Photo: Tru Luv
It's no secret our screens are addictive (even tech companies have recognized that it's gotten out of hand—Apple and Google have recently announced features to help you cut back on your screen time). So, when it comes to self-care, doing a digital detox is typically one of the first tips you'll hear. But #SelfCare, a new video game-style app, argues that the right kind of screen time can actually help improve your well-being.
#SelfCare is kind of like the world's ~chillest~ version of Sims: The objective of the "game" is simply to hang out in a cozy bedroom surrounded by plants and a kitty. Basically, it's the tech version of giving yourself permission to stay in bed all day, guilt-free. Within the game (which isn't really a "game" per se—it's more like an interactive experience), you can tap through different wellness-focused activities. Think: guided breathing exercises, meditative repetitive actions (like petting your virtual cat), and positive word associations. (Speaking of: Have you seen this magical de-stressing GIF that can help reduce anxiety?)
"In #SelfCare, you can let go of any expectations of needing to perform," explains Brie Code, CEO of Tru Luv, the tech company behind #SelfCare. "Unlike a game, there is no pressure, no score, no winning, no failure. Also, unlike a game, the activities don't start out easy and grow more difficult. Instead, they start out disorganized and awkward, and grow more orderly and pleasant."
The idea is that spending a few minutes inside the screen sanctuary acts like a mini brain break, helping you to dissolve any anxiety or negative thoughts. "We know that when people are really anxious or having thoughts and feelings of depression, they tend to ruminate, meaning they go over and over negative thoughts in their heads," says Isabela Granic, Ph.D., a psychology professor and chair of developmental psychopathology at Radboud University in the Netherlands (who is working with #SelfCare to study the mental health effects of the game). "Anything that can break that dark-thinking cycle is going to help people come out of it," she says. (You can also try the app Ashley Benson swears by to calm her anxiety.)
The mini "games" within #SelfCare are based on techniques that are proven through psychological research to help improve your mental health. Take a positive word association game, for example. It starts off with words that are negatively tinged, like "strep," and gradually become more and more positive throughout the game, explains Granic. "That's a really lovely way to prime people with positive feelings, images, and emotions," she says. "We know that priming can have a huge impact on people's moods without it feeling prescriptive or manipulative."
In other words, when you're feeling stressed out, opening #SelfCare is designed to act like a pause button on your downward spiral, helping you get a little more zen and shift your thinking to more positive, productive thoughts.
But, wait—isn't spending more time on your phone more likely to add to your anxiety? (Related: Phone-Life Balance Is a Thing, and You Probably Don't Have It)
Not necessarily. "All screen time isn't created equal," says Granic. "We need a much more nuanced study of what you're actually doing on the screen—are you cuddled up watching Netflix with your partner? Playing video games with your kids? Researching your health? There are a lot of corrosive and toxic behaviors online as well, but I think that tends to overshadow the positive things people are doing with their phones." If you're comparing yourself to others on Instagram it's not so healthy (duh), but if you're using social media to connect with people via Facebook groups or DMs, for example, research shows the screen time can actually boost your mental health (and can even help you reach your fitness goals).
Just to be on the safe side, #SelfCare is specifically designed to not be addictive, unlike most of the apps on your phone. "#SelfCare is designed to be played for about three to five minutes, whenever you need a moment to collect yourself (ex: before a big meeting) or want to wind down," says Code. (Related: Facebook and Twitter Are Rolling Out New Features to Protect Your Mental Health)
Granic is currently working with the #SelfCare team to design studies that will examine exactly how the game might boost mental health and help users deal with anxiety. She'll be exploring things like how the amount of time you spend in your virtual bedroom correlates to reduced feelings of anxiety and depression if using the app can make you less likely to engage in unhealthy digital behaviors later in the day, and exactly which mini-games can provide the biggest mental health boost. (Our bet is on petting the cute cat.)
The point is not to disappear into your virtual bedroom for hours, Granic adds—"if you don't address the actual problem [or cause of the anxiety], that can have negative impacts. But 10 to 15 minutes of positive distraction can help act as self-care."
Excuse us while we go get back into our virtual beds.