Work, health, family, study, money – there are all kinds of factors in everyday life that can cause and contribute to stress and it is crucial to develop strategies to deal with it.
Fortunately, there are many tools available that can assist with bringing stress management within easy reach. And the great thing about these tools is that they are accessible via the one thing you carry around with you everywhere in addition to your head – your phone!
Thank you, apps!
There is a joke that there is an app for everything and it is no surprise that there are dozens of apps available for managing and reducing stress, as the meditation and self-care space is a booming sector right now.
So you don’t have to spend ages looking for the right ones, we’ve checked out and written brief reviews for 20 of the very best apps for stress relief. They are quite varied – there are apps that offer guided meditation, stress relief games and all kinds of resources for stress and related conditions such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks and insomnia.
Here we go then . . .
Apparently, this app was initially designed for the military veterans as a way to learn relaxation techniques to control anxiety, but of course, you don’t need fatigues and a rifle to benefit from it.
Breathe2Relax trains you to use a “belly breathing” technique that will eventually enable you to practise on your own whenever you are feeling stressed. This type of controlled belly or diaphragmatic breathing technique enables you to breathe deeply and deliver a rich supply of oxygen to the body and downshift you into a calmer state.
Breathe2Relax leads you through the breathing exercises through graphics, animations, narration and videos. It’s a fairly minimalistic interface, but it works.
Subscription price: all the features of this app are free.
#2. Sanvello (formerly Pacifica)
The basic functions on the app are free and what you get is good enough to get started. If you wish to upgrade to the paid version, you can then unlock the full meditation library, all the guided learning paths, unlimited health tracking and journaling, background themes and tools you can use with a therapist.
Sanvello uses a range of tools, which we have outlined for you below:
Meditate – this section provides simple guided breathing exercises, but if you want more, you need to upgrade to the paid version.
Health – allows you to record and track your habits, such as sleep, diet, caffeine and alcohol intake and exercise, etc.
Hope – the hope board is a place where you can save photos, completed Sanvello activities and inspirational content you can come to when you need a lift or some added motivation.
Thoughts – thoughts about experiences can have a huge impact on emotional responses to those events, but there are times when the thoughts are not true or unfair. This tool has several activities that can help you think about things in a different way and spot anxiety triggers.
Goals – the goals section helps you set small challenges to help you achieve the things that are important to you.
This is a great app that is very attractive and really easy to use, providing an excellent range of tools, tracking and feedback. Highly recommended!
Premium access is available via subscription at the following current prices:
This app requires a subscription to unlock the full functionality, but provides a free 7-day course that introduces the basics of mindfulness meditation.
Calm promotes relaxation through guided and unguided meditations, sleep stories, nature images, videos and sounds. You get a choice of narrators, which is a nice option to have, as one voice won’t always appeal to all.
The meditation activities focus on different goals, such as anxiety, sleep, stress, relationships, personal growth, etc.
There is even content designed specifically for kids. The overall user experience is very good with a range of customizable settings.
Calm Premium subscription is currently $59.99 annually, which unlocks all resources and features.
Headspace is probably one of the best known and most popular mindfulness apps out there, especially for beginners. It has received excellent reviews globally and is a trusted go-to app for relaxation.
Headspace is a subscription app that offers a 10-day trial, so you can experience the programmes before committing to the paid version.
It is a very lively and user-friendly and intuitive interface that keeps things interesting and it is simple to navigate the features.
The mission of the Headspace developers was to make meditation accessible to everyone and through this app, I think they have achieved this. The only major complaint is possibly that it is a bit too expensive, but just as many people say it is worth the price.
Current subscription price:
Annual $7.92 per month, billed as one annual payment of $95.04
Aware is a guided meditation app focussing on mindfulness training for newbies. This is a subscription-based platform, but it is much cheaper than most of the others out there, so if cost is a deciding factor for you, you’re off to a good start with this one.
The interface is clear, but pretty basic and you only have one narrator, so if you don’t like his voice, it could put you off.
The free version of the app provides a great mindfulness foundation course and offers several additional tools that I was surprised were available without having to subscribe.
All in all, there is probably enough content in the free version to get you well on the path to calmness, but the subscription package is a bargain compared with most other similar apps.
Current subscription prices:
$3.99 per month
$29.99 per year
Based on the premise that happiness is something you can choose, a skill you can control and a habit you can learn, Happify trains you to be happier through science-backed games and activities.
