alone for almost two years, so I’ll try just about anything.
Cost: $ 19.99 per month
Sweat is a women’s health app co-founded by Australian fitness influencer Kayla Itsines, who has over 40 million social media followers worldwide. It offers over 30 home and gym workout programs including High Intensity Interval Training (Hiit), Low Intensity Workout, Yoga and Barre.
I did sessions of the PWR Zero Equipment program and it was all easy to follow and very doable. Audio and written instructions and on-screen demonstrations are clear and self-responsibility is very easy. It’s perfect for locking in and for busy people who exercise where and when they can. Additionally, I can point out that burpees are still the ruthless work of Satan himself.
Itsines has created an app that exists in the wellness space with little self-righteous, near-spiritual boast that other influencers rely so heavily on. Sweat doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. It’s a workout app, you workout on it. Yes, there are recipes and lifestyle tips, but they are not offered as miraculous paths to a plan of being higher.
Is this my preferred mode of exercise? No. But it’s practical and flexible and I can see myself using it when I travel. If it’s something that ever happens again.
Cost: To free
ReachOut’s WorryTime is an online mental health service youth anxiety management app that uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques to disrupt and manage repetitive thoughts.
I’m not by definition a youngster, but I have a slight anxiety and I liked the WorryTime methodology. You designate a daily time to do all your worries and when you feel anxious you write down why in the app; every day at the appointed time, you worry about what is still tormenting you and delete what is not. Easy!
I have used WorryTime diligently for a while, noting my fears, issues and doubts and re-evaluating them every 24 hours. Everything was fine until I was busy with work, stressed out about work, and scared to stop working. Where the app had been a welcome task, it has become a scarecrow.
I was trying not to think of things that made me anxious and knowing that the app had a list of them created a classic avoidance paradigm. I skipped a day. And the next day. And the next day. Soon the WorryTime alarm was causing me the very anxiety that she was committed to minimizing. After a few weeks of this mental chicken egg dance, I deleted the app. I may have been in a fetal position at the time.
I am not arguing against WorryTime. It could be a great tool for others. There are no one-size-fits-all mental health balms. It would be nice if there was anyway.
Library therapy with the State Library Victoria
Cost: To free
My favorite discovery of all this exercise is bibliotherapy or book therapy, an age-old practice that uses literature to promote better mental health and well-being. Basically, you read or are read aloud from a prescribed text, specifically chosen to raise questions, discover truths, and encourage healing. It’s also fun to say.
In response to the pandemic, a new podcast titled Library Therapy with the State Library Victoria was launched. Hosted by bibliotherapy practitioner Dr Susan McLaine, she offers to help people “stay calmer in this fragile time”. In each episode, McLaine reads a short story and a poem and asks listeners questions. The texts range from emerging and obscure writers to Tolstoy, Donne and Kipling.
I love this podcast. There is something so intimate and soothing to read, undoubtedly rooted in childhood nostalgia. It takes a while to get used to McLaine’s voice, but to be honest I find it with most podcast hosts, but her choice of lyrics is excellent and she reads everything slowly and deliberately, “savoring every word. and providing space between words ”. It’s the closest thing to a hug I’ve had in months.
The only downside is that there are only two short seasons. After a brief search for podcasts and apps based on similar stories, I found the excellent Dreamy podcast, a collection of great sleep stories written by First Nations storytellers like Jazz Money and Aurora Liddle-Christie. Bringing tens of thousands of years of oral tradition into the digital world, Dreamy “helps people from all walks of life calm their minds, dive into their dreams and disconnect from their devices.”
I also found Sleep Stories on the Calm app ($ 14.99 per month). It’s full of adult stories and conscious nonsense to soothe or lull you to sleep. There are even some equally terrible and amazing celebrity cameos: Matthew McConaughey, Cillian Murphy, and the sexy Duke of Bridgerton will read you like you’re a kid. Last night Harry Styles read me the worst poem I have ever heard – for 40 minutes. Five stars. I would listen again.
The Resilience project
Price: $ 4.49 one-time fee
The Resilience Project app is a “daily wellness journal” for all ages from a Melbourne-based organization of the same name, providing evidence-based mental health strategies and “sharing the benefits of gratitude, empathy and mindfulness “to schools, sports clubs and businesses.
Users are encouraged to log in daily, write down how they feel, record for who or what they are grateful for, perform acts of kindness, and do a short guided meditation. This lovely daily ritual only takes a few minutes but is proving to be a little antidote to the current cycle of news.
I don’t see myself using it for the long haul, due to the repetitiveness and shortest attention span in the world, but during this lockdown I enjoyed the nightly reminder to acknowledge my blessings and privileges and to reach out to friends.
While it can’t do the heavy lifting when it comes to mental health, I’m going to put it in my arsenal of chronic depression coping mechanisms and try to use it in tough times. It won’t appease what only drugs and Great British Bake Off can, but it could provide a few minutes of respite.
Cost: $ 40 per month
The class is an American practice of exercise-slash-mindfulness methodology with semi-cult vibes, taught by a crowd of ridiculously hot and relentlessly cool twenties who can pull off white lycra and blend in. Girls together.
At a fortuitous moment, founder Taryn Toomey launched online courses in late 2019, taking the class to locked homes around the world from 2020. Australians can access a wide selection of online courses on demand and live, and there’s even an Australian teacher. The time zone differences reduce the live options a bit, but most live courses become on-demand courses, so that doesn’t really matter.
Attended by celebrities such as Alicia Keys, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone, the class is a music-based ‘cathartic training experience’ designed to ‘strengthen the body and balance the mind’. Yoga meets Les Mills and clubbing. The movements are simple, repetition is essential and strong exhalations are encouraged. You can do squats for an entire song, a free dance for another, and star jumps for the next. Between the two, there is calm.
Teachers talk about a kind of motivational psycho-tagging that is both intolerable and addictive. It borders on the spiritual and flirts with cultural appropriation but remains just secular enough that I don’t turn it off. “Be in your power”; “You are enough”; “Meekness is your birthright” and so on. Many teachers end their sessions with “I love you”, which I don’t hate at all.
At first, I struggled to put aside my prejudices against pseudo-mystical and self-indulgent wellness modes and find peace with beautiful women telling me to accept myself while having me done burpees. But the more I did, the more I could let go and roll with the theater. Plus, it’s actually a really good workout.
I now gladly pay for the class. Let’s never talk about this again. I love you.