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Coronavirus Has Me Completely Spun Out. Could an iPhone App Possibly Calm Me Down?

MoodMission’s mission: To somehow stop the racing thoughts of death, sickness and bankruptcy that have been keeping me up at night the last month

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been sleeping much the last three weeks. 

That lack of sleep might have something to do with the constant worry I have for my parents, both of whom are over 70, and both of whom are dealing with serious health issues. My mom, who’s been forced to work well past retirement age because our previously “gangbusters” economy was a lie (oh, and her job waited a week after most people stopped going into their offices to have her work from home), is immunocompromised thanks to a bout with leukemia; my dad, meanwhile, has diabetes and trouble walking.

Or maybe it’s because my girlfriend and I have watched our life savings go down the drain in the span of four weeks. 

Or maybe it’s because, as a real estate agent, she’s all but out of job — right after we signed a new, more expensive lease in early March. 

Or maybe it’s because if one of us gets sick, we’re on the hook for a massive chunk of money because our insurance (which, thankfully, we have) has a crazy-high out-of-pocket maximum.

Or maybe it’s because of what’s being more or less promised over the next few weeks/months — 100,000 dead (bare minimum) and potentially 20 to 33 percent unemployment. That’s a lot of immediate death and sadness; not to mention, an incredibly uncertain future.

And so, again, I’m not sleeping much. 

But seeing as money’s tight (our insurance basically doesn’t kick in until we spend thousands of dollars first), and the fact that I can’t leave the house, I’m not sure how exactly to calm my corona anxiety. 

The Problem: I’m a basket case.

The Alleged Cure-All: MoodMission, an app for iOS and Android that, according to its website, is “designed to empower you to overcome feelings of depression and anxiety by discovering new and better ways of coping.” Which is great, because coping is exactly what I haven’t been doing well recently.

I downloaded the app at 3 a.m. on a night when I’d read that, if left unchecked, the coronavirus could kill 2 million Americans. My mind racing (HAVE I MENTIONED THAT I’M STRESSED?), I googled “mental health apps for anxiety,” and MoodMission appeared to come highly recommended, so I went to the App Store and got it. 

Not exactly an incredible amount of vetting, I know, but enough that I felt comfortable giving it a try.

If the Economy Is Down, Here’s What’s Going Up: How much my girlfriend and I are fighting, for one. The amount we’re drinking, for another. 

The Best Coping Tool That Isn’t an App: Admittedly, it’s a little basic, but watching cooking and aviation videos on YouTube. Here are a couple of my favorite channels:

How MoodMission Works: First off, it’s free, because duh, I would hope it would be. After downloading the app, you sign up — standard operating procedure at this point; then you begin filling out a series of surveys. According to the app, which was founded in 2016 by Australian psychologists David Bakker and Nikki Rickard after a successful crowdfunding campaign, the surveys are there to both tailor MoodMission’s suggestions for you, as well as to assist with ongoing research. 

Personally, I found the surveys a bit tedious. In my anxious state, the last thing I wanted to do was answer 30 minutes worth of questions about whether it’d be helpful for “Mary” to “visit a chemist” to solve her problem of feeling “unusually sad and miserable.” I had my own problems, dammit.

But once you’re through the surveys, the app is set up to be the sort of first line of defense for when anxiety hits: You tell it how you’re feeling in the moment, and then it recommends you perform a “mission.”

That first panicked night, I picked “listen to music with new ears,” an easy choice because I love music, but also because it was 3 a.m., and my headphones were next to the bed.

When you choose a mission, you’re given a detailed explanation as to why it supposedly works. Some — like doing a yoga pose or “dancing away the blues” — use physical exercise to improve your mood. But there are others — “playing a game with a friend,” or in my case, “listening to music with new ears” — are about breaking your chain of negative thinking. Overall, there are many, many missions, each of which is tailored to whether you’re feeling “anxious” or “depressed,” and then based on a sliding scale of how bad.

As for me, I listened to some Beethoven, paying close attention to each note, and in a few minutes, I’d forgotten about the 8 percent stock market drop the day before, and my parents’ perilous health. Those thoughts did come back to a degree when I was done, but then I went back to thinking about what I’d just listened to, and they faded into the background once more. 

Eventually, after about three or four rounds of this, I fell asleep.

Least Successful Mission That I Tried: “Go outside and watch the clouds.” I tried to do so on a day I’d gotten into a big fight with my girlfriend about which of us was responsible for cleaning a spilled cup of coffee. She’d flipped out on me, and I said some stuff that I regretted. 

Watching clouds, though, only really works if there are cool-looking clouds in the sky, and that day, the clouds were like a B, B-. Adding to my issues was the fact that, even though I was looking up and admiring what clouds I could see, I was still thinking about the fight I’d just had, and no amount of cloud beauty was going to stop me. 

Thus, I quit and did a crossword instead.

How I’ve Been Feeling Since: Not gonna lie, MoodMission has been really helpful in breaking me out of my ongoing funk. I’m not quite there yet, but I’ve been building up my muscle memory remembering to reach for the app when I feel a surge of anxiety about to come on. Trump says some dumb shit on Twitter? “Do push-ups.” Wake up in the middle of the night wondering how we’re going to make rent without dipping into our dwindling savings? “Repeat a coping statement.” Get angry about something incredibly dumb? “Decatastrophize.” 

In other words, it’s helping.

That said, if there’s a problem with MoodMission, it’s that it’s reactive, not proactive. It can solve my anxiety issues when they arise more or less with aplomb, but it hasn’t been able to stop the surge of anxious moments in the first place. Which, I guess, what did I expect?

But for what it is, MoodMission does a pretty decent job. 

Jeff’s Rating: 7/10

This Is Life in a Pandemic