Almost 1 in 5 U.S. adults must deal with an anxiety disorder at any given moment, according to the NIH. That’s similar to the World Health Organization estimates of prevalence of anxiety in Europe. What if an app could help with this issue?
Enter “Self-help Anxiety Management”, or SAM, a freely-available anxiety app created by the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol). This app, reviewed on Android but also available on iOS, provides tools to track one’s anxiety, techniques to manage anxiety, and even access social support from fellow anxiety sufferers. But does it do enough?
The best part of this anxiety app is its numerous sections detailing techniques to manage anxiety in a simple, and often interactive, way. No longer must patients read long essays in self-help books! They can go straight to therapeutic activities, such as breathing exercises and guided imagery.
However, the app does not cite the source of specific techniques. The app’s content seems to have been assembled based on their own clinical experiences. Nevertheless, the app is backed by a UK-based university psychology department at UWE Bristol, providing it a greater degree of legitimacy than other freely-available anxiety apps.
The app also allows you to save your favorite anxiety techniques for quicker access. However, there’s not much else in the way of personalization. For instance, the app has an interactive way of envisioning anxiety-inducing thoughts that you type out in clouds that float away. The problem is that the app doesn’t save these thoughts for later use.
Tracking anxiety seems simple enough with this app. The app provides a way for users to easily rank symptoms for the day with four questions, and chart them out day by day. Unfortunately, that’s too basic for clinically useful information. There are no reminders and no ways to correlate with medications you are taking. There are also no ways to annotate particular days with labels or events. This could have been an important source of detecting triggers for anxiety, or specific events, such as “giving a presentation.”
It’s also not quite clear — from a research-driven perspective — whether the particular questions the app asks are psychometrically valid measures of distress and anxiety, or whether they are sufficient. I could not find information or citations — apart from an app project and design document — how the app came up with these measures.
Finally, the app allows you to find “social support.” You can remain quite anonymous with the platform, as registering with personal information, such as your e-mail address, is entirely optional. There is no integration with Facebook, Twitter, or other social networks, which can be good or bad depending on your needs.
However, the social support functions are otherwise quite rudimentary: the app allows you to log in, read posts from other SAM app users, and write posts and replies. That’s it. There are some rather concerning posts (as can be seen in the screenshots) about self-injury. There’s no way to have threaded discussions. It’s quite literally a place for people to post, with not even the basic amenities found in most popular online forum software.
This anxiety app itself is made of pleasant pastel colors that are inviting. The interface, while not adopting standard UI conventions at all on either the iOS or Android platforms, is at least responsive with not much in the way of delays. The app also seems to work quite well with TalkBack accessibility for the blind and was able to read out buttons with no issues.
For more, Information about the app project and design is available. The SAM app has been featured on the National Health Service (NHS) UK website.
- Price is free, accessible on both iOS and Android, making this one of the few Android apps that we could recommend to our patients with diverse OS & phone preferences.
- Wealth of accessible, easy-to-read, interactive anxiety exercises.
- Pleasant UI
- Tracking is too basic to be useful and only correlates a few anxiety symptoms with days.
- Social support function is also too basic to be useful, with few ways of engaging users for the long term.
- Could use more personalization functions, incorporating outside data such as wearables data and EMR medication data
Overall, a good university effort: the app is a bargain for the price of free, and is best used as a source of anxiety reduction techniques for those suffering from anxiety. However, more could be done with its other functions for tracking and social support, as they are too simplistic to be clinically useful. And, it’s not quite clear how much of this is evidence-based.
- Overall Score
- User Interface
While it doesn’t use the standard OS interfaces, the app itself is calming and uses imagery well.
- Multimedia Usage
The app itself uses static images and otherwise is quite interactive. However, no movies, animations, or other diagrams were used, and at times I encountered large swaths of text.
The app is free.
- Real World Applicability
The app itself has a wealth of anxiety reduction techniques, including relaxed breathing and imagery.
- Available for DownloadAndroidiPhoneiPad