The structure of Happify is based around more than 50 different “tracks”, which are essentially goals, like “Conquer Your Negative Thoughts”, “Cope Better With Stress”, “Beat Burnout & Build Resilience”. Each track has a series of activities and challenges that you need to complete to earn a medal.
The free version only lets you do a few activities across the tracks, so you will need to subscribe to unlock Happify Plus if you want access to everything and get the full benefit.
In addition to the activities, there is also a feature called Happify Daily, which is usually and inspiring, uplifting, funny or thought-provoking video.
Current subscription prices:
This app enables you to keep a private diary without having to type a single line!
Keeping a record of your mood and thoughts can play an important role in the treatment of various psychological disorders and this app provides a clear, systematic structure to enable you to do that. Collecting this type of data can help you or a mental health professional assess how emotional states vary according to thoughts, behaviours, medications and experiences. Once you have this information, it makes it easier to put together a strategy to manage your moods.
The app is free, but there is also a Premium version, which removes ads, has unlimited mood options and allows you to export all entries.
One-time purchase at $3.99.
#8. Antistress – Relaxation Toys
Sometimes, you just need a distraction to help take your mind off your worries and stresses. The Antistress app does just that! This is a collection of games based mainly on executive stress-relief-style desk toys.
At the time of writing this, you get 35 different games with the free version and you have the option to buy another 17 or so, but we found the free offerings more than sufficient for a quick distraction. The bubble wrap popping game alone will keep you going for weeks!
Current subscription price: free
#9. Relaxing Music for Stress
This app provides a nice selection of tranquil and peaceful music to help you meditate, sleep and relax. It’s the kind of music you might expect to hear at a spa.
It’s a pretty basic interface and a little heavy on the ads, but since you don’t need to look at the screen after you’ve set the music you want, it’s not really a problem. It basically does what it says it does!
This one isn’t available on the iPhone, so we’re recommending an alternative called “Deep Relax Sleep Music”, which is linked below.
Current subscription price: free
#10. Meditation Game
This is a game that is also a kind of guided meditation. You have a little ball of light that represents you and the object is to move around collecting little balls of energy, which you can do by tilting your phone. Meanwhile, you have a relaxing backing tracking and receive various affirmation-type messages and meditation guidance.
The graphics and sound are beautiful and create a feel that is quite other-worldly.
We found it provided a relaxing experience, but not sure about the longevity of this one, as some people might get bored with it quickly.
You can download addition themes for free or you can make a donation to the author.
#11. What’s Up? Mental Health App
This is a simple app that acts as a quick check-in tool to get a perspective on your thoughts and feelings when you sense anxiety kicking in. There are all kinds of grounding techniques, mindfulness tips and affirmations exercises, as well as guidance on how to manage anger, anxiety, depression and stress.
This is a nice little app that, while fairly basic in design makes up for that with some really useful content that is based on some of the best Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Acceptance Commitment Therapy techniques.
Like with the Meditation Game, you can donate to access additional themes.
#12. Stop, Breathe & Think
This is another easy-to-use guided meditation app covering a wide range of goals and enabling you to take the opportunity to spend a bit of time concentrating on yourself. There is a decent amount of free content available and a progress page that allows you to track your, erm, progress. If you’re new to mindfulness and meditation, a good place to start is in the Learn To Meditate section, which clearly outlines the basics of how it works and gives you an idea of what to expect.
A quick survey at the beginning that asks about your current physical, mental and emotional state allows the app to select meditations based on your needs, but you’re free to pick any of the others if you prefer.
Powering up to the premium version unlocks additional audio activities and videos and new activities are added every month.
Current subscription prices:
Yearly $4.99/mo, billed as annual payment of $59.98
Aura is a mindfulness app providing short bursts of guided meditations starting from just 3 minutes, which should suit even the busiest of schedules. Let’s face it, you could do that 3-minute meditation while sitting on the toilet and I don’t care how busy you are, at some point in the day, nature will call.
There is a new session every day and you can log your feeling and track your mood over the days and weeks.
The subscription account gives you access to over 1,000 meditations as well as life coaching, stories and music.
Current subscription price: $59.99 per year with 7 Days Free Trial.
This is a free app designed as a tool for people who suffer with depression. It aims to create a self-help space and the opportunity to experiment with different treatment methods, in the form of interactive sessions, to see what works for you.
The programme is built on what they call “mood workouts”, which are a combination of a thought diary and mindfulness exercises that can be completed on your phone, at any time you choose and every workout is based on the latest research into depression treatments.
The interface is basic, but attractive and it’s very simple to use.
