International Stress Awareness Week: Top 10 wellbeing apps

By Kate Birch
From guided meditation to brain-training exercises, these top 10 stress management apps will help you capitalise on your zen

This International Awareness Stress Week is one like no other. Because, more than ever before, stress has become a major issue and awareness and management is needed.

According to a recent 2021 survey by the American Psychological Association, four out of five Americans report feeling the emotional consequences of prolonged stress, with overall stress levels higher than ever before.

The good news is that stress can be managed. Whether it’s a daily battle or an infrequent flare-up, there are apps that can bring stress management within easy reach. These anytime, anywhere, at-your-fingertips apps can help empower you to take control over your health.

And more and more people are turning to such apps to help them track, understand and manage their stress. Businesses too are getting on board, securing mental health and stress-relief apps as a health benefit for employees.

One of the world’s most popular stress-relief apps, Headspace, has found a more than 500% increase in interest from firms looking for mental health help for their workforce with the number of people starting its ‘stressed meditation’ offering up six-fold.

From meditation and mindfulness to breathing and even game-playing, we highlight 10 apps to embrace in these anxious times.

1 Headspace

One of first meditation apps to hit the market, Headspace describes itself as a “gym membership for the mind”. Designed primarily to help you to learn meditation and mindfulness, it offers a series of daily guided 10-minute meditation sessions that not only help to calm and centre you, but also help you learn a skill and build good habits. And there are hundreds to choose from. You can access purpose-driven meditations, like learning how to focus; opt for one that deals with a common predicament; or choose one tailored to your feelings. Dealing with indecision, anyone? There’s a meditation for that too. There’s even bite-sized meditations (2-3 minutes) for when you’re between meetings. Add to this, mental fitness activities, mindful cardio sessions, bedtime stories and soundscapes, and a very clever tool called SOS sessions that helps you get back to sleep if you wake in the night, and staying stress-free is a breeze.

Cost and availability Available on iOS or Android. Get a free 7-day trial then add additional sessions via subscription, which is US$12.99 per month or US$69.99 annually. There are also student and family plans.

Simple Habit

Founded by former Wall Street investment banker Yunha Kim in 2016, and backed by Dropbox’s CEO Drew Houston, Simple Habit’s mission is to empower you to “stress less, achieve more, and live better”. Designed by top meditation experts to help busy people, like Yunha herself, it promises to help you improve focus and memory, relieve stress, enhance creativity and improve sleep with just a few minutes of meditation a day. Personalise your experience and discover more than 2,000 guided meditations for any situation and mood, including pre-sleep, between meetings, or when commuting. There are also daily motivations, guided sleep sessions, and coaching from world-renowned experts – think mindfulness experts at Google to former monks.

Cost and availability Available on iPhone and Android. While there are sessions for free, you will need to upgrade to download them or access all meditations with premium access costing US$11.99 per month or US$89.99 per year. Lifetime access will set you back US$299.99.

3 Calm

Highly popular, Calm is a meditation, mindfulness and sleep stories app that delivers an array of programmes featuring everything from breathwork to meditation to playlists for sleep. Offering tonnes of content, there are guided Daily Calm sessions to help you unwind and refocus, a daily meditation series, celebrity-narrated ‘sleep stories’ (fancy a calming tale from Matthew McConaughey?), specially mixed music to help you focus or relax, and even a gratitude check-in feature which you can use to remind yourself of how lucky you are. Learning to breathe is a key feature of Calm with the screen expanding and collapsing as you inhale and exhale.

Cost and availability Available on iOS (Apple) and Android. Get a free 7-day trial, a monthly subscription for US$14.99 or annual subscription for US$69.99.

4 Happify

Can you buy happiness? Yes, you can. Happify is a self-improvement programme that combines positive psychology and online gaming to train your brain, change your behaviour, and well, make you happy. Based on proven techniques by leading scientists and experts in the areas of positive psychology, mindfulness and CBT, it features a gaming experience – think engaging activities and games – to help you combat negativity, anxiety and stress, while simultaneously fostering positive traits like gratitude and empathy. Activities include reflective writing assignment, games and guided meditations. Users say it’s helped them to reframe negative thoughts, change outlook, prevent worry, enhance productivity, and even set better sleeping habits.

