At this point, most of us are aware that practices like deep breathing, meditation and mindfulness practices are frequently recommended to reduce stress and promote both psychological and physical well-being. However, it still isn’t always easy to incorporate such practices into your daily routine. With the advent of smart phone technology, there is an ever-expanding selection of apps that are designed to help us do just that. Here is an overview of a few useful ones – and bonus, most of them are free! All of these apps are available for both Apple and Android products, unless indicated in the descriptions below.
Breathing App for Parents: One of the best methods to beat stress is simple deep breathing. Breathe2Relax is a free and easy-to-use app that provides specific instructions on diaphragmatic breathing (breathing from your belly), which promotes relaxation. The app allows you to rate your stress before and after each breathing exercise, so that you can track how doing the exercises is affecting your stress levels. The exercises are guided by timing your inhalations and exhalations, with the goal being to breathe as slowly and deeply as possible. There are options to vary the audio and visual prompts that play along with the exercises. Breathe2Relax one of many useful and well-researched mental health apps developed by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, which is a division of the DoD; a description of their other apps can be found here: http://t2health.dcoe.mil/products/mobile-apps.
Breathing App for Kids: Although there is no particular reason that older children and teens could not use Breathe2Relax, younger children are likely to prefer a simpler interface and more engaging visuals. The app Breathing Bubbles is appropriate for children ages 5 years and up. This app was developed by the Momentous Institute, which is a nonprofit group that promotes social and emotional health in children based out of Dallas, TX (http://momentousinstitute.org/about). This app goes beyond teaching deep breathing, however, in that it incorporates emotional regulation. Users are asked to name and rate their emotional experience, and then focus on deep breathing along with a digital bubble as a way to cope with that experience.
Mindfulness Apps for Parents: Practicing mindfulness means grounding yourself in the present moment. Mindfulness exercises typically involve attempts to focus your attention on something in the “here and now.” By helping to focus attention on present experience and away from potentially distressing thoughts about the past or future, mindfulness exercises can help to reduce tension and worry and improve coping. Mindfulness Coach is another free mental health app developed by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology (see above). Although this app was originally developed for use by military service members, anyone who is experiencing emotional distress and/or wanting to maintain healthy coping practices can use it. The app includes educational materials about the benefits of mindfulness, detailed instructions for nine forms of mindfulness meditation, and a session log for tracking mindfulness practice.
Calm evolved out of Calm.com, a free web app where users could select background scenery and sounds (e.g. mountain range or sunny seaside), set a timer, and relax for a few minutes. The app offers one free component, called Seven Days of Calm, which provides guides for seven different mindfulness exercises. The app prompts you to set goals (e.g. stress relief, happiness, learning meditation) and to input your level of experience with meditation before starting. There is a selection of visual imagery with accompanying music that you can choose to go along with the mindfulness exercises, which range in length from 7 to 15 minutes. You can also set reminders to practice throughout the day. Note: Unfortunately, most of the options offered within the Calm app have to be unlocked for additional costs, and they use a subscription model (e.g. monthly and yearly fees). There is a Calm Kids option that can be purchased in this way. Buddhify is a moderately priced meditation app ($4.99) that offers a series of guided meditations based on situational triggers. Users like it because it weaves meditations into your daily routines. The interface is in the form of a wheel that offers more than a dozen activities that you might be doing in a given day, and then matches a meditation to that activity.
Mindfulness App for Kids, Tweens & Teens. Smiling Mind is a free app-based meditation program developed by a team of psychologists in Australia, with expertise in youth and adolescent therapy (http://smilingmind.com.au). This app contains different exercises based on age, with options for kids ages 7-11 years, 12-15 years, 16-22 years, and adults. Each session starts with a quick series of questions, followed by simple, easy-to-follow meditation exercises. Stop, Breathe & Think is a free mindfulness app that was developed by the non-profit group Tools for Peace (http://www.toolsforpeace.org), and is appropriate for use by tweens and teens (and adults, too, although the language is generally geared towards a younger audience). The app offers a solid sampling of the basics of meditation, featuring a range of exercises at varying lengths. The app asks you to input how you feel, mentally and physically, and then suggests a variety of meditation practices based on your response. Although there are in-app purchases, most of the app’s features can be accessed at no charge (there are at least 15 free meditations). Take a Chill is an inexpensive app ($1.99) that similarly is geared towards tweens and teens. This app includes simple stress assessments, quick meditations for in-the-moment stress relief, motivational quotes, and a reminder feature. At this time, this app is only available for Apple products.
Kathleen Boykin McElhaney, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist