Boring, Small Things, That Made My Mental Illness Less Bad

apps apps appsBuying cheap or free apps for my smartphone. 

It took some work, and plenty of the apps were used for a few days or a week and then discarded as unhelpful or useless, but at a grand total of 99c spent across six or seven apps to find two gems (Self-Help Anxiety Management and Recovery Record) that massively improved my quality of life? Well worth it.

Sometimes the apps were mental illness specific, for anxiety or meal-tracking. But I also use Annoyster to send me random alarm reminders, (“Therapy is helpful and worth going to,” reads my most recent one. “Eating mindfully is a new habit I’m developing.” and “Have you had a glass of water recently?” have been previous alarms.) Fitocracy* to gamify exercising without obsessing over calories burned, and PepperPlate to make menus for the week.

Fidget rings and other fidget objects

Having something to play with or occupy your hands in conversation can help with dermatillomania, trichtillomania, nail biting, and a host of other nervous/anxious habits. Fidget/spinner rings are especially nice for professional situations–where you can’t pull out buckyballs or rubberbands, etc. A friend and I bought gorgeous, matching ones, and I’ve toyed with mine during interviews, therapy, and particularly boring lectures. Almost immediately after purchasing, I ended up with long enough fingernails to paint–I wasn’t biting or tearing at my nail beds constantly.

Even if you’re not the anxious type, I recommend them as a way to get respite in a conversation or interaction. More socially acceptable than looking at your phone, they give me something to focus on when I need a few seconds of space or distance. Here are some on Etsy, and cheaper variants on Amazon.

Though I haven’t used it personally, some friends use what I know as massage putty, but I’m sure the expensive stuff could be replaced with some cheap, dollar store putty. Build hand strength, make weird shapes, copy newsprint.  Rubik’s cubes are favorites of my friends, though I’ve never picked up the appeal.

Books, books, books

Books can add up in cost more than a phone app, but honestly, if a single book is cheaper in time and money than therapy….it’s well worth it. Though I’ve had access to free therapy for years now, books have been where I developed coping strategies, learned to recognize failure-mode patterns of thinking, and have me the words to explain what was going wrong in my head. And these haven’t been highly technical books–I’d just wander into the psychology section of a bookstore and find the ones that seemed to be less about spirituality and bad tropes and more about science, particularly ones that talked about coping strategies, evidence-based therapy, or didn’t rail against medication on the back cover.

Finding people with other mental illnesses. 

I actually don’t seek out people with eating disorders–it can put a real strain on me if we’re not at similar levels of recovery. But spending time around people who are used to having bad brain days that make socializing hard has taken a lot of the pressure of social interactions. I wasn’t trying to hide my coping mechanisms, and I got praise and reward for little victories (I ate a snack! I decided not to go to the gym today and felt good about it!) that wouldn’t mean much to a neurotypical observer.

*For over a year, I’ve encouraged friends and, well, strangers on the internet to use Fitocracy for their non-shamey system. Recently, the emails from the site have been all about weight loss and fat burning. I’ve solved this by disabling all emails, but the trend from site-for-people-who-want-to-feel-good-about-exercise to site-for-people-with-also-some-guilt is annoying. 


  1. HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr says

    Thank you for this. Some of the things that have helped me: stretching, which keeps me in my body and the present, and feels nice. ASMR videos, which I watched for the ASMR effects (, but also often feature really nice, comforting affirmations, and some of the people who make the videos have also been open about their struggles with depression and other mental illnesses. Doing my nails and makeup, the more fiddly and complicated the better. I’m good at it, and it’s distracting and requires all of my attention, and I’m left with a reminder that I am good at things.

  2. says

    Thank you for this!

    I figured out something in Jr. High that’s actually worked out well for me. Weirdly, I found out about it in Sunday School–for a craft, the teacher had us make our own stress balls. They’re actually super easy and cheap to make, and you can make them small enough to fit unobtrusively in your hand. You take a regular balloon, fit it inside another balloon, and then stuff the balloon with flour. Tie it off, and that’s it! It’s hard to break them, and if you do, they’re fairly easy to replace. (Only problem I had was when one got a leak and I didn’t realize until I stood up and had flour all down my shirt and pants. But that’s only happened once in like 15 years of using them.) They help me keep from fidgeting/picking in classes and meetings, and I’ve also found them useful for anxiety. They have various easy guides online–some use beans or rice, instead or in addition to flour, but I’ve found the flour stress balloons to be the easiest and the least difficult to break. Just throwing that one out there, too!

    Can’t wait to try out some of the apps! Annoyster sounds particularly wonderful! I’ve been using MyFitnessPal as my fitness/nutrition app…yeah, there is a lot of the site that can be triggering, and some places that advocate unsafe or unproven methods, but there are also a lot of communities for people with self-harm issues, people with mental illness, people with eating disorders, Health At Every Size groups…and it’s a lot like facebook, in that you can make friends, share progress, get updates on your friends, invite people to join various groups, whatever. Plus, it has the most comprehensive list of foods than any other program I’ve found.

    Do you know of a website/blog/article that lists/reviews apps that help people with mental illness? A place that does the same for physical disabilities would be quite useful, too. I’ve searched a few times and found a couple things that were helpful (and appreciate your links), but no place that really reviewed or recommended particular apps, so it was a lot of trial and error. And unfortunately, I don’t know if the apps over 2$ or so are any good, because I’m not willing to spend a whole lot of money on something that I know nothing about. If there isn’t, it’d be cool to crowdsource something like that. I think it could be a great resource…I find that apps are really underutilized.

    Oh, and I’d never heard of fidget rings before! Can’t wait to get one. What a brilliant idea.

    Thanks again! :)

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