My Personal Zen

iPhone Screenshot 1

To follow up on my posts about gamifying mental health, I’m excited to announce that Personal Zen, my science-based (but still fun) stress-reduction game, is ready to share with the world! It’s free in the App Store, so please download it and check it out.

Research from my lab supports its efficacy to prevent and reduce stress and anxiety. Yet, as a game, it’s a beta version and our goal is to get any and all feedback to make it more fun, user-friendly, and effective. So please try it and let me know what you think (either via this blog or the app, which has a “send feedback” button in the menu).

My larger goal is to develop a suite of mobile games for health based on sound scientific principles. As we increasingly curate our own emotional and mental wellness, I think it’s crucial that we have scientifically-supported options to chose among. Because stress reduction is key to wellness, that’s where I’m starting with Personal Zen.

Here’s how it works (as I wrote in the App Store): When we get anxious or stressed, we pay too much attention to the negatives and have less ability to see the positives in life. These habits of attention reduce our ability to cope effectively with stress and can create a vicious cycle of anxiety. Personal Zen helps to short-circuit these habits and frees you up to develop a more flexible and positive focus. You can reduce your stress and anxiety in as little as one sitting, and the more you play, the more you strengthen well-being and vaccinate yourself against the negative effects of stress.

Essentially, the app works by helping people build new habits of paying attention to the world. But building new habits takes some practice, so we recommend spending time with it every week. I love using it on the NYC subways, and it’s truly “snackable” in that using it a few minutes at a time reaps benefits.

If you’re interested in any of the scientific background on the app, I’m happy to share both specific take-home messages and data.

23 thoughts on “My Personal Zen

      1. It’s been awhile since you said it’s “coming soon.” I’m just wondering if there is a timetable. I so need this on my phone!! 🙂

      2. The app coming soon? It’s there on the app store under Personal Zen. It’s iOS only so maybe you mean when Android is coming? Sorry for the delay! We’re working on it but the app is really meant for research purposes and we don’t have a ton of resources to create the Android version.

  1. Am interested in this – not just as a user, but also as a software developer – … but being a PC guy of 30 years plus, I am prejudiced against Apple; so hoping for support for Android, WindowsPhone, or possibly other platforms!

    1. Thanks for your interest! It was just a matter of resources in terms of being OS-centric right now. Our goal is to get user feedback on the app, refine it, and then release it in a bigger way for everyone. I will keep everyone posted.

    1. Me, too! We’re working on it but want to get user feedback on the app, refine it, and then release it in a bigger way for everyone. Thanks for your interest. I will keep everyone posted.

  2. Are you collecting player’s performance data on the App? And have you written up on the efficacy of this App anywhere? I may consider using it with some clients if it is evidence-based.

    1. Yes, we’ll get basic performance data from users.

      We have a couple studies completed – which we presented at the Association for Psychological Science (APS) conference and which is now a manuscript under review. You can see a video of my student presenting the results in brief at APS: We also have a neurophysiology study under way that should be completed in another month or so, along with four other studies with clinical populations in collaboration with my colleagues at UC Davis and at Weill Cornell Medical College in NYC (including anxious children and slightly anxious pregnant women – and honestly, having been pregnant a couple times myself, what pregnant woman isn’t a little stressed? :-)).

      We are targeting this app for the “worried well” – moderately anxious adults – but we are also testing it in adult and child clinical groups; and, importantly, the psychology protocol upon which the app is based, Attention Bias Modification, has demonstrated efficacy with a range of clinically anxious groups.

      I’d be happy to share the poster with you which includes data analyses and results. We’re hoping the publication is out in a few months after peer review, with the neurophysiology study to follow soon after. If you’d like to email me offline I can send results to you.

    1. No, unfortunately it’s only mobile. The interface is swiping on a touch-screen, so we would need a new interface. As we hopefully develop towards having a suite of games that people can choose among, having PC versions will be key. Of course, the psychology task upon which the app is based is administered on the PC. Many folks might prefer that. Thanks!

  3. Don’t you feel that this is an incredibly cavalier thing to be proposing, that we all just ‘by habit’ want to act as we experience games? I hope it helps – these and similar things help me – but over the whole of ‘mental health’?! What are your thoughts? Most of these comments are on the android/pc gap!

    1. I’m not sure why you think this is cavalier. I’m not proposing that every mental health problem can benefit from this approach, particularly some of the very debilitating mental illnesses; but what if many problems can benefit? Why not pursue it, with good research backing? Also, if we know stress exacerbates most mental health problems, it seems like a good idea to me to make stress reduction tools widely available – whether these are apps, psychoeducation materials, yoga, etc,….

  4. Yes, I’m happy to think of all that going on. It hasn’t been a traditional cure so I hope it gains some practitioners. Many trauma and stress recovery models try hard to understand a past event, and return the patient to the state they once knew and doctors recognise; maybe with this generation playing games more than ever, they will be a more important part.

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