If you made a resolution for 2020 to get healthier, it's essential to concentrate on your mental health just as much as you do on physical fitness. Running and exercising is great, but a sound mind is integral to a healthy and balanced life, and you can improve your emotional and physiological well-being with your smartphone.
That iPhone or Android that you keep in your pocket or purse has many of the tools required to help you handle stress, practice mindfulness, work on your anger, battle addiction, sleep better, stay positive, connect with others, develop better coping skills, and seek out professional help.
The apps below aren't meant to replace a doctor or therapist, but they can be the first step you need to better your mental health and/or get on the road to emotional recovery. They're divided into mental health categories, such as anxiety or addiction, but most of them can help with several issues, not just one.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and Headspace is arguably the best option if you're looking to get into meditation using your phone. The meditation and sleep app, co-founded by a former Buddhist monk, allows beginners and intermediates to listen to guided meditations, varying in topics.
Using Headspace the first time, it will ask you to choose a topic to focus on, when you want to meditate, and other questions to help tailor your experience.
The basics will teach you meditation essentials, and once you're ready, you can try any of the themed courses in the app's library that revolve around personal growth, physical health, falling asleep, waking up, stress and anxiety, happiness, and work and productivity, to name a few. Individual meditations are even more focused, with options such as transforming anger, handling sadness, and dealing with regret.
Although using Headspace requires a paid subscription ($12.99 per month or $5.99/month for a year), it does offer between 7 and 14 days free for you to try out the themed courses, new daily meditations, sleep sounds, bedtime exercises, live meditation, music, animations, advice, and more.
No matter what it is you are attempting to improve in your life, Headspace offers a fun, structured, and easy-to-use user interface to create an incredible experience for those who are always on the go but still want to introduce meditation into their lives.
Not everyone is a meditation novice, which is why there are many great options for those with experience — likeCalm. The popular meditation and relaxation app was named the 2017 iPhone app of the year by Apple and is a top option in the App Store's Health & Fitness category. It offers an extensive range of guided meditations designed around relaxation, such as breathing visualizations, guided sleep stories, and ambient music.
Much like Headspace, Calm features a clean and simple-to-grasp user interface, which makes it easy to find soothing bedtime stories to help you fall asleep, sound-bath experiences, rain-on-leaves soundscapes, and more. The home page features instructional bubbles to help guide you around the app. And the navigation bar at the bottom allows you to browse through hundreds of meditation sessions revolving around sleep, confidence, anxiety, calmness, depression, and more.
The "Sleep" tab features bedtime stories, some told by famous narrators (such as Matthew McConaughey) and most under an hour. "Meditate" holds the meditation sessions, each of which are broken into smaller lessons to digest (varying between two to 35 minutes). And the "Music" tab has all the music you could want to focus, relax, and fall asleep to.
Although it's free to download, Calm requires an annual paid subscription of $60 after the seven-day free trial runs out. The price is a bit steep, but for everything it offers, Calm is worth every penny, especially if you fully decide to bring meditation and mindfulness into your life.
Happify is a behavioral change technology company that aims to reduce your stress, help you overcome negative thoughts, build your self-confidence, and guide you towards happiness using a combination of science-based exercises and games. According to Happify, nearly 90% of people who use its services "regularly report feeling better about their lives in 2 months" — but does it really work?
Based on several assessment questions, Happify offers various exercises that are designed to help you develop better and positive habits to improve your happiness. Depending on what you're attempting to tackle (stress, confidence, etc.), you may be asked to play a game in which you tap on hot air balloons with positive words, talk to AI about your day, go outside, listen to meditation tracks, take quizzes, snap a photo of something you're grateful, and more.
As you complete these activities (there are thousands) each day — which can take anywhere from one to ten minutes — you'll be asked to take a short quiz, which determines your happiness levels. You'll be asked about being grateful, how you feel about the future, and other questions. The more activities you do, the better you'll be able to track your life satisfaction and fight back against negative thoughts. The creators of the app recommend completing at least eight activities a week to help improve your emotional well-being.
