Photo shows a Hispanic woman in a coffee shop using her cellphone. There are red spots on her wrists indicating joint pain

I never thought that as an adult over 50, I’d be waking up excited to greet a virtual pet bird whose growth is based on my self-care goals. Virtual pets never interested me, but this one is different, and it has me hooked. Why? The app features an animated baby bird the user cares for and helps grow by accomplishing customizable daily goals.  

If I practice self-care by meeting daily goals, which I create for myself, my bird will grow, gain access to new clothing and accessories, and travel the virtual world. It sounds silly, I know, but in the world of chronic illness, there is very little we can control, so we find joy in things we can.  From writing to-do lists to setting goals for mental health.  

Before using a self-care app, I would make a daily and weekly to-do list. The items I listed were mostly task-oriented and were never really about caring for my own needs. I felt productive when I was able to cross a task off the list, but nothing I held myself accountable for was connected to my mental well-being.  

With the self-care app I use, I set about 35 daily goals. This may sound like a lot, but even the smallest of tasks can be a challenge on tough days, and every goal counts. “It helps me focus on the small steps I can take instead of all the steps I haven’t taken,” says patient advocate Jennifer Walker, who first told me about the app. “I don’t get overwhelmed. And I don’t feel bad for what I haven’t done as a chronic illness patient or because of my depression.” 

On average days, some of the goals I select remind me to: 

  • Drink water 
  • Go outside 
  • Eat a healthy lunch 
  • Work on a project 
  • Go for a walk 
  • Pause work to exercise 

On tougher days, goals can be set to: 

  • Remind me to get out of bed 
  • Change clothes 
  • Step outside once 
  • Take a shower 
  • Reach out to a loved one 
  • Do breathing exercises, which are built into the app 

Quizzes are available to help me know how I am doing with managing depression and anxiety. There are even breathing exercises specifically designed to help with anxiety. 

My daughter uses self-care apps to help balance her work and personal life, which helps to lower her stress level. She sets goals to spend at least 30 minutes doing nothing after work, to eat lunch, leave work stuff at work, and get ready for fun on Saturday.  

Her other goals include: 

  • Reading an affirmational quote each morning 
  • Doing a lesson on Duolingo 
  • Taking morning and evening meds 
  • Eating breakfast 
  • Tracking vitamins 
  • Taking a shower at least twice weekly 

If she needs to skip a goal, she moves it to the next day without guilt. She also uses the app to alert her not to weight herself in order to break a destructive habit. She says the app reminds her that her worth is not her weight. 

Self-Care Resources

It’s helpful to have reminders to do things that support taking care of yourself, and getting rewarded for it is the icing on the cake. These are a few game-like apps that focus on self-care. None of the apps are a substitute for mental health care provided by a professional.   

  • Aloe Bud: Choose areas of self-care you want to focus on including staying hydrated, reaching out to loved ones, breathing exercises, medication reminders, and more. A journaling component promotes expression of emotions to lessen stress.  
  • Amaru: For those who enjoy managing their own self-care while caring for a virtual pet, Amaru provides users with the opportunity to engage in customizable goal setting, mindfulness exercises, and journaling in a guided manner. The app is designed to help you focus better in the present and build strength to better manage anxiety, stress, and depression.  
  • Finch: Take care of yourself while you take care of your pet Finch. By customizing goals for yourself and completing them, you are rewarded with stones that you can then use to customize your finch’s body, wardrobe, home, and when your finch becomes an adult, you can even travel all around the world. The app includes meditation sessions, breathing exercises for different purposes, exercises with videos, and inspirational quotes when you check in on your bird. 
  • SuperBetter: This app helps you to build personal resilience, stay strong, get motivated, and be optimistic if faced with tough challenges. Boost your mood, find solutions to problems, and make allies in this game-like setting. When you sign up, you can choose to focus on anxiety, chronic pain, depression, healthy eating, stress, energy, or several other unique choices. 

Meditation apps like Calm, Insight Timer, and Meditate Me are also beneficial in helping to improve sleep while reducing anxiety and stress. Read more about meditation here 

Track Your Symptoms with ArthritisPower

Join CreakyJoints’ patient-centered research registry and track symptoms like depression, fatigue, pain interference, and sleep. Using your data to look for trends can help you make decisions about seeking additional support from a health care provider.  Learn more and sign up here.

Hear from Other Patients 

RA Patient Perspectives videos are available to provide insight directly from patients about living with RA and dealing with a variety of issues including mental health. You can view these resources here.   

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