Yes, you read that right, there are apps to reduce stress and yes, they really work! Sometimes just the thought of trying to reduce stress seems overwhelming. But you know that you are smarter, more powerful, more creative, not to mention happier and healthier, when you are not stressed out. Unfortunately, way too often stress compromises your best thinking.
What if you could learn to harness the power of your calm at will, even when the pressure builds? You can—it just takes practice, a practice that will make your mind and body more resilient. And a practice made easier with your ever-present smartphone. (Might as well have that technology serve you for a change!)
Herbert Benson, MD, first described this powerful practice at Harvard in 1975, but even the medical community has been slow to catch on. Just as your physiology and brain are wired to ramp up your ability for flight or fight in response to stress, you are wired for an equally powerful “Relaxation Response.” And when you practice this response, you strengthen your ability to handle life’s challenges.
In fact, regularly invoking these chemicals and hormones will:
- Improve your decision-making ability
- Lower your anxiety
- Increase your energy
- Reduce fatigue
- Improve your sleep
- Improve your motivation
- Decrease tension and pain
- Improve your moods
- And lower your stress hormone levels
Not bad for a few minutes/day, huh? Better promises than any medication out there!
So how do you build this power? By taking a few moments to actively relax your mind and body. This doesn’t mean plopping on the sofa for some mindless TV, nor does it mean emptying your mind of all thought—you would be dead!. It means bringing your attention to the process of relaxing, physically and mentally.
There are so many effective choices—all pleasant to practice. But, the problem is… knowing what works is only part of the journey. Gym membership does not ensure “buff,” darn it! The bigger step is to show up and work out. The same is true for calm—to “buff” up your brain, you must practice.
Here’s where apps can be helpful. Apps can encourage you with information, hold you accountable, provide metrics, and often provide some fun. And, in case you haven’t noticed… mindfulness and meditation are seeping into conversations from yoga class to the board room.
Here are my top 5 apps to reduce stress:
Very simple yet clever and fun animation demystifies meditation and provides a 10-day free starter course of just 10 minutes/day. Then you can purchase a number of themed meditation series. The science is available for free.
Like most of these apps, you can set reminders to help build the habit. You can also set a number of mindfulness moments to pause throughout the day. This is particularly helpful in getting your brain back to neutral, so you can let go and sleep more effectively. (Yearly: 7.92/mo)
This app is based on a labor of love and a ton of investigation from reporter Dan Harris. After having a complete panic attack on air, he set out to find the very best ways you can regulate your mood. He even traveled across America in a tour bus with meditation teacher, Jeff Warren, who makes meditation feel easy and sensible.
Again, this app is free for the first week of really easy meditations and has a few other free perks, including access to the podcast, but for a fee, it has all kinds of bells and whistles, even coaching! (Yearly 6.99/mo)
As of Nov, 2016 over 50 million hours of meditation time had been logged on this app. It is designed to make meditation convenient in your real modern life, using a fun color wheel of guided meditation choices to line up with your current state, activity, and available time. Although I listed this as number 3, it is definitely one of my very favorite apps to reduce stress simply due to the ease of use. You can save your favorites and track your mindfulness, concentration, and balance. (One time $2.99-4.99)
Big advantage- it’s FREE and includes meditations from expert teachers around the world. This is one of the first apps I discovered, chock full of guided meditations. Guided visualization or meditation is the way to go if your brain is as busy as mine. You can pick by topic, genre, guide, length, anything from 60 secs to hours. And you can bookmark your favorites to return. I love Tara Brach and Jon Kabat-Zinn.
You can also choose any length of time to meditate on your own with ambient sounds or not, lovely chimes and bells or not. FREE!
Calm (note: this link has sound enabled)
Calm has a variety of very peaceful nature sounds and a feature just to pace your breath. Talk about an app to reduce stress! Breath pacing is a really fast way to begin active relaxation. I actually put the sounds on sometimes while working. As with the others, you can set a reminder and track your time. Premium unlocks a suite of guided meditations. (Yearly $4.99/mo)
There are so many apps to reduce stress and to help you grasp your inner “calm!” I would love to hear what you’ve found helpful and why. We are all on this crazy journey of life together, trying to find our relaxed and empowered best selves, trying to find joy, meaning, connection, and deep satisfaction. Get curious; find which habits serve you. Make those easier to keep, make them fun, share them.