Get ‘Appy: A Review of The ActCompanion App
In the past when clients have asked me for App-y recommendations for when they’re struggling with overpowering emotions or challenging situations, or maybe just to bring some mindfulness practice into their day-to-day, I’ve usually recommended the market leader, which is Headspace.
Headspace is the market leader for a reason because it’s great, but I consider its remit to be something like: “Here’s a lovely thing you can use in order to explore mindfulness and meditation”. It isn’t really designed to be used as a tool to sync and complement a coherent psychotherapeutic/
So the app I’m going to enthuse about to you below is a different beast, and a really impressive one at that and for that.
What I’d like to do is try and share what the guiding principles behind the app are. These are all well-researched and up-to-date psychological tools based on timeless but also very modern notions of why and how we suffer as human creatures. I do think it’s important to have a shared understanding of that when we’re feeling crap, and also before we use a particular app or do a particular exercise or guided meditation from an app or with a therapist. Some vague promise or premise along the lines of “this works for me”, or “I read about it somewhere and thought this could work for you” doesn’t fully cut the mustard as far as I’m concerned.
Let me just state before I launch into my hard-sell below (and yes, I’m going to genuinely give you the hard-sell because I think this app deserves the kind of evangelical marketing that I’m about to present): I don’t get a single penny from trying to get you to buy this thing. I don’t personally know its developers (Russ Harris and Anthony Berrick) although I do admire and like them as people and clinicians. I’m just really, really into this app, and like a small child who has just got acquainted with the delights of Smarties, or Roller Skating, I’m excited to tell you why. I’ve even drawn a couple of diagrams to see if I can get my points across with the most impact.
THE HARD SELL (IF THIS GETS TOO WORDY, SKIP AHEAD TO THE SOFT-SELL SECTION RIGHT AT THE END OF THIS POST)
When you or I are feeling crap/suffering in some way, what it is actually going on in our word-machine-spewing brains that might be contributing to this? Here’s a picture of my mind (and I would suspect at some level your mind too?) when I’m feeling crap.
Let me quickly try and explain the above diagram.
Because our brains are designed to keep us safe and solve problems rather than make us “happy”, they sometimes go into a compulsive problem-solving mode which involves lots of inner-chatter, and word-spewing “loopiness”. When they get like this they quite quickly have the ability to drive us a bit loopy too. I’m going to call this experience “suffering”, but we might also use the more colloquial term here and call it “feeling crap” because that’s how feeling crap feels to me: crappy.
If you prefer, you can replace the word “suffering” or “crap” with: feeling unhappy, feeling desperate, feeling out of control, feeling hopeless, feeling anxious, feeling depressed, feeling [whatever feeling you don’t like] – basically, that whole slippery mess of human pain and suffering we sometimes step or skid into.
Digging deeper into the psychological mechanisms of our minds, if you look at the picture above, it appears that there are three factors or “layers” to this crap. Again, these are not “errors” of thinking or “problems” with your brain per se. Some highly sensitive brains are perhaps more predisposed to escalate the size of the BAD (Blinkered, Autopilot, Disconnected) Crap more than other brains, just like German Shepherd poop towers over Bichon Frise poop. But for the most part, this is just how your average human brain processes stuff at certain times, or even habitually or compulsively does it.
WHY DOES THIS FEEL CRAP? PERHAPS BECAUSE IT’S:
1. BLINKERED (cf. pic) to the world around us and our own internal experiences. This is because the human brain has the tendency to divide all our thoughts, urges, memories, body-sensations, feelings into “good” and “bad”. It then avoids (GO AWAY!), as best it can all the “bad” stuff, ignores the neutral stuff, and chases after as much “good” stuff as it can. This sometimes works, but often brings with it all sorts of other complications and more suffering. We may even experience FUSION: becoming completely and utterly entangled with our thoughts, urges, memories, body-sensations, and feelings, so that it sometimes seems as if we genuinely can’t see any way “out of” or “behind” or “through” them.
2. AUTOPILOT. This involves a fair amount of going over and over and over in our heads the things we’re struggling with: only being able to see/feel/listen to our whirring inner-chatter, a bit like a BROKEN-RECORD. We can also become fused and trapped in the “Why?” of our situations, not seeing the wood for the trees, if you like. If you look at the picture above, I’ve labelled this as RIGI-M(OD)E. This is because it’s another natural brain “mode”, and so really not our fault at all. But when we’re experiencing it, we become so fused with this state, that it becomes RIGI-ME. It feels as if we are stuck in this situation/identity and will never ever break free of it.