No matter if you're trying to practice mindfulness or better cope with stress, Happify offers many features that provide positive reinforcement to help you navigate depression, anxiety, and other forms of negativity in your life. Although it works great without having to pay a dime, if you want to get the full experience and track your progress, you can get a subscription for $14.95 each month.
Reaching out for help, especially when it comes to mental health, is difficult because sometimes you just don't know where to start. Do you ask your doctor? Do you reach out to a potential therapist? Or could you start off with just a mobile app? Moodpath is not a replacement for therapy, but it can help you reflect on your emotions and thoughts, track your moods, and figure out if professional help is necessary.
Over two weeks, Moodpath will ask you to answer three sets of questions a day (morning, afternoon, and night) that involve your emotional well-being. The questions may include topics regarding your concentration, death, daily tasks, mood, and more. After each one, you'll be asked to answer how much each question topic is affecting you. At the end of the questionnaire, you'll explain how you feel and what positive and negative emotions you feel at the moment.
After the 14 days, you'll receive an evaluation of your mental health (which obviously shouldn't be taken as a replacement for a professional assessment) letting you know if you are affected by symptoms of depression and whether or not you should seek out professional help from a doctor or therapist.
In addition to your evaluation, you can take advantage of courses and over a hundred exercises to help with depression, mindfulness, self-confidence, and more. However, you will need to upgrade to the paid version of Moodpath, which costs $47.99 per year after a free seven-day trial. If you're unsure about where to start when it comes to depression and mental health, and you don't want to spend any money doing it, Moodpath offers an easy way to find out if treatment is for you.
Accountability and motivation are two key components to successfully breaking an addiction, which is why the I Am Sober app offers both, as well as a number of other features. With I Am Sober (IAS), you can easily track your days and milestones revolving around your sobriety, while also getting the support you need via community posts, motivational packs, and online therapy.
When you first download and open IAS, you'll have to answer several questions revolving around your addiction, such as what you're getting sober from, your sober start date, the cost of your addiction, and why you want to stay sober. You can track multiple compulsions at once, and you can set reminders for your daily pledge and review, which help with accountability.
The rest of the process involves you monitoring your sobriety, checking in, resetting your sober date (if needed), and taking your daily pledge. You can take advantage of the community board to read posts from other IAS users, as well as post your own wins and struggles. Additionally, the longer you stay sober, the more motivational packs you can unlock, which help as daily reminders to keep clean.
Sober Plus, which costs $4.99 per month, $27.49 for six months, or $49.99 a year, unlocks more features in IAS, such as better tracking, all motivation packs, a profile badge, better app security, more skins, a watch companion app, and more. Even with the free version, I Am Sober is a powerful asset for keeping you accountable and providing the support you need to continue to stay clean.
If you need something simple, with no frills, to keep you accountable for an addiction, Nomo may be the sobriety tracker for you. Although it has many of the features that other sobriety trackers have (e.g., counseling, resources, journaling, messages, etc.), it's very minimal, which is a feature that you may want if you're too overwhelmed with other sobriety trackers.
In Nomo, you can create a clock to track your addiction, whether it's to drugs and alcohol or food, gambling, work, video games, masturbation, relationships, and so on. Name your clock, set a sobriety date and time, and your clock will appear under My Clocks for you to track. You can make more than one clock, and within each clock, you can edit the clock and description, monitor weekly savings, view milestones, and check in.
If you need accountability to be part of your sobriety journey, you can share your sobriety clock with friends, family, partners, or counselors who are supporting your recovery and also have the Nomo application. You can also message an accountability partner if you're going through withdrawals or are at risk of breaking your sobriety.
It can take anywhere from 21 to 28 days to form a new habit, which is why a sobriety tracker is necessary for beating an addiction. Nomo offers a free and easy way to not only track your sobriety, but also visualize your long-term goals, keep your friends and family informed, and connect with others who are going through recovery.
Not every app involving mental health has to seem like a burden. Antistress is a simple application that comes with a collection of games, toys, and visuals that you can tap, poke, prod, shake, and play with to let out your stress and relax.
