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Stressed Out? Take a Breather With These Meditation Apps

A short, guided time-out might be just the ticket to calm your always-on mind

Meditation app concept - man meditating with tablet

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En español | Let's cut right to the chase: We have a lot to be stressed out about today.

From the fear of you and loved ones contracting coronavirus to being cooped up at home to unemployment to investments such as your 401(k) taking a nosedive, it's easy to see why many people are more on edge than ever before.

But you can do a few things to improve your mental health, experts say. That includes exercising, proven to decrease anxiety and stabilize mood; listening to meditative music, which studies show can decrease blood pressure during stress; and socializing with friends, perhaps through video chats.

Several apps to download to your smartphone or tablet focus solely on mindfulness and meditation, each with a slightly different approach. Most are easy to use, even for beginners, and in many cases they're free to start.

Even if you take just a short time-out each day to hit the reset button or to help unwind for a better night's sleep, consider these picks, available in both the App Store for iOS devices such as iPhone and iPad and Google Play for Android.

Calm app screenshots

Calm

Calm

One of the most popular apps in this space, Calm is a meditation and mindfulness app with guided sessions from 3 to 25 minutes long. It has content designed for beginners as well as intermediate and advanced users, including seven- and 21-day programs.

Simply choose a topic that matters to you — such as Breaking Habits, Calming Anxiety, Concentration, Deep Sleep, Focus, Forgiveness, Happiness, Managing Stress or Self-Esteem — and the desired length of the session. Track your progress with gamification elements, such as daily streaks, as well as a tally of time spent meditating.

While the app has free sessions to get you started, subscriptions are $14.99 a month or $59.99 a year. Subscribers get full access to all the instructions, a new 10-minute program added daily, more than 100 Sleep Stories, breathing exercises, relaxing nature sounds and more.

If you have a smart speaker, such as Amazon Echo or Google Nest, ask to open Calm to be verbally guided through a session.

Headspace app screenshots

Headspace

Headspace: Meditation & Sleep

Your “gym membership for the mind” wants to teach you how to meditate in just a few minutes a day.

Headspace features a clean and easy-to-use interface, and offers a free beginner series called “Take10” — 10 sessions, each 10 minutes long, over 10 days — using proven meditation and mindfulness techniques that could help you clear your head, enjoy greater happiness, reduce stress and sleep better.

Available for iOS, Android, Amazon and the web, the lessons include stat tracking, rewards and an optional buddy system so friends can motivate each other.

If you want more than the introductory “Take10,” Headspace offers a subscription for $12.99 a month or $94.99 per year. This grants you access to SOS sessions for moments of panic and stress. Newly added sessions include “The Wake Up,” short real-life stories and advice to keep you inspired throughout the day, and “Move Mode,” which exercises your mind and body at the same time through guided workouts.

Simple Habit

Simple Habit

Simple Habit

Feel better in five minutes. That's what Simple Habit has set out to accomplish.

"Built for busy people,” the on-demand mindfulness and meditation platform dishes up short lessons and features more than 1,000 sessions. Mindfulness teachers from around the world — including former monks — guide the sessions.

For a more tailored lesson, you can choose the time, place and cause of your stress. Or tap something relevant to you, such as Morning Meditation or Tough Day.

Meditation series include “Drift to Sleep,” “Meditate in Nature” and “Sharpen Focus.” Or follow the teacher of your choice. Check out Australia's Kate James with her soothing voice and helpful instruction.

More than a dozen sessions are free, with an option to upgrade to a premium version for $11.99 a month or $95.99 a year. A paid account gives you access to meditations offline.

The app also is available through a desktop website, and Simple Habit will remember where you left off.

Ten Percent Happier App

Ten Percent Happier

Ten Percent Happier

Designed for “fidgety skeptics,” Ten Percent Happier offers clear and simple meditation lessons — with video.

New York Times bestselling author and an ABC News anchor, Dan Harris, leads the app. He suffered an on-air panic attack in 2004, which prompted him to write the book 10% Happier. The app features quick meditations, which you can do whenever you have a spare moment, from many respected teachers.

Available for iOS, Android and the web, Ten Percent Happier offers free access to a seven-session introductory course, advice, daily meditation videos that include offline access, guided audio lessons for when you can't look at a screen and tips for applying mindfulness to your personal and professional lives. New content is added monthly to keep things fresh.

The app is free to download and use. But members get a lot more content, such as a library of more than 500 guided meditations, for $9.99 a month or $79.99 a year.

Also, check out these apps: Relax Melodies: Sleep Sounds (Ipnos Software), Buddhify: Meditation & Mindfulness App (Mindfulness Everywhere) and the new and free Breathscape: Deep Breathing (AuraLab LLC).

Marc Saltzman has been a freelance technology journalist for 25 years. His podcast Tech It Out aims to break down geek speak into street speak.

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