Availability and cost Available on Apple and Android. While technically free, for the basics, to access more advanced options and detailed stats, you pay US$11.99 per month.

Noom Mood

The latest wellbeing app on the block, Noom Mood is a brand-new programme aimed at helping users reduce stress and improve mental awareness. Already a successful digital health platform focused on behaviour change for weight reduction, Noom has utilised its more than decade of user insights, behavioural science research and tech innovation to launch Noom Mood. The concept is simple. It enables users to understand the ‘why’ behind their stress and offers a range of tools and techniques to deal with it. As well as daily 10-minute lessons rooted in psychological principles, from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to Acceptance Commitment Theory (ACT), to help users develop healthier habits and coping mechanisms, the app delivers mindfulness-based techniques and tools to help reduce stress, human coaching for guidance, empathy and social support, and even a mood-logging tool so users can better understand their mood and measure their progress.

Availability and cost Available on iOS and Android. You can trial Noom Mood for US$0.50 for 7 days before committing to US$59 per month or US$129 for four months.

6 Personal Zen

Promising to reduce stress in just 25 minutes, Personal Zen is a brain-training game that works on a cognitive treatment for anxiety called attention-bias modification (ABM) training (the first and only validated tool to fight stress using ABM). Developed by two health tech doctors and based around the playing of a game, it trains you to ignore ‘threatening’ stimulus and focus on ‘positive, non-threatening’ stimulus using happy and angry faces. You can set daily and weekly goals for total time playing and it features everything from mood tracking and journaling to brief positive practice exercises.

Availability and cost Available on iOS with Android coming soon. Offering a 6-month free trial and then costing US$1.99 per month or US$12.99 per year.  

7 Pacifica

Designed to provide long-lasting, ongoing benefits, Pacifica centres around cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques in helping you to identify your triggers and pressure points and then provides techniques to help you manage them effectively. As well as a mood tracker where you can record your own thoughts to help you understand your thinking patterns, Pacifica delivers a programme of guided deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises as well as daily anti-anxiety experiments.

Availability and cost Available on iOS and Android, it’s free with limited features, or get the full version for a US$3.99 monthly subscription or US$29.99 annual subscription.

8 Breathe2Relax

Originally designed for US military, veterans and their families, by the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, and endorsed by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Breathe2Relax is a simple to use and intuitive app that’s now available for anyone to download. Designed as a tool to teach breathing techniques, in particular for those with anxiety, stress and PTSD, it centres on a skill known as diaphragmatic breathing (‘belly breathing’), which has proven benefits for stress reduction, and features a programme of tried-and-tested deep breathing practices. The app can be personalised to your needs, and you can keep track of your stress levels over time and the effects that has on different parts of your body, as well as map your personal progress.

Availability and cost Available on Google Play or iTunes. Free.

9 Reflectly

Described as a “journal for happiness”, Reflectly is a mindfulness app that claims to enable you to deal with negative thoughts and make positivity louder. So, how does it work? It allows you to track your thoughts and feelings and reflect on your day by posing easy questions or prompts to help you to explore your feelings and thoughts. Great for those who are not into meditations but who want to practice mindfulness.

Availability and cost Available on iOS and Android. Following a 7-day free trial, you can then subscribe for US$3.99 per month or US$47.99 for a year.

10 Wysa

This is one for conversationalists, for those who like to talk through their negative thoughts and feelings or for those simply wanting to vent. Not only does Wysa’s AI chatbot give you the option of chatting in a safe space whenever you like, but it features a real-life coach option that provides daily messaging and eight live therapy sessions with trained psychologists. Using AI and machine learning to create personalised tools and activities based on your data, Wysa delivers an array of evidence-based self-help techniques and cognitive restructuring exercises to both help you keep calm and retrain your outlook. You can also monitor your progress and it will check on how you’re feeling routinely.

Availability and cost Available on Google Play or iTunes, it’s free, but the advanced features with a real-life coach costs US$29.99 per month.


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