By Yvonne Milosevic
Feeling stressed out much lately? Between the wildfires, hurricanes and political crises du jour, it feels like we’re living Armageddon-adjacent these days. To get a grip, we decided to forego expensive therapy sessions (we’re thrifty like that) and look into the best-reviewed mental health apps available.
Is meditation your jam? Or, maybe you’re a gamer who wants to play your way to better mental health. If you’re ready to quit gnawing at your nails and cut down on the senseless phone scrolling, see if one of these four stress management tools can help.
A first step toward feeling less anxious is breaking the cycle of unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Pacifica uses cognitive behavioral therapy, mood tracking, and mindfulness meditation techniques to help you re-frame your thoughts. When you change some of your behaviors to boot, you’ll feel better—and better equipped at managing that overwhelmed feeling.
Many features on the app, such as the mood tracker, are free. Other features—including most guided meditations—require the premium subscription. Pacifica received the Apple Store “Best of 2017” and Google Play “Editor’s Choice” designations. Need more proof of street cred? It’s also recommended as a self-care tool by University of Washington, USF, and USC, among others.
The Pacifica mobile app currently costs $8.99 USD/month, or $53.99 USD/year, or $199.99 lifetime (one-time payment).
Calm, another of Apple’s “App of the Year” in 2017, is designed to reduce anxiety and improve sleep. It’s the #1 app for meditation and mindfulness. Plus, it offers breathing programs, music, and nature sounds to relax your mind and body.
“One of my favorite parts of Calm is the level of explanation they usually do at the beginning of each meditation. And it’s not just an explanation of what you’re doing, but they give a really thoughtful explanation of why,” says Dr. Allison Niebes-Davis in her video review of the app.
“In my job as a psychologist, I actually spend a lot of time helping people understand why something will benefit them. Why they need it, what it will target, how the science works, why it makes sense. We want to know that what we’re doing is actually going to be helpful.”
Calm is the perfect app for meditation newbies. But don’t worry; it also offers tons of programs for more advanced users. Bonus points awarded for the Sleep Stories, which tap into that warm, fuzzy feeling of your favorite childhood bedtime ritual.
A premium subscription provides access to the entire Calm catalog and costs $12.99/month, $59.99/year and $299.99 for a lifetime subscription.
This easy to use micro-diary app keeps track of your daily mood and activities. With Daylio, you check in with your feelings and choose from five different moods, ranging from “rad” to “awful.”
The app is super easy to use and navigate. It takes about a minute to make an entry, so not a major time commitment.
After several days of consistent use, you’ll start getting feedback reports, and voila! You’ll notice connections between activities that make you feel great. You’ll also have a light-bulb moment, showing what’s going on when you have those downer days. Seeing your moods throughout the month on the calendar layout is a really cool feature.
“What I love about this app is that is shows me trends — for the day, month, and even the year. This allows me to VISUALLY SEE if I am living a life that’s in balance or if I’m too heavy in one area vs another,” raves Daylio super fan That Helpful Dad.
Daylio is free to download on the App Store and Google Play. However, you can upgrade to Premium for $4.99.
Studies by the data science team at Happify found that Millennials live with a relatively negative state of mind. No big revelation there. Thankfully, research has shown that, like any muscle, happiness is a skill that you can strengthen. Happify’s research focuses on five essential skills for happiness: savoring, thanking, aspiring, giving, and empathizing. The Happify app measures your own emotional well-being, and then provides easy games and tasks to help you boost it.
According to Happify’s infographic, biology determines 50 percent of your happiness. Meanwhile, 40 percent is controlled by your thoughts, actions, and behaviors. That means a measly 10 percent is determined by circumstance. So yeah, getting a parking ticket sucks. You can a) choose to stew over the “injustice” for the entire day. Or b) accept it and move on. Either way, you can learn to control your mood.
Check out Happify and find out if its science-based activities can lead to positive changes in your life.
Happify is free to download on the App Store and Google Play. Happify Plus, with additional mindfulness tracks and other content, is available for $11.99 per month or $59.99 per year.