UC Berkeley lab develops free positive affirmation texting program

Photo of someone texting
Momoka Sasaki/Staff
A texting program, StayWell at Home, uses text messages based on cognitive behavioral therapy methods, which aim to change thinking behaviors. Text messages were chosen as a result of their accessibility, particularly with aiding immigrant and underserved communities.

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As COVID-19 cases increase statewide, UC Berkeley’s Digital Health Equity and Access Lab, or dHEAL, created a free supportive text message program to help manage the stress and uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The texting program, StayWell at Home, was initially developed in April 2020 during the beginning of the pandemic, according to campus postdoctoral scholar Caroline Figueroa. A newer version of the text message program launched late December in response to the increase of stay-at-home orders and the stress that comes along with it, Figueroa said. The messages are based on the techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy, Figueroa added, which aims to change thinking behaviors.

“The goal of this is to give people a free service that can help them deal with the stress of COVID-19,” Figueroa said. “If you have simple tools like this that can support people, then that can be a really durable way of providing that kind of support.”

Those who opt in to the program will receive text messages that encourage positive reflection and actions such as, “You are a wonderful human doing the best you can in a difficult situation. What are three things you are grateful for?”

Figueroa said the team decided to use text messages as the vessel for these positive affirmations in order to be accessible. While the program is available to all, Figueroa said the team hopes to reach immigrant populations in particular.

Immigrant and underserved populations are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 cases and the stress of the pandemic, according to Figueroa. She added that technological resources to support these populations are also lacking.

While individuals in these populations may not have a smartphone with access to the internet, text messaging is widely used by people of various backgrounds, according to Figueroa. StayWell at Home text messages are available in English and Spanish in hopes to break down the language barrier.

“The program is based on tips to help restructure your negative thoughts,” Figueroa said. “Everyone’s feeling very stressed about the pandemic, but try and identify a few silver linings.”

Contact Julie Madsen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Julie_Madsen_.