8 Free iPhone Apps to Improve Your Mental Health

012218 mindfulness

If your new year’s resolution includes practicing mindfulness or meditation as part of a lifestyle change, this is the post for you. Even if mindfulness wasn’t on your to-do list for 2018, it’s never a bad idea to start. Meditation has many benefits for your physical and mental health, including:

  • Improving focus and attention
  • Increasing brain volume related to positive emotions
  • Improving emotional regulation
  • Decreasing feelings of loneliness
  • Decreasing anxiety, depression, and stress

Read the details on these benefits and more at Psychology Today.

I’ve put together a list of apps you can download to your iPhone to help guide a new mindfulness practice. Premium memberships with all the meditations unlocked will cost you a little bit (the price varies by app) but the free membership will get you started on the right track for the low cost of just a few minutes of your time and a willingness to commit to this new habit.

  1. Calm: Calm is a popular meditation app with guided tracks as short as 3 minutes (perfect for a quick morning routine before coffee) and up to 25 minutes long if you’ve got half an hour to spare. Even the loading screen is calming, with the message, “Take a deep breath” while the app loads up. You can choose from several goals:  sleep, gratitude, anxiety, happiness, stress, self-esteem, meditation, or focus. Once you set up a username and password, you’ll get a screen with paid options, but you can tap the X in the top right corner to move ahead with the free version. My favorite part is the ambient noise you can choose for your home screen on the app: choose from flowing water and songbirds at a mountain lake, a crackling fire, a rainy drizzle in the forest, or silence while you look at the Earth from space.
  2. Headspace: Headspace is another meditation app that’s very popular and has great reviews. Free tracks are available without handing over your payment info, but if you sign up for the trial premium membership keep an eye on your auto-renewal in case you don’t want to continue. Choose from the “Everyday Headspace” track, one- to three-minute “Mini” tracks, or the “Basics” tracks that are designed to teach you how to meditate one day at a time. Note: Your phone will download each meditation before playing, so this will take a moment and some storage space.
  3. The Mindfulness App: When you download Mindfulness, you’ll set up the app’s permissions, including the option to receive a “Daily Notice” in your push notifications (to remind you of a mindful tidbit to keep in mind each day), the ability to connect to the iPhone Health App to track your mindfulness practice and/or heart rate, and then the obligatory slide detailing the premium account cost and benefits. Just tap the X to keep it free. Choose from 3, 5, 15, or 30 minute meditations and a 1 or 5 minute body scan to check in with your body. There are options for guided (where a narrator talks you through the meditation) or silent (which lets you do your own thing and just guides you with chimes throughout the session to come back to your breath as needed). You can set a background sound for your meditation, nearly all of which are water-based except the forest track, which has birdsong. You can set a daily timer to remind you to do your meditation to make sure you remember each day.
  4. Insight Timer: This app boasts more free content than any other meditation app. When you first sign up, you’ll see the default home screen, a world map that shows you where people are meditating all across the globe — which is fascinating and exciting. You can connect with friends or search by location to see which meditation tracks are popular in your area. If you choose, you can also set the “Explore” page (the icon that looks like headphones) as your home screen, featuring a multitude of tracks and music to help you focus and center. The timer screen (clock icon) lets you set a timer with a distinct chime of your choosing at the start and end of your unguided meditation (with an option to ring during the session too). You can also join groups (four dots icon) and check your own progress in your profile.
  5. Sattva: Sattva’s setup is similar to the rest with a basic push notification allowance, etc., but it also asks to access your location in order to display sunrise, sunset, moon phases, and other location-based stats. You can set privacy to just you, friends-only, or the entire Sattva community. As always, there’s an upsell page to promote the premium membership, but you can easily skip this step. The display of Sattva is beautiful and brightly colored, which personally makes me feel happy and upbeat. Your dashboard will display your overall stats on how long you’ve meditated with the app and your best streak of days in a row, a daily mantra, a timer, and any playlists you’ve assembled. There’s also a daily quote or wisdom for reflection as you see fit. Within Sattva, you can join “lounges,” which are essentially groups with recommended meditations. Sattva feels like a social network for mindfulness.
  6. Aura: Aura promotes itself as “A personalized mindfulness app that understands you” and you’ll start off by setting a profile with your age, some descriptors of yourself, the habit you want to attach your mindfulness practice to (this is unique and actually works, since it builds on existing habits you already have like brushing your teeth or eating breakfast), and opting in for reminders/push notifications. Once your profile is set up, you’ll choose your main goal, similar to other mindfulness apps. The free membership allows you to choose from “Learn Mindfulness,” “Enjoy Peaceful Morning,” or “Reduce Stress.” Premium membership unlocks goals related to anxiety, focus, happiness, healing, self-love/confidence, and sleep. When you’re ready to start your meditation, you can select how you’re feeling – selecting a feeling will filter a meditation that best suits your mood.
  7. Mood Mint: Mood Mint isn’t a meditation app, but it helps you “reprogram” your brain to focus on the positive. You’ll see four images and your goal is to tap the one that is the most positive. The images available are a mix of human faces showing a range of emotions, people being physically active, foods, and nature photos. You can also upload your own photos to the mix as well. For example, if you see the following four images: woman laughing, boy frowning, donut, and storm cloud, the “correct” response is to tap the woman laughing. The quicker you select the positive image, the more points you get. Over time this re-trains your brain to focus on positives over negatives. There are also text slides during each round, a positive word-search, and a breathing exercise.
  8. Shine: Shine is an awesome app that sends you a positive text each day that helps you practice mindfulness, self-care, and gratitude. You can follow the text to a blog post that goes into detail about each day’s Shine. The Shine app also allows you to listen to free “Quick Hitters,” either to set a positive mindset in the morning, boost your mood in the afternoon, or help you wind down in the evening. You can unlock premium membership tracks with a free 7-day trial or upgrade to a paid membership. The daily texts are great on their own, though!

Now that I have eight new apps on my phone, I should pick one to commit to for more than a few days! Which one sounds best for your needs?

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