For iPhone and Android (free; Android version pending)
First, let's get something straight: concussions are miserable. Despite having edited countless stories on traumatic brain injury, I never fully grasped how painful, frustrating and debilitating the recovery from a concussion can be. One rollerblading accident later, I'm singing a new tune: for nearly six weeks, I have been plagued by persistent headaches, fatigue, dizziness and difficulty concentrating. Lucky for me, just before my accident, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a smartphone app called Concussion Coach to help manage these symptoms. (The app was developed in collaboration with the department's National Center for PTSD; the team was led by Julia Hoffman.)
Concussion Coach was designed with military veterans in mind because many soldiers suffer brain injuries from blasts or physical trauma. The app is useful to anyone who suspects they might have a concussion, however; it is packed with information about diagnoses and symptoms to help patients understand what their brain is going through and, more important, describe their symptoms accurately to their doctor. An easy-to-use, surveylike symptom tracker helps to log trends over time.
By far the best and most surprising part of the app, however, is the coach. That's what I call her, anyway. Her calm, warm voice is hidden behind the Manage This Moment tab, which aims to help relieve symptoms in real time. You simply choose what is bothering you—headache? dizziness? irritability? worries?—and the app suggests a particular exercise that targets the symptom. Click “start,” and the coach's tranquil voice guides you through a five- to 10-minute regimen of soothing mental or physical exercises. The techniques, such as muscle relaxation, deep breathing and emotional acceptance therapy, are based on well-established psychotherapeutic strategies.
Incredibly, most of these exercises work. The first time I tried one for a killer headache—turning to the app in desperation after weeks of skeptical avoidance—I was so relieved to find my pain lessened at the end of the mindfulness regimen that I cried. Out the window flew my plans to write a snarky review pointing out the irony of offering smartphone-based therapy to people whose condition often makes it painful to look at glowing screens; a few seconds of seasickness as I navigate to the coach is a small price to pay for sweet relief. Even when I am no longer recovering from a concussion, I will still open this app when I have a headache or feel stressed or sad. The techniques within are that powerful—and they speak to the potential of guided home remedies for all kinds of mental maladies. The future of therapy has arrived.