The best wellness apps - Copyright: saranporoong / 123RF Stock Photo.
As of the first of this month, we're officially a quarter of the way through 2018. How's that New Year's resolution of yours going? If you've made one for your health and see it slipping a little - or if you're looking around for a few quick healthy changes you can make to your life without organizing a yoga event for your office, look no further than these tips, because we're going to be focusing on wellness for the whole month of April.
Okay, so you've acknowledged that you need a break, but maybe you're at a loss of how to structure things to help you stay in tip-top shape for optimal work-life balance. Working with smartphone technology to disengage may seem a little counterintuitive, but, for people whose lives are on their phones, it makes sense to make the smartphone a bit of a wellness center too.
These 11 apps I tested personally are all suited for different individuals and lifestyles, but all have at least a free component, and they do guide you through everything from one-minute breathing exercises to hours-long deep meditation sessions. It's a great place to start if you're looking to mindfulness to help you sleep, clear your mind, or tackle some negative feelings you haven't been able to shake.
Ideal User: multitasker who believes in time management integration
In university, I really struggled with time management, like many students do. I tried to keep up with my busy schedule by doing lots of multitasking - reading for class while I was on the treadmill or catching up with friends over my quickly-snagged meal times. Could I honestly say that this streamlined my time? Maybe not, but MindFi works with a more grown-up version of that premise: fitting moments of mindfulness and focus into your busy day.
Homegrown Singaporean app offers mindfulness exercises of around three minutes' length, curated by purpose. Options include mindfulness exercises for breaks, commute, and even mealtimes, if you're trying to grab yourself a few minutes' peace during a busy lunch. Unlike a lot of the other apps on this list, the app doesn't necessarily ask you for 10 uninterrupted minutes where you need to close your eyes, so it's good for beginners to mindfulness, or for people who haven't quite yet got a handle on how to fit self-care into a busy schedule.
It has longer content that deals with more specific situations like parenting and negative emotions.
One tab over takes you to its deep focus exercises, which let you set a timer for set amounts of time for focus - perhaps at work. The app will notify you if you leave it to go do something else (like check Facebook or Twitter) and will gently remind you to return to the task at hand. It's a little nudge in the right direction. It's amazing what even 25 uninterrupted minutes of work will help you accomplish.
In addition, each deep work or meditation session will contribute to the growth of a virtual bonsai tree for you. Because why not?
Ideal User: newcomers to mindfulness looking for a light dive into self-care
Breathe+ Wellness app
The simplest of the apps on this list, Breathe+; is exclusively for iOS users, and it's pretty self-explanatory. Pick the number of seconds you want to spend inhaling, holding, exhaling, and holding again, and it'll guide you through breathing exercises for as long as you want (and track how long you spend breathing, if you're a person who likes to track that kind of thing).
The app is further customizable with a number of calming background gradients that keep time for your breath by rising and falling; if you prefer to close your eyes, a sound that gets louder and softer timed with your breath and/or your phone vibration can help you keep on track.
It's simple, but it works. Just four deep breaths already give your immune system and alertness a boost. There's a reason that breathing is at the center of yoga and other meditation exercises. If you're the kind of person who has very little time on your hands, download this: it may not seem like much, but it's scientifically proven to work.
Ideal User: people who like relationships with their technology and/or checking off their lists
Calm wellness app
Calm boasts a “Best of 2017 App of the Year" award from the Apple Store, and after a few minutes using it, I could see the benefits. While the app is paid (I set a reminder to cancel my free trial six days after I activated it), it levels out to around US$5 a month for access to guided meditations, wellness exercises, and “sleep stories."
What's a sleep story? I had the same question, so I clicked on the informative audio clip, which had a man with a deep voice inviting me to join him (hypothetically) by a “crackling fire" while he explained that sleep stories are supposed to help us transition from the high-stress lifestyle many of us lead to deep and relaxing sleep. These stories, designed to help you drift off to sleep, are basically bedtime stories for adults. Examples include trips to California's sequoia forests and outer space. Engaging stories will eventually slow down, and the idea is that it'll send you off to sleep with some pretty good content for your dreams as well.
The app also has longer-term tracks built into it - content built around “7 days of calm" or “21 days of calm," if you're the kind of person who likes to keep up your social media streaks.
Ideal User: someone with a good deal of interest in mindfulness but who needs help to get immersed
Headspace wellness app
Headspace's interface reminds me a bit of Duolingo's, except it's for meditation and not language learning. After some mindfulness audio files, you can test out different packs dealing with grief, regret, change, self-esteem, relationships, sport motivation, and others, before choosing to purchase. Short 1-3 minute exercises as well as other stand-alone themed files are also available for free.
If you're looking to use the app for sleeping, it has free files for falling asleep, falling back asleep, and ambient noise.
The friendly and bright design is great for beginners, who will feel like they can progress through the app in an organized manner while still perusing the things they'd like.
Ideal User: someone who wants texts over phone calls and has interests in multiple hobbies, penguin lovers
Wysa wellness app
Maybe you're looking for mindfulness and meditation as more of a means to an end - perhaps to try to tackle emotions or setbacks in your life. From startup Touchkin comes a wellness chatbot that just happens to take the form of a penguin that kind of resembles a fluffy marshmallow.
