Apps that can help manage holiday stress

By Beth Schwinn, DCoE Public Affairs

The holidays don’t always go as well as I’d like. Based on the story below from a Washington Post annual online sharing of holiday horror stories, that’s true for a lot of people.

“We were doing a southwest theme, so I was making a tequila lime turkey. I’m used to using wine for cooking and will often just dump more in if the sauce needs it. I checked on the turkey, realized the sauce needed a little more tequila, poured it over the turkey, mixed the sauce in the roasting pan, and put it back in the oven. About five minutes later I was standing by the sink. The oven door went flying open, there was a very loud WHOOOSH noise, and a giant fireball came shooting out the oven door.”

Sometimes trying to do too much at once (ahem…multitasking) results in turkey flambé. But sometimes, the problems can be more serious: an absent loved one or a health condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder that makes it uncomfortable to be in a group, or a brain injury that results in headaches or cognitive dysfunction when things get too chaotic. We’ve heard how fireworks and crowds are upsetting for those with PTSD and brain injuries, but other holiday events can be tough, too.

The apps listed below can help you ease holiday stress. But if you feel persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, or unable to face routine chores, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

If apps aren’t your thing, the Mayo Clinic suggests some low-tech ways to cope with stress: take a walk at night and stargaze, listen to soothing music, get a massage, or my personal favorite – read a book.

Check out these mobile apps and consider downloading a few for strategies to help you identify stress and plan for a peaceful, happy holiday.

  • Use T2 MoodTracker to figure out when your stress levels are rising. This free app from the National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2) helps you identify the things in your life that contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety. By monitoring mood and behavior over a period of time, you can see how environmental influences and life stress may affect your psychological health. Unique features make it easy to keep a record of your emotional experience for your own awareness, or to share with your therapist or health care provider. MoodTracker is available for Apple and Android devices.
  • Release stress with Breathe2Relax. Deep breathing helps activate the body’s relaxation response. This popular app guides you through breathing practices to help you physically calm yourself in stressful situations. Practice the exercises regularly on their own or in tandem with clinical care directed by your health care provider. The app is available for Apple and Android devices.
  • Manage stress with Tactical Breather. T2’s customizable stress management tool introduces you to the benefits of controlled breathing through a tutorial and guided exercises. Primarily created for service members during intense combat situations, the app teaches you how to gain control of your heart rate, emotions, concentration, and other psychological and physiological responses to your body during any challenging situation in life. Free downloads for Apple and Android devices.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a term used to describe a set of strategies designed to change the way people think about everyday life. It is not necessarily the same thing as mindfulness meditation, which is clinically demonstrated to help treat various psychological health concerns. (Check out our series on mindfulness meditation to learn more about this practice.Mindfulness Coach, developed by T2 in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, introduces the concept of focusing mindfully and can help you maintain a meditation practice during the holidays. Even if you can’t practice regularly, taking a moment to be mindful will help in times of stress. While the free app is currently only available from the iTunes store, there are plans to develop it for other devices.

Do you have a favorite mobile app to help you navigate holiday stress? Share it with us in the comment section below.

And remember, during the holidays and every day, the DCoE Outreach Center is available to offer free help day or night. Call 866-966-1020, email or live chat with a counselor.

Service members in crisis should seek help immediately by going to the nearest emergency room, or contacting the Military Crisis Line. Dial in Europe: 00800 1273 8255 or DSN 118 * for 24/7 crisis support. The crisis line provides a confidential chat and text service (838255). Family members and friends of service members or veterans can also use the Military Crisis Line to reach immediate help.

Article originally published Dec. 10, 2015 here.