3. DISCONNECTED, mainly from the good stuff in our lives. In these states, we often lose touch with all those things that we could be be doing more of in order to put us in contact with our core values (DISCONNECTED FROM YOUR CORE VALUES in the pic). This understandably could lead us to becoming disconnected from “DOING OUR SHIT”: doing all the things that are most meaningful and important to us. Instead we might end up doing stuff that we think will “make us happy”, or that other people/marketing forces (family, friends, social media) proclaims “will indeed, 100% make us happy” but often fails to do so.
So that’s the challenge generally speaking, but especially when we’re feeling crap. Hopefully, some of our work in therapy, and even more importantly the work you do between sessions with apps and other skilful means, all goes to help in terms of dealing with the wordy “crap” that our brains are designed to serve us multiple helpings of on a daily basis, and that cause all of us so much suffering at times!
WHAT HAS THIS GOT TO DO WITH THE ACTCOMPANION APP?
As far as I can make out, this app is designed to target those three “crappy” layers of the human brain and our experience. In fact, when you download it, you’ll see that the app’s own three layers (BE PRESENT, OPEN UP, DO WHAT MATTERS) map onto the diagram below, which I’m going to call RAD (Receptive, Aware, Devoted) Crap!
RAD, because these are not only radical, maybe even counter-intuitively radical practices, but more importantly because they are the most skillful and helpful (evidence-based) things to do for ourselves if we’re interested in transforming the suffering of our BAD crap into a more meaningful and value-driven RADness.
Don’t take my word for this, please. As with everything we do in our sessions, only you can be the final arbiter of whether the BAD Crap starts shifting into some of that more RAD doo-doo. Here’s a visual image of RAD crap drawn just for you:
THIS IS WHERE THE APP DELIVERS IN THREE RAD WAYS:
1. You can practise being RECEPTIVE (on the app, this is called “OPEN UP”): here you will find exercises to help you make room for difficult thoughts and feelings and free yourself up to focus on your actions instead. These practices (guided meditations and simple question and answer exercises) help you with the process of “WEL-COMING” (as in “OK [sigh], well come on then!”, as well as “Good to see you, welcome!”) tricky emotions and thoughts: increasing our willingness to tolerate those aspects of being human that are painful and difficult. There are also DEFUSION practices and exercise here to help us when we’re “stuck” in a particular mode.
2. You can practise being AWARE (on the app, this is called “BE PRESENT”): these are simple techniques that we can use to centre yourself and connect to your environment. These involve mindfulness practices/guided meditations (BEING PRESENT) as well as practising a more FLEXI-M(OD)E approach to life’s challenges, trying to see things from different, and hopefully more helpful angles.
3. You can practise being DEVOTED to something (on the app this is called “DO WHAT MATTERS”): these exercises help you to clarify your core values and take action towards meaningful goals. I’ve deliberately used a somewhat “spiritual” word here. Not because the valued actions need to be religious or spiritual per se. One can be devoted to one’s family, or to a creative pursuit, or a football team. But I do think this idea of choosing something important in our lives to “set apart by a vow” (the origins of the word “devoted”) are key to living life to the fullest. Understandably, the focus here is on YOUR CORE VALUES as well as, with small steps, beginning to take committed action in the direction of those values, which I prefer to call “DOING YOUR SHIT” 🙂
And that’s it. Hard sell over.
One last thing. But a massive extra plus. There’s also a special CRISIS TOOL on the app which is designed to help you regather yourself when you have been hit by a crisis, or are completely FUSED and overwhelmed by a particular feeling or thought or memory. It’s the equivalent of one of those BREAK GLASS! PRESS HERE! buttons you see on fire alarms. And it’s great.
The ActCompanion App is a really, really well-thought out app that helps target the three main brain glitches that contribute to some of our more (unnecessary) suffering, as opposed to the discomfort and distress of unavoidable pain (physical/emotional) that we all experience as living creatures.
I hope you’ll at least give it a go for a month (£2), or maybe just go whole hog and fork out the tenner for an unlimited use of the app. If you do go for the one month option, don’t do what I did and press the UNSUBSCRIBE button, thinking that it’s an ongoing subscription which needs to be cancelled in case they charge you again on a recurring basis. That will frustratingly cancel your current month’s subscription – the only bug in this otherwise amazing and lovely thing.
I really do think you’ll get a lot from it. It’s also a great addition to have if you’re thinking “Apart from our sessions, and the “consolidation work” I commit to doing for myself, what else can I be doing on a daily basis to put into practice some of the stuff we talk about?”.
Or: “OK, the work we do in sessions is great. But what about when I’m on the tube feeling panicky and upset about something and all the things we’ve talked about and practised in the past don’t seem to be available to me at that moment?”. BOOM! Now you have something you can use. 🙂
Having road-tested the app for the last week on some fairly bumpy life-terrains, I think it delivers.
You can find out more about the ActCompanion app by going to this website, or just putting “ActCompanion” into the Apple App Store or Google Play.