The premise works like this: opening the app puts you in a conversation with the penguin, which asks you how you're doing, then offers you tools - questionnaires and directed exercises - to combat issues you say you're facing, like anxiety and sleeplessness. Tools include light exercise (like chair-assisted squats), breathing exercises, and even reminders to hug a loved one.
If there's a lot on your mind, you can lay your thoughts out for Wysa, who will organize them for you. Conversations are encrypted and take measures to keep your information private. However, for serious problems, it refers you to a psychologist or doctor. You can also set the app to check in daily on you for extended issues, like if you're going through a breakup and have consistently felt down in the dumps.
The variety of tools and texting interface are good if you like to be social, or if you've been feeling a little strange doing exercises alone with your phone. With Wysa, you have a helpful penguin friend in your corner, which sounds silly, but by the end of my test, I really felt like I was talking to someone who understood me.
For those who want more than a penguin in their corner, extra coaching is available for a fee.
6. Insight Timer
Ideal User: meditation veteran and/or someone who knows exactly what type of mindfulness exercise he/she wants
Insight Timer wellness app
Do you prefer to snag relaxation time before bed? Are you a pro at meditating but find yourself at a loss for good content? Insight Timer may be for you. The concept of the app is simple: it's a library full of meditation exercises. Curated by length (during my brief rendezvous with the app, I found exercises that ranged from a minute to over five hours, for the people who like to literally be lulled into sleep), subject matter, and focus area, all you have to do is pick an exercise, plug in, and follow the instructions.
Insight Timer has content for beginners as well, but if you're the kind of person who is easily overwhelmed by content or who wants a little bit more handholding, you might want to go with one of the more focused apps on the list.
Ideal User: people who like a mix of guided and free mindfulness/meditation exercises
Good for intermediate mindfulness exercisers, Brightmind helps users by offering 10-60 minute meditations that are connected to themes like the different senses, positivity, and even “do nothing." You can connect your exercise to a goal before, like stress or pain relief, or better communication, if you so wish.
If you're a little more advanced or want to guide your own meditation, a free timer will rouse you when your time is up, complete with the sound of a bell.
Premium packages are available for US$17.48 monthly, US$128.98 yearly, or a lifetime membership of US$448.98 (one-time payment).
8. Smiling Mind
Ideal User: teachers, athletes, people looking for a structured start into mindfulness
Australian app Smiling Mind sounds like it offers mindfulness exercises with a dash of optimism, and that's not that far off from the truth. Each meditation I tried ended with a pleasant voice wishing me a smiling day.
The app, developed by not-for-profit scientists and educators, lets you get your feet wet with a three-part introduction to meditation. It will also ask you where your mood lies before and after each exercise. This, juxtaposed with the among of time you spend doing sessions, is graphed and tracked for you to see.
Smiling Mind is meant for people of all ages and has sessions tailored for people of different age groups, including children, as well as sessions optimized for classroom use, workplace issues, sport issues, and one's daily commute.
Ideal User: likes useful but pretty things, looking more than anything to streamline his/her time
Sometimes, you want to be efficient - focus during the time you need and rest during the time you need, and blocking out distractions in the meantime. Enter Tide, which offers timers for sleeping, napping, and focus (a bit like MindFi). An attached tracking diary gives you a place to track your thoughts - positive and negative - throughout the day.
If you like to journal but have trouble keeping track of anything beyond the basics (think phone, keys, wallet), give this a try. It might be a nice reprieve from the standard set of sounds you get on your alarm clock.
10. 3M Mindfulness
Ideal User: iOS user interested more in the physical process of meditation than the mental process; perhaps needs to let go of something
3 Minute Mindfulness is a more cut-to-the-chase version of Calm, with a touch of Breathe+. Still, this could work for you, if you're interested in the doing aspects of mindfulness and not really the theory behind it. After all, even the physical act of slowing down your breathing and thinking can give you health benefits. Split into two categories, a freemium model exposes you to meditation and breathing content.
An added timer can be adjusted (if you want to spend more or less than three minutes) with sounds and reminders. Meanwhile, a simple calendar part to the app allows you to track your progress.
Notable free content includes a five-part series about letting go, perfect for your breakup or a setback at work.
11. Simple Habit
Ideal User: looks for community, likes taking online quizzes, likes variety in mindfulness exercises
My job is so hard.
An attractive aspect of Simple Habit is that it has a variety of content targeted at different types of issues available for free, without springing for a costly premium version. Simple Habit gives you access to exercises for different situations, including staying calm, improving focus, drifting off to sleep, sleep sounds, and sleep music. These sessions can either come standalone or as part of a group.
What distinguishes Simple Habit is the community aspect to it, which tries to connect you with people worldwide. You can compete with them for different meditation challenges and share your progress. The rationale here is that it's easier for you to develop a habit with support, so it offers you virtual support. You can add people via Facebook, your phone contacts, or your email, so if you're overly concerned about privacy, you may prefer to remain unconnected.
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