Nerves are normal for a college freshman. The entire idea of leaving home for somewhere completely new is anxiety-inducing under normal circumstances. However, these nerves are usually tinged with excitement and glee; there’s something liberating about going off to school. But this year, my first year at UO, I wasn’t operating under normal circumstances, and those nerves never went away.
I decided to start using Nod during my spring term at UO. Four of my six on-campus friends left for spring term and I was intimidated by the thought of starting my social life from scratch. Initially, I set out to try Nod for a month to deal with the anxiety I’ve faced since starting college. But even though I’ve completed most of the checklists, I still want to keep the app around; Nod has been much more helpful than I originally anticipated.
Nod’s developers, Colorado State University and Grit Digital Health interviewed UO Counseling in 2018 when they were in the early stages of developing the app. The creators of Nod worked with UO Counseling to get insight into what feeling isolated is like as a young adult so that they could build the best app possible. “We were just really excited,” said Kate Stoysich, a health promotions specialist at UO. “There aren’t many tools out there to help with combating loneliness at college.”
Nod’s arrival at UO during COVID-19 was not an accident. UO is one of Nod’s three pilot campuses because of all the research UO staff have done for and with Nod. Stoysich explained that Dr. Jennifer Pfifer, a professor at UO, did a pilot study for Nod and that Kerry Frazee, the director of prevention services at UO, was involved in the app’s development, as well. “I think more people are aware of their mental health right now,” Stoysich said. “But it’s always been an issue.”
My goal when I downloaded Nod was to make a new friend with similar interests as me. When I created my account, I ranked the five provided goals (getting past small talk, feeling more confident, expanding my social circle, connecting over shared interests and building my network) from most important to least. For me, connecting over shared interests and expanding my social circle were tied for first. Lists of ideas and tasks to accomplish your goals appeared at the top of the home page, and when I scrolled down there were recommended ideas and a self-check-in.
The self-check-in part of the app allows users to set their mood and follows that up with short activities to improve the mood of the user or encourage them to be grateful for what they’re experiencing. The activities provided include guided meditations, journaling prompts and phone exercises. The phone exercises include small practices like flipping a turtle over or making a ripple in a pond by tapping on the phone screen. Although they might seem corny, when I was down in the dumps these exercises genuinely improved my mood. I found the guided meditations to be the most helpful because they soothed my anxiety.
“One piece of feedback that I’ve heard from my students that work with Nod is that the app doesn’t have the aspect of connecting to others at the university,” Stoysich said. “They wish it had that.”
I struggled with this aspect of Nod as well. Stoysich described a hypothetical add-on to Nod that would include usernames and help students connect to each other. Although Nod provided me with both online and virtual tips to make friends, it didn’t bridge the gap between Zoom class and in-person hangouts like I assumed it would. This is the main downside of the app from a user perspective: Nod didn’t make friends for me. I had to be the one to reach out.
Stoysich touched on another struggle of Nod from the administrative side. “Once students downloaded it, we weren’t able to check in with them really,” she said. She said that this was the downside to using Nod, but a pro of the app is its accessibility. “So many people can just access it whenever they need it or want it,” Stoysich said.
Stoysich recommends the app for those who haven’t found their community at UO, but I would recommend it more for those who struggle with anxiety. Although I downloaded Nod to find friends, that wasn’t what I took away from it. As helpful as the social tips Nod gave me were, I always had to make a move beyond the app if I wanted to meet up with someone. However, the guided meditations and journaling exercises helped ground me when I was feeling anxious. I found the part of the app that focused on internal work far more helpful than social tips because I was the only person I needed to complete the tasks.
I would recommend Nod for college students struggling with anxiety. All year I’ve been wondering if my first-year experience was fun enough or if I was spending my time correctly. Nod has helped soothe those anxieties. The process of using Nod has been genuinely fun and de-stressing, and that’s more than I ever thought I would get from an app.