Strategically Virtual: Offering Wellness Activities in a Virtual Environment
by Amanda Bombino and Liana Volpe
The COVID-19 global pandemic has presented unprecedented and extraordinary challenges throughout this past year and has had a particularly harsh impact on mental health and well-being. Historically, the upheaval, uncertainty, and stress caused by economic downturns has resulted in poorer mental health outcomes, a trend that holds true for the ongoing pandemic. According to the recently released National Center for Health Statistics’ Household Pulse Survey, approximately 37% of surveyed Americans noted an increase in anxiety and depression symptoms within a seven-day period in December 2020. These emotional and well-being challenges are felt by all, but are exacerbated for those who have lost their jobs and have been searching for their next employment opportunity for some time. Poor mental and emotional health can make job search more difficult and addressing emotional well-being is critical to conducting an effective job search.
As workforce agencies and community organizations continue to provide support to job seekers, they should consider ways to include access to mental health and well-being services as a key part of their service delivery. Today, there are an array of websites, apps, chatbots, and online programs that offer a variety of activities to support well-being.
Community-based organizations such as public libraries have stepped up to offer wellness services to patrons throughout the pandemic. This new and/or expanded programming often includes wellness-centered events, mental health supports, physical health programming, and dedicated space for individuals to meet virtually and experience connection and belonging. Below are a few examples of wellness programming being offered in New Jersey public libraries:
> Mental health webinars with licensed professionals;
> Support groups for parents, caregivers, and foreign residents;
> Physical health classes, such as chair yoga and meditation sessions;
> Community entertainment, such as virtual live music, happy hours, and trivia games;
> Recreational activities like book clubs, knit & crochet circles, and chess matches; and
> Community enrichment programming, such as webinars on topics like local history, gardening, and creative writing.
Similar wellness programming can also be observed in faith-based organizations, community groups, nonprofit organizations, and more. While community-based institutions, such as the public libraries, have gone above and beyond to adapt and amplify their wellness services, additional well-being supports can be offered via virtual platforms and services. Utilizing these dedicated resources could strategically expand the reach for wellness services and lessen the burden placed on individual institutions or frontline staff, such as librarians, to develop and implement programming.
Service providers can consider how they may offer the following wellness services to customers or refer customers to engage with these services privately. Strategically engaging with these services could offer a much needed dimension of service to customers in search of holistic help. Going forward, encouraging mental health and well-being care could become standardized practice. Readers should note that the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development is not endorsing any of these proprietary products.
Mind Ease is a mobile app and website that offers scientifically proven exercises to relieve stress and anxiety in under 10 minutes. The app is tailored to respond to users’ specific needs, providing a wide variety of exercises, such as writing, reflecting, making choices, reading, listening, and doing actions to reach a calmer state of mind. Mind Ease offers an insights page so that users may understand which exercises work best for them.
Mind Ease Lite
> Features: Press “Calm Me” for one short exercise designed to relieve stress and anxiety. Users can access one 10-minute exercise per day.
> Cost: Free.
Mind Ease Premium
> Features: The premium subscription unlocks all Calm Me content for users to access at any time on any device. Unlock all Explore activities for more tools to understand and reduce anxiety and stress in the long term. Users also have the ability to track progress and compare the effectiveness of exercises to gain clarity on what works best for them.
> Cost: Monthly membership: $5.99 per month. Annual membership: $34.99 per year.
Headspace is a mobile app that provides guided meditations for a variety of needs (sleep, waking up, focusing, de-stress, etc.) and curated articles on different topics (e.g., election anxiety, remote work stress, etc.). The content on Headspace is supported by scientific research from institutions such as New York University and Stanford University. The benefit of this service is that it can be accessed by a smartphone, with no computers or other technological devices needed.
Headspace prioritizes the privacy and security of users’ personal data. Users are able to safeguard access to personal data, as well as manage privacy settings on their accounts. Users have full control over these preferences and can opt in or out of these activities.
Headspace “Basics Course”
> Features: 3- to 10-minute beginner’s meditation course with access to a limited number of other courses in the app’s library.
