Using Mobile Apps as a Tool for Self-Care

A young woman using an app on her phone.

When Amy Sugeno, a licensed social worker, was working with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, she knew that she needed to deal with her own stress and secondary trauma. “Secondary trauma can leave you feeling helpless. If you can find ways to have some control, such as with a self-care routine, that can help,” she says.

“There are all kinds of ways to help with secondary trauma,” says Sugeno, now in private practice working with early trauma in teens and adults. To cope with her stress, Sugeno turned to mobile apps as one component of her self-care routine. “Self-care comes down to having lots and lots of different tools. Some tools are easy to do right away, like apps, and can add another layer to your self-care practice.”

“Apps are very individual,” notes Sugeno. “If you find an app you like, and find it to be helpful, that’s what really matters.”

[Read more about self-care and youth workers.]

A Personalized Approach

When Julie McGinty was an intern at Trauma Informed Oregon, a state initiative focused on trauma-informed care, she was curious about how apps might support her self-care routine. Yet, rather than just downloading a bunch of apps to add to her already busy schedule, she took a more mindful approach.

“I took a self-care assessment through SUNY Buffalo School of Social Work. It helped me look at my life and where I was lacking or really strong [related to self-care].” From there, she looked into specific apps that would support self-care areas she wanted to build on. “I knew when I took the assessment that I valued physical health, but saw [through the self-assessment] that I was not doing a good job at it. So, I found a running app and decided to try it.”

“You need to see what you need, in terms of self-care,” recommends McGinty, “and then try out one or two apps at a time.”

[Try a 5-minutes guided meditation.]

Giving Apps a Try

McGinty says that it is important to try an app and see how it works for you. “I told myself that I would try something for a week.” She experimented to see which app she liked for running, before committing to add it to her regular routine.

“It’s important to try an app and give it a chance. But, to also remember that just because you might not like a particular app, doesn’t mean you need to dismiss the practice (such as running) behind it,” says McGinty.

Apps can be a tool for self-care, adds McGinty. “You are using what is, literally, at your fingertips. If you don’t like the app, try another one to find something that works for you.” She adds that it was helpful that she took the self-assessment and knew what she was looking for before diving into the hundreds of apps available for physical health.

Sugeno used apps to monitor her stress level and to incorporate beauty, such as through one-minute nature videos, into her work routine. After a while, however, the apps started to feel like work, rather than rejuvenating. So, she stepped away from her phone and turned more to nature and creative practices, such as songwriting and music.

“When you are dealing with secondary trauma and trying to manage it with a self-care routine, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Sometimes apps had too many words or visuals for me.”

Using Apps Over Time

While McGinty and Sugeno found apps to be a useful component of their self-care routine, they have also seen their use of apps change over time. Both are now in less stressful work environments, and have seen their usage of apps diminish, although they continue to incorporate self-care into their routine in different ways.

“Apps are not a magic pill, but they will certainly support people through secondary trauma. Self-care is sometimes about finding the little things that can be really helpful,” reiterates Sugeno.

McGinty adds, “If you get overwhelmed with technology, take a break. Do it the old fashioned way and take a quick walk, sit outside, or write in a journal.”

[Learn more about self-care and secondary trauma.]

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