Just like a fidget spinner would work, Antistress uses sounds and haptic feedback to provide you a sense of calming and relaxation through several diversions. Those distractions include flicking switches, writing with chalk, playing with wind chimes, throwing darts, shaking a Magic 8-Ball, opening a zipper, and more.
Most of the games are free, but you can also spend a dollar to purchase the Quiet Pack, which comes with more games for you to play with. If you're unsure about dropping a buck, you can tap on any of the games in the Quiet Pack to check out a trailer of gameplay on YouTube.
Although these diversions aren't a replacement for professional help, these 50 toys to play with do offer a moment of distraction when you're stressed out from work or upset at a friend or family member and need to vent out that frustration.
Famous yogi Eddie Stern and bestselling author Dr. Deepak Chopra launched the Breathing App a few years ago to help others reduce their stress and enjoy a bit of quiet through simple breathing exercises. The Breathing App is inspired by scientific research, which explains why our heart rate, blood pressure, and brainwave function reach a "coherent frequency" when we take six breaths a minute (which monks use while meditating).
Open the Breathing App, and you'll go through a simple introductory guide, which explains how to perform the breathing exercises (divided into three different options) and how to set a timer (length of your breathing session) and ratio (most comfortable breathing). Regardless of what you choose, the breathing exercises are supplemented by music created by recording artist Moby.
Hit play and perform the breathing exercises for as long as you need. Even if you use the app for just a few minutes, your body enters a state of equilibrium, which then helps bring calmness to your body and mind, helping to take away your stress.
The app is free and perfect if you don't want to invest a lot of time into meditating or want an easy exercise to follow only when you need it. The Breathing app is simple to use and doesn't require any extensive knowledge to excel.
Talkspace is a therapy website in which you can text your therapist whenever you want, tackling all kinds of issues like depression, anxiety, stress, love, sex, relationships, work problems, and, of course, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
When you first sign up, you will be connected with a therapist automatically, who will then ask you a series of questions, including your name, age, location, and why you're seeking help. Using Talkspace is just like you would use your text message application; Type in what you want to say, send it, and wait for a reply.
As you continue speaking, you can favorite specific messages which you can then access later from your favorites section. You'll also have a therapy journal where you can follow the steps and stages of your therapy sessions. You can check out more info on the therapist you're texting, such as a short summer, availability, time off, time zone, licenses, treatment experience, approach, focus, years in practice, and people helped.
Although your consultation is free, you'll have to pay to speak with a therapist. Plans start at $65 a week, which is a good option if you don't have insurance and need professional help, especially on your schedule. Of course, text therapy may be a bit controversial, but when in-person treatment isn't realistic, having access to mental health services directly from your phone can be a lifesaver.
PTSD Family Coach is an app created by the US Department of Veterans Affairs for anyone with post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD. As thorough as mental health apps come, PTSD Family Coach allows you to track progress for yourself, a loved one, and your family, and provides a wealth of resources and tools to manage and control PTSD.
PTSD Family Coach has several assessments for you to fill out to track your well-being, loved one's progress, and family goals. The first time you answer the questions in an evaluation, you'll have a chance to turn on reminders to fill out these same questionnaires every few days or weeks. You'll receive "scores" for each assessment — rating your well-being — which you can track in the coming days, weeks, and months.
Aside from the assessments, PTSD Family Coach offers many other tools for you to use to set limits, show appreciation, create goals, manage effects of PTSD, create daily rituals, practice mindfulness, and more. The tools come in the form of tips, notes, and articles.
The app is entirely free to use, and you can get the most out of it by trying out different tools, setting personal goals, tracking your well-being, taking note of what's working and what isn't, and overall committing to using PTSD Family Coach every day.
These are just some of the top apps for maintaining a healthy state of mind. While they're the best one in our eyes, there are other good ones out there to try out. For example, Healium AR for Android and iOS jumps on the augmented reality bandwagon to help veterans and ordinary civilians cope with anxiety. But to make full use of it, you'd need an Apple Watch or Muse 1 brain-sensing headband, which is why we left it off our list.
This article was produced during Gadget Hacks' annual Health & Fitness special coverage. Read all of the Health & Fitness series.