We don’t have the personal experience to know whether or not it works as part of a coping strategy for depression, but there are enough very positive reviews on the app store sites make us think that it must be pretty good.
This app is not available on iPhone. Our suggested alternative is “MoodTools”, which is linked on the App Store button below.
#15. 10% Happier
This app is touted as “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics” and was co-founded by ABC News anchorman, Dan Harris, who was previously a skeptic when it came to stuff like meditation, but after experiencing an on-air panic attack back in 2004, he ended up on a path that led him to meditation and changed his life.
This app is a great, no-nonsense introduction to the practice of mindfulness and ‘keeps it real’ for those that are not into the airy-fairy hippie style of doing things.
If you subscribe, you can unlock all of the features of this app, which includes unlimited access to their collection of video courses and over 350 guided meditations (to which they are adding every week).
You can also download the course and meditations for when you are on the go and receive personal coaching from experienced meditators.
Current subscription price: Try for 7 days free then $8.33/mo, billed annually at $99.99.
#16. Breethe – Guided Meditation & Mindfulness
Breethe is another guided meditation app that includes hundreds of daily meditations, and a broad mix of other guided meditations to help you deal with specific issues such as anxiety, work performance, weight loss, insomnia, etc. There are also mindfulness programmes for kids, tweens and teens.
Like some of the other apps, they have an on-the-go selection of short audio meditations, which are ideal for people with hectic schedules and the developers very much seem to be aiming at those who find it difficult to devote time to themselves each day.
There is a wealth of resources and content on the free version alone, but if you want to unlock everything, you can subscribe to one of the packages.
We like this one and it is very highly rated by users.
Breethe currently has 3 subscription plans available.
$39 for 3 months
$89 for 1 year
$119 for 2 years + Free Lifetime upgrade
#17. Simple Habit
This is another app aimed at busy people. And let’s face it, that is probably most of us. The idea is to provide a daily, 5-minute dose of meditation for specific symptoms (e.g. stress, depression, anxiety, etc.) guided by some of the world’s best meditation teachers and mindfulness experts.
There’s an “On-the-Go” feature that matches your immediate and specific needs and available time with an appropriate meditation and the “Mindful Minutes” feature allows you to track your progress.
The interface is clear and easy to use, although we did find it tended to “hang” a bit on occasion. All in all though, a decent app.
The premium version provides access to all audio recordings and offline access to meditations.
Current subscription price: $10.99 monthly / $65.99 annually
Over the last couple of years, adult colouring books have turned into something of a trend. Although most mental health professionals would agree that colouring could hardly be classed as Art Therapy, there is something decidedly relaxing and therapeutic about it and if it helps to calm you down and distract you from the stress of the moment, that can’t be a bad thing.
Colorfy brings the adult colouring book experience to your phone or tablet.
The free trial offers limited drawings and palettes and bombards you with ads. For full access, a subscription is required.
Current subscription prices:
1 Month $7.99
1 Year $39.99
#19. Breath Ball
The Breath Ball App was developed for the Gmundnerberg Neurological Therapy Center in Austria (which is famous, apparently), where it is used to help patients during neurological rehabilitation. It is quite a simple concept that enables you to transform stress and anxiety into relaxation and inner calm in a matter of minutes by simply breathing in time with the Breath Ball that inflates and deflates at a set rhythm to ambient music.
It’s a simple interface, but a very effective tool to simply feel calm or to use in conjunction with meditation.
Current subscription prices to unlock six additional features:
1 Month $0.99
6 months $5.99
12 months $8.49
This app is based on the best-selling book, DARE, by Barry McDonagh, which is one of the highest-rated programmes for overcoming anxiety and panic attacks. It gets some great reviews and deservedly so.
It is a very easy app to navigate and is packed full of resources and audio to help you overcome anxiety issues, panic attacks, general worries and insomnia.
There is also a “Mind Gym” that provides audio resources to inspire and motivate and tools for mindfulness and general well-being.
Lastly, there is a set of “SOS” audio guidance from Barry that can help or reassure you during an event, so it’s like having a therapist with you whenever you need one!
The free version of the app provides chock loads of stuff, but you can subscribe to unlock everything.
Current monthly subscription price: $9.99
With so many offerings in the stress reduction app market, it maybe hard to find the right one for you. But there is enough variety in terms of functionality, design and price to ensure that there is at least one out there that will suit you and it may be that you end up using a combination of several of these reviewed.
What is your favourite app for reducing stress? We’d love to know if you’ve had any experience with these and what your thoughts are.