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The Two Free Apps That Kept Me (Sort Of) Sane as a Healthcare Worker During the Pandemic

To say that 2020 was a difficult year is an understatement. I have been more fortunate than some in that I didn’t lose most of my income, I stayed healthy, I never worried about losing my housing, and, as far as I know, I never contracted the novel coronavirus. However, it has not been an easy year. My profession is prone to high turnover due to burn out – we tend to give too much without taking care of ourselves – and in the midst of a pandemic this rang all the truer. The constant go go go of helping others with their needs, combined with my anxiety and depression, made for some difficult days during the last 14 months.

I would like to first pause and state that, although I work in a healthcare facility, I am was in significantly less danger from contracting the novel coronavirus during the pandemic than many other healthcare workers. I cannot imagine the difficulty those who work in emergency rooms, on COVID-19 floors, and other such situations faced during the pandemic, especially in the beginning as we were still learning so much and adapting to the new knowledge about the virus and its transmission as it came to light.

Nevertheless, I do work in a healthcare facility which meant direct patient contact from March 2020 and onward. While our facility transitioned some of its employees to work from home full-time, my position and others with direct patient contact were transitioned to work from the clinic several days a week and from home the remaining days; the opportunity to work from home full-time was not an option for me. This meant that while other places of work were closing to protect their employees, I was heading into work. In the first week or so we didn’t have enough – or any – PPE so I was reusing an old surgical face mask I had on hand. After seeing me wear the mask for several days in a row my boss asked me to throw it out, explaining that I was creating more of a risk for myself by reusing it than going mask-less (this was very early in the pandemic and I would venture to guess she would retract that statement now if I asked about it). Without access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for the first several days I turned to my neighbor, who has a sewing machine and tends to be fairly crafty, to sew me a cloth mask to use for work. Fortunately our facility was able to secure surgical masks after a week or so, but at the very beginning we were in the same position as all other healthcare facilities around the world, clamoring for our portion of an under supply of PPE.

Furthermore, our company re-evaluated its finances in light of the decreased revenue the pandemic brought, leading to a handful of our employees being laid off. For some time it was unclear to myself and my co-workers whether our jobs were in jeopardy. Oh, and speaking of heading into work during the pandemic? I saw my commute time to work triple in length. So yes, you can say it was a somewhat stressful time.

Luckily for me a number of organizations recognized the stress healthcare workers were under during this time and offered various services to benefit us keep us semi-sane. While there were a number of wonderful organizations who helped various portions of the healthcare field, here are the two that I can say most concretely impacted my ability to function during the last 14 months.

Down Dog

Down Dog is a series of five workout/health applications that allow users to personalize each session to fit your needs. Down Dog offers yoga, barre, meditation, prenatal yoga, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions. Unfortunately not all five options are linked to one app, meaning if users want to do a barre exercise and then a meditation exercise they would have to download two separate apps on their phone. However, a singular subscription with Down Dog gives users access to all five apps listed above.

While they began offering their subscription free to healthcare workers fairly early in the pandemic, it wasn’t until summer 2020 when I finally realized how important physical movement was to my mental health. Pre-pandemic I had been a decently active person with the aim of improving and maintaining my physical health, but I never realized how much lack of activity negatively impacted my mental health until I was working from home several days a week and barely moving around my small studio apartment, much less breaking a sweat. My in-person Zumba classes had been cancelled along with all other in-person workout classes, and I was biking into work much less often, so I struggled to find a way to remain active while also having some sort of accountability and not making up my workout as I went along. Once I began using the HIIT and yoga apps from Down Dog I realized that, as someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, physical activity had been a tool in my mental health toolkit I had been using prior to the pandemic without even realizing it.

The initial offering for healthcare workers was a free subscription to all Down Dog services for a few months. However, as the pandemic extended much longer than most of us expected, Down Dog has periodically prolonged the free subscription period for healthcare workers. As of now my current free subscription is set to expire July 1, 2021. And although I doubt it will happen, I do hope they will extend the free subscription a bit longer past July 2021. The good news is it’s not too late to sign up for your free subscription if you’re a healthcare worker and take advantage of the last month or so of the subscription. They’ve also expanded access until July 1 to students and teachers.

[June 2021 update: Healthcare workers’ subscriptions have been extended to December 31, 2021!]

10% Happier

I first discovered the 10% Happier app about three years ago when it was recommended as a good meditation application to use. At the time I had heard of a number of influential individuals who meditated regularly and had read about some of meditation’s benefits, but was still very hesitant about the whole “touchy-feely sit on a cushion in India” thing. I started with Dan Harris’s book 10% Happier (the title of the book and the app comes from his repeated frustrations over how to explain why he was meditating to others – the explanation that seemed to make the most sense to friends and colleagues was when he blurted out that the act of meditating made him ten percent happier). His follow-up book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, seemed to be aptly titled for individuals like myself in mind.

I first tried a few other meditation apps, such as Calm and Headspace, but none seemed to work as well for me as 10% Happier eventually did. After eventually striking up the courage to try meditation I have meditated pretty regularly over the past three years for ten minutes a day, five days a week. I had even been a subscriber of the free version of 10% Happier for several years before March 2020 began [Edit: it seems 10% Happier has changed their pricing model over the years and I was grandfathered in to have access to their free version for an unlimited time; the free version is now only available for new subscribers in a 7-day trial format]. After the pandemic started the creators of the app came out with a free (for all – not just healthcare workers!) coronavirus sanity guide, as well as daily live meditation sessions for the first couple of months – in the beginning of the pandemic I used these as afternoon meditation sessions in addition to my morning meditations because, well, stress.

The full subscription of 10% Happier expands access to various meditations, talks, and sleep relaxations from a small limited amount in the free version to more than 350 options. Sadly it looks like the signup page for a free subscription for healthcare workers is no longer available as of this writing. Like Down Dog, as the pandemic has continued on so has the free subscription to 10% Happier, but my promotional subscription is now set to expire June 14, 2021. Be that as it may, at this time there is an offering for a free year-long subscription for the app to mental health providers [June 2021 update: it looks like this offer was only valid in May 2021, but there is currently a 40% off discount for mental health professionals].

So there you have it – my two tools to remain semi-sane over the past 14 months. How did you stay sane during the pandemic?

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