Wellness

I Tried An App That Let Me Vent To Strangers For A Week

These are my honest thoughts.

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I’m the type of person who needs to talk through my stresses the second they begin to cloud my mind. But now, in good news for the peeps in my inner circle who normally have to deal, an app, Hapi, exists for the sole purpose of letting you vent your worries anonymously to an active listener. Basically, the year-old Hapi app is a judgment-free sounding board that lets you freely work through your problems, serving as a sort of mood-boosting phone chat.

The goal of the service is to make users feel less stressed after their call, something that's especially of interest amid a global pandemic. “One of the daily challenges that we all face is not having a non-judgmental channel to freely express how we truly feel,” Hapi co-founder Yvonne Lin tells Bustle. “Sometimes you feel alone and you want someone to talk to. So we thought, why don’t we develop a product that allows you to connect with a caring stranger?” In light of the rising number of COVID-19 infections across the country, the app introduced "coronavirus" as a topic in the spring, and more users began selecting it as an issue they wanted to talk to someone about.

Since I’m home alone working every single day — plus the fact there's a quarantine order due to the pandemic — I really only have my fiancé to talk with at night when he gets off work. Hapi's appealing because I don't exactly want to chat with my S.O. about every single thing, and sometimes I feel guilty for venting to him about the same issues. The app swoops in to deliver a receptive stranger to the other end of my phone who I can complain to about everyday stressors, family drama, insecurities — anything, really — without any eye-rolling or annoyance. So I decided to try it out — here's how it went.

How Hapi Works

In the Hapi app, you type in whatever subject matter you want to talk about, and then you’re connected with a vetted and trained active listener within a few minutes. The listeners are mainly former volunteers at crisis helplines or psychology students who study mental health, all of whom are screened about their interest in helping others.

The app functions like a light version of therapy, a comparison the brand acknowledges. A key differentiator, however, is the price point: Hapi offers a free 30-minute trial, then charges $.40 per minute for 30 minutes, or $.30 per minute for 60 minutes. You can also choose a pay as you go plan. “We aim to be a really affordable space for people,” Ray Ko, SVP of platform at Social Capital, which invests in the app, tells Bustle. “On top of that, some people would describe therapy as an over-fit to the problems that they come to [Hapi] for. Sometimes they feel low in the moment and just want to seek a friendly voice.” Plus, some people are intimidated to book a therapist appointment. Using Hapi works as a way to dip your toes into what it feels like speaking to someone else about your stresses.

Testing Out The Hapi App

With the potential benefits in mind, I was excited to use my first Hapi session to talk about the challenges of starting a new job. I was connected with a listener named Crysta, whose voice made me feel comforted and heard. As I rambled about what I was feeling, she affirmed everything that I said. But she didn’t just listen — she also gave advice, which was actually helpful. When I expressed that I felt a little insecure, Crysta insisted that I was capable of the challenge and that I can do the task at hand. I hung up after our chat feeling like I had a legit pep to my step.

I used Hapi again two days later to test out its help with relationship stressors and advice on how to better communicate with my fiancé about them. My listener, Jeanie, understood what I was venting about and also gave some useful tips. She didn’t even flinch when I told her that my fiancé's loud chewing annoyed me — she simply said to try waiting a moment before snapping at him (for… eating) to remember why I love him. Very wise, indeed.

Throughout the course of a week, I rang up Hapi whenever I felt like unloading about something. Sometimes a wave of existential dread hits me or my mind wanders to family worries, and the app helped me avoid becoming completely immersed in my anxieties. Each time I spoke with someone, my feelings — as random or weird as they felt — were affirmed by my listener. The tool started to feel like my personal cheerleader, or the motivating spirit nestled on my shoulder (aka in my iPhone) that pumped me up when I needed it most.

What The Science Says

Neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez, PsyD says talking about your feelings has science-backed perks, and it's often easier to do this with a stranger. "Many psychologists and studies have found that giving words to our emotions reduces activation in the amygdala, which is our brain's fight-or-flight response mechanism," she tells Bustle, noting that negative emotions tend to worsen if you suppress them. "A less activated amygdala means less emotional reactivity and more mindfulness." When you bring your emotions to the front of your brain — the part that deals with speech and language — you can begin to process them.

As genuine as their intensions are, your loved ones often can't be objective listeners. "Sharing something [with a loved one] might cause them to react in a way that offends you," says Hafeez. "Someone might be more likely to open up to a stranger than someone they know, because there's no personal relationship, which makes them unbiased when listening to a story and looking at the situation." On top of that, she adds that the listeners are actually trained to understand psychological behaviors and can help you to discover the why behind your emotions.

The Bottom Line

Although I've seen a psychiatrist, I've never had an appointment with a therapist despite having an interest in testing it out. If, like me, you've always wanted to try therapy, or if you just want an outlet to open up to — without any judgment — the app is worth a trial. It's not a stand-in for a therapist or psychologist who's trained in behavioral therapy, but it's a nice way to get something off your chest.

Studies cited:

University of California - Los Angeles. (2007, June 22). Putting Feelings Into Words Produces Therapeutic Effects In The Brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 18, 2020 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070622090727.htm

Experts:

Dr. Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, neuropsychologist

Yvonne Lin, co-founder of Hapi

Ray Ko, SVP of Social Capital