Why breaking up with my habit tracker was the best thing for my mental health during COVID-19

Olga Alexandru
·5 min read

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Do habit trackers cause more harm than good? One writer certainly thinks so. (Image via Getty Images)
Do habit trackers cause more harm than good? One writer certainly thinks so. (Image via Getty Images)

Earlier this year, while most people were trying to get organized and add more structure into their lives, I decided to break up with my habit tracker. 

I downloaded a habit tracker, aptly titled "Habit Tracker," three years ago as a way to manage my routine. I thought that by tracking my habits and behaviours I could find patterns, draw parallels between my actions and mood and find a "solution." I thought I could track myself out of my depression.

I had several habits set up: Waking up at a certain time, breakfast, lunch and dinner, morning pages, yoga and exercise. I could see through the tracker that on days when I felt particularly bad I hadn't been eating three meals a day or doing my daily yoga.

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The initial honeymoon period with the app brought many benefits. I felt as though I had more structure to my day which, as a freelancer, helped me to find a balance between routine and the rest of my life. I had created a long and complicated morning routine that would often take hours to complete. I would feel a huge sense of accomplishment when, day after day, I checked off each habit; I was succeeding. This led to positive reinforcement: whenever I checked something off I felt great and I wanted to check off more things. I monitored my progress and if I was sick one day and couldn’t do yoga I’d beat myself up over losing my tracking streak.

Quitting habit trackers was a freeing experience fo Olga Alexandru. (Image via Getty Images).
Quitting habit trackers was a freeing experience fo Olga Alexandru. (Image via Getty Images).

This past year when the pandemic changed our lives irrevocably, I found that my routine was also affected. I increasingly started to feel anxious and stressed when opening up my habit tracker. It was no longer a measure of my successes, it was a reminder that I wasn’t doing enough, or doing it right. I started to want to make everything a checkable habit. Sometimes I’d wake up in the morning, turn my phone on and open the habit tracker wanting to check a box just to feel like I’d accomplished something.

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My anxiety and stress levels started to rise. I realized that it was taking a toll on my mental health to track my daily movements. I had set high expectations for myself and the app did not allow for flexibility. There was nowhere to add a note explaining that I didn’t do morning pages because I couldn’t even get out of bed before noon or that I couldn’t exercise because I was exhausted, both physically and mentally. There was no accounting for poor mental health.

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The rigidity that had once benefitted me now led to me feeling suffocated. I knew I had to do something about it, so I deleted the app. I didn’t even export my information, it was just three years of daily data gone. I’d thought for so long that the data was the answer to my mental health problems. That if I could just find the correlation between days when I was feeling extra depressed and how much yoga I did or if I ate lunch that I could somehow hack my own life. But I couldn’t because that’s not how life works.

Completing simple tasks and tracking them became a marker of success. (Image via Getty Images).
Completing simple tasks and tracking them became a marker of success. (Image via Getty Images).

I realized there were consequences to monitoring every aspect of my life. It made me parcel out my productivity, my successes and my worth. I looked to check boxes to see if I was doing enough, if I was enough. 

I was often scared that if I didn’t do everything on my habit tracker, then my life would fall apart; that my depression would worsen. I would force myself to track everything just in case. But when I couldn’t, for one reason or another, that’s when anxiety reared its ugly head. It was a sort of magical thinking on my part, that the only thing keeping me afloat were these daily habits and that they would be my eventual downfall if I didn’t continue on. It held me prisoner to fear and uncertainty and I didn’t think I could hold it together.

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The relief I found when I let go and deleted the app was instant. It turns out that daily habits hadn’t been keeping my life in order; It had been keeping me scared. Since I’ve stopped using the habit tracker my life has flown more freely. I’m not holding myself to impossible standards of productivity. I do yoga when my body tells me to and not to check off a box on an app. Sometimes I forget to have lunch but I don’t beat myself up about it or worry that it’s a harbinger of doom.

 My life is less structured now and it’s working a lot better for me. I’m no longer seeking reassurance, validation or comfort from an app. I haven’t exercised in months and my life isn’t falling apart.

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