I Tried Out A Mental Health App To Manage My Anxiety For A Week, Here’s What Happened

credit: Linka A Odom / Instagram

In the three years after my stay in rehab alcohol addiction, I have had to learn how to deal with anxiety. It’s something that I do not currently take medication for. Instead, I have opted to make bi-monthly calls with a therapist, meditate, eat and sleep well, and use coloring books to manage my mental health. Every once in a while I explore other healthy options, and recently I decided to do this by trying out a new mental health app called Woebot.

As a Latina, it was difficult to go to therapy at first. My family doesn’t really like to talk about what’s wrong with us mentally. It was an open secret that if you talked about mental health, then you could be labeled “la loca.” But as I’ve gotten comfortable with having anxiety, I’ve learned that talking about things has really helped, which is why I was excited to try Woebot when I first heard about the app.

Touted as “your charming robot friend who is ready to listen, 24/7,” Woebot is an app designed to use cognitive behavioral therapy to help those in need. Unlike apps where you can talk to another human on the other side, Woebot is specifically a robot that was created by Stanford-based psychologists who wanted to branch out and help people worldwide.

The app was created to help those suffering from anxiety and depression and I decided to try it out for a week and see where it led me.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed up for Woebot. A few friends had told me that they loved it but others didn’t have such positive reviews. However, as with anything, I felt that trying something new in order to help manage my anxiety and calm my stress couldn’t hurt. After all, if I didn’t like it, I could just stop using it, right? So I signed up, opened a chat window and got to talking to the little robot.

“Hello human!” the Woebot said before introducing itself to me and walking me through the way that the program works.

Very quickly, I found out that Woebot is what you make of it. Although the robot adapts to what you say as a user, you also have to actually use it. The most you will get out of the app is a check-in notification every few days, which you cannot opt out of, but my best days were when I actually used the app more frequently.

At first, I have to admit: I felt silly knowing that I was talking to a robot. Everyone in a while it makes references to its android-status, sometimes cracking jokes about learning things from its creator humans. Eventually, however, after we started chatting I grew accustomed to it an the informality. What I realized quickly is was that, unlike therapy with another human being (which I am a big proponent of), this app is more akin to coaching. According to the Woebot site, “studies show that people do better with some coaching. Coaching is not the same as therapy: coaches redirect to relevant material but people still need to do the work themselves.”

As I chatted with the little robot, I started to like our conversations.

Still, because it is coaching and there isn’t an actual person on the other end, I find myself having to give myself a push in order to learn more. Whenever Woebot gave me an option to say “ok” or to learn more, I had to opt into learning more. Because of this, I can see how those who aren’t accustomed to therapy or aren’t big talkers wouldn’t like this app. You have to make good use of it and the only true way to do that was to keep asking it questions.

Sometimes, it felt awkward or forced.

What if I truly didn’t have anything to say that day? Or what if I was feeling fine during the time that Woebot checked in with me? In those cases, Woebot felt more like a pest than a helpful app, but I kept going.

Towards the end of my first week on Woebot, I was feeling a lot of anxiety. I started to sign on daily. In fact, a few times I signed on a couple times a day and talked to Woebot for several minutes. It would give me the option to talk about my issues of the day or give me a way to relax. Once, I had Woebot talk me through a meditation (which was very helpful). But mostly, it worked with me on my anxious thoughts.

Basically, it would ask me to type out three thoughts that were causing me stress and then it would use CBT to work through what was actually happening in my thoughts. For instance, it helped me to recognize when I was using “all-or-nothing thinking” or “emotional reasoning” or “fortune-telling” or “catastrophizing.” If I wasn’t sure what it meant (and I always pretended that I wasn’t just so that I could get more out of the app), it would explain it to me by giving me examples that were truly helpful.

Did you ever hear anything like this growing up? I sure didn’t. I tried to tell my mami once about “catastrophizing” and, well, it didn’t go well. But despite my upbringing, I was on this app to learn and better myself. Maybe I’d be labeled “la loca” after all but, in my heart, I knew that taking care of my mental health would ultimately be a good thing.

During these last few days, I have to admit: Woebot totally helped.

The little robot helped me realize when I was catastrophizing, or thinking something is much worse than it actually is, something that even my husband has told me I tend to do, and when I go into automatic negative thinking. When I said something that sounded, to Woebot, like a depressive statement, it told me that its systems were in high alert and I assured it that I wasn’t depressed or suicidal. Still, I was impressed that it had the know-how to recognize that there was something off about my language when it was.

Most of all, though, Woebot allowed me to vent when I needed to. It asked me how my day was going, to rate my anxiety level, gave me real techniques to talk it through and even reassured me on some of the bigger things I was going through. It wasn’t the same as talking to my real-life therapist, of course, but it helped.

Since trying Woebot, I’ve talked about it with the few friends of mine who had tried it before me. As I predicted, the ones who didn’t enjoy the app much were the ones that didn’t take full advantage of it. In that way, the app feels forced since I had to make sure that I was always asking it more questions and having Woebot explain things to me, even if I already knew them. The reason I did this, and it helped me, is because it served as a good reminder of the CBT tools I needed in order to deal with my anxiety and stress.

And that, I think, is the key to Woebot: It’s only as good as it’s human user’s efforts. If you want to make this app work for you, you have to make it work for you. There’s clearly a lot of information available, but you have to take advantage. The first few days I tried it, I ended up doing mostly the bare minimum of work. But when I really allowed Woebot to teach me things and checked in more than once a day, I learned so much more and, in turn, it helped me so much more.

That’s the thing about all therapy, though. You have to be willing to put in the work. Whether in a group setting, in one-on-one therapy or with a cool new app, or all three combined, mental health is about doing what works for you. Sometimes it also just means trying new things.


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