Designed in accordance with professional meditation trainers, these mindfulness apps can help you train your brain to become less reactive. Some can even reduce stress in pressure-filled situations and lower cortisol levels afterward, according to several studies.
While a variety of mindfulness apps have free offerings, the best ones require a subscription to access their most extensive content. To find the right one for you, vet the app’s instructors.
Clear your headspace
For anyone who’s not sure where to start when it comes to mindfulness meditation, apps can be a great way to learn. These apps offer short, easy-to-follow meditations that can help clear your mind and reduce stress. Many are free, although some do require a subscription. Some, like Ten Percent Happier, even provide personalized coaching with a membership.
It’s important to note that while most apps claim to be scientifically backed, it’s hard for an app alone to have enough data points and research to back up the benefits it touts. Some experts recommend vetting the instructors on an app to get a sense of their experience and teaching style. Brightmind, for example, uses Shinzen Young as an instructor, while Headspace’s Andy Puddicombe is a former Buddhist monk.
One of the most popular mindfulness apps on the market, Headspace has accrued more than 20 million users in 190 countries since its launch. Its meditations focus on a variety of topics, including sleep, calming anxiety and boosting focus.
This app, which is available on both iPhone and Android, provides guided meditations and videos on a range of subjects. The content is curated into pillars, such as awareness, connection and insight. Each pillar has multiple series and several sessions packaged into it. These are meant to help users build skills around various emotions and physical sensations, such as monitoring and accepting feelings.
Improve your memory
You don’t need an app to learn mindfulness, but if you do decide to download one, make sure it’s based in science. According to a study presented at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Computer Human Interaction conference this year, most mindfulness apps make health claims without providing any evidence of their efficacy beyond a link to an upcoming mindfulness research study.
Many of the best mindfulness apps are designed to offer more than just a few guided meditations. For example, Smiling Mind provides activities like Count Your Senses and Journaling Exercise, as well as programs for kids and teens. The app also offers a few shorter meditations that feature talks, typically by UCLA’s Director of Mindfulness Education Diana Winston, before and after the meditation.
Headspace, which was conceived by meditation teacher Andy Puddicombe and bills itself as a ‘gym membership for the brain’, offers several packages of meditations centered around health, relationships and performance. A paid subscription gives you access to more than 500 guided meditation sessions, including short ones you can use during daily tasks like brushing your teeth or in the shower.
Another popular app is Mood Balance, which incorporates the practice of mindful self-compassion with scientifically supported tools for changing your mood. This is a great option for those with high stress levels, as it helps you understand how to relate to your own emotions in healthy ways and build compassion for yourself.
If you’re under stress, mindfulness apps can provide a quick fix that doesn’t require a lot of time or money. They can teach you basic meditation and offer guided practices geared toward specific areas of concern, such as relationships, sleep, anxiety and depression. You can also find meditations to help you cope with illness and loss, as well as a selection of meditations for kids.
You can download most of the major mindfulness apps for free, though they may require a subscription to unlock the full breadth of content. It’s worth looking into the background of instructors to get a feel for their experience and teaching style. Brightmind, for example, features renowned teacher Shinzen Young, while former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe voices many of Headspace’s sessions.
Mindfulness training can actually change your biological response to stress. Emily Lindsay, a research assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author of a 2018 study on the effects of an app called Smiling Mind, says users who learned to monitor their emotions and physical sensations showed lower systolic blood pressure during a stressful task (giving a speech or doing tricky subtraction) than users who were only taught to recognize their feelings without accepting them.
However, mindfulness apps aren’t a substitute for therapy. And while they can be a great “nudge” to get you meditating more regularly, many experts agree that it’s important to practice daily and build meditation into a lifestyle rather than using an app as a crutch.
Get to know yourself
Whether you’re trying to overcome anxiety or just want to get to know yourself better, mindfulness apps can help. But which one is right for you?
Some mindfulness apps are free, but most charge a monthly fee. The good news is that many offer a free trial period, so you can try out the app before you commit to it. If you do decide to purchase an app, look for features that will help you stick with it and grow roots in your meditation practice.
For example, the app Calm encourages you to set mindfulness goals and tracks your progress – which is strangely motivating! Another popular choice is Smiling Mind, which has a great user rating and offers mindfulness sessions for kids as well as adults. It also allows you to track your heart rate, which is useful if you’re using mindfulness to reduce stress or anxiety.
Other apps, like Brightmind and Headspace, focus more on the mental health benefits of meditation and mindfulness. Both feature teachers with a strong background in meditation and mindfulness, including the Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe. It’s worth vetting the instructors to make sure they are experienced, inclusive and responsive to users. However, keep in mind that mindfulness apps are only a first step and should never replace therapy. If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, please seek professional help.