> Cost: Free.
> Features: Full library with themed articles in four categories: meditation, sleep, stress, and mindfulness. A new meditation is available every day. Provides sleep sounds and bedtime exercises.
> Cost: An annual membership is $69.99 per year with the first two weeks free. A monthly membership is $12.99 per month, with the first week free.
Ten Percent Happier
Ten Percent Happier is a mobile app based on the book Ten Percent Happier by Dan Harris, a journalist at ABC News. This service includes beginner’s meditation sessions led by wellness professionals and podcast episodes about mindfulness, stress management, and more. In addition, the app’s premium membership offers personal coaching for users.
Ten Percent Happier values the privacy and protection of its users’ personal data. Administrators will ask for users’ consent prior to sharing any user information. The app offers an effective way to opt out of its use of personal data for purposes other than membership registration.
> Features: Learn the basics, statistics and performance tracking, and daily reminders.
> Cost: Free.
> Features: Learn the basics, statistics and performance tracking, daily reminders, more than 350 guided meditations, “Top of Mind” meditation of the day, sleep meditations, personal coaching, practical teachings, built-in timer, and option to listen offline.
> Cost: $99 per year after seven-day free trial.
Shine is a mobile app that allows users to develop a daily self-care ritual with four features: meditate, connect, reflect, and go deeper. The app’s features include daily five-minute meditations, an online forum for members, mood tracking and content recommendations, as well as a library of over 800 meditations created by community members and administrators.
Shine’s privacy assurance details that the company safeguards user information and does not sell or share user information to non-affiliated third parties. Employees are required to protect personal data and keep it confidential, as well as organizations or persons that represent or assist Shine.
> Features: Access to over 800 meditations, calming sounds, and sleep stories; a daily mood journal; a private community for real-time support and advice; and recommended content based on the user’s mood.
> Cost: $53.99 per year, with a seven-day free trial available.
HabitMinder is a mobile app that helps users form and develop healthier habits through a tracking feature, as well as keep users accountable. For example, the app allows users to track sleep time, water intake, relaxation time, and more. HabitMinder can also remind users to keep up with their habits, such as going to the gym or meditating.
User data are collected to allow HabitMinder to provide its services, as well as for infrastructure monitoring, handling activity data, and contacting the user. Users have the right, at any time, to know whether their personal data has been stored and can consult the data controller to learn about their contents and origin.
Home Screen: Track and see progress on one screen.
Customizations: Each habit is fully customizable. Set goals, type of habit, color, icon, and more.
Sessions: Each habit detail screen has a custom-built sessions screen that helps users complete their habits.
Statistics: Track how users perform in each area, and see completion rates, streaks, and detailed statistics.
Predefined habits: More than 50 predefined habit ideas are available for users to select.
Apple Watch: HabitMinder supports Apple Watch; users can quickly log in habits via the Apple Watch app.
> Cost: Free.
General wellness services, as well as those particularly geared toward job seekers, may be needed for the foreseeable future. For community-based organizations and frontline service providers, assuming the responsibility of delivering wellness services can place additional burdens on staff who may already be stretched too thin or do not feel they have the expertise to offer services in this area. In these circumstances, service providers can consider how they may strategically incorporate or refer individuals to third-party applications and services to fill the void in specialized wellness services. Mental health and wellness are foundational to job seekers being able to execute the many facets of job search and ultimately find their next career opportunity in these difficult times.
Amanda Bombino is a research intern and Liana Volpe is a Research Project Coordinator at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.
In the Suddenly Virtual series, the Heldrich Center examined how the public workforce system had adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing case management, training, and job search services in an online environment. The Strategically Virtual series builds on this work, outlining how the public workforce system can use technology and community partnerships more effectively to expand services, address job seeker mental and emotional well-being, and ensure that a broader range of the public is able to access supports during a time of social distancing and massive job loss. The Strategically Virtual series is producing issue briefs, Medium blog posts, practical guides, and more. View all of the Strategically Virtual blog posts.