There are multiple apps I use and recommend to clients that provide information, tools, and ways to track your goals. I especially like the meditation and mindfulness apps, relaxation and breathing technology, tools to support getting good sleep, and lessons to help you cultivate gratitude and self compassion.
I have a brief list of technology tools on my Resources Page. In an effort to help you take positive action towards improving your mental health, I've compiled the following, more substantial list of apps with detailed information.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness developed AIR (Anonymous. Inspiring. Relatable), a free social network app designed for individuals living with mental health conditions and their family members/caregivers.
- Optimism Apps are currently free and are designed to track your mood and the strategies you're using to reduce symptoms and feel better. It was originally designed for depression, mood disorders, and ADHD but can be used by anyone wanting to track their wellness. There's an app for phones and also a website application for people who prefer a larger desktop format. This one comes highly recommended!
- ACT Companion is intended for people who have read The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. It's best used by clients who are - or have been - in therapy with an ACT therapist. ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) is an evidence based therapy using mindfulness and behavioral principles. The app has goal setting tools, values clarification, and guided exercises.
- Five Minute Journal is an inexpensive app that encourages brief entries, one in the morning and one in the evening, with gratitude, photos, daily priorities, and an area to reflect on your day. If you love inspirational quotes, you'll get one every day. And if you want to journal but always seem to forget, this might help.
Relaxation & Deep Breathing
- HeartMath is more expensive than the others (starting at $129 and up) because it includes a sensor that measures your heart rate variability. There are a set of tools to choose from, including an app with an ear sensor that plugs into your phone or a separate device called an EmWave machine that's about the size of a phone and includes software for your desktop. It's based on research that has linked emotions and cognitive functioning to heart function and heart rate variability, which can be improved through guided compassion and specific breathing exercises. I've used the EmWave device and found it very helpful. The feedback about my heart rate and progress over time made it much more valuable than the free apps. I recommend this one to many of my clients, especially my relationship counseling clients who are struggling with intense conflict or the effects of trauma and stress.
- Breath2Relax is a free app with diaphragmatic breathing exercises and the ability to track progress over time. Deep belly breathing is related to building resilience to stress and can help with insomnia, anxiety, and trauma responses. In fact, this tool was developed by the VA for use with veterans who experience PTSD and anxiety. I recommend this one for folks who are looking for a less expensive option than HeartMath listed above. This one provides instructions and animation for breathing from your diaphragm and lengthening your inhale and exhale.
Sleep Habits & Insomnia
- Sleep Well! This is an inexpensive app and doesn't have an accompanying website or desktop software. It has guided somatic exercises that your therapist might recommend before bed, such as a Body Scan and Progressive Relaxation. There's also a lot of useful information about effective sleep habits. For more information about sleep habits and sleep hygiene to address insomnia, see my blog post on Tips for Insomnia.
- SHUTi (Sleep Health Using the Internet) is expensive for an online program ($139 for 16 weeks of access to complete a 5 week program) but it's more than an app. The fee grants you access to an online treatment program based on the Gold Standard of insomnia treatment: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia. You can try it on your own or use it in conjunction with insomnia treatment with a therapist. This online program is one of the only ones listed here that has been studied for effectiveness and compared to people who receive similar treatment in face to face sessions with a therapist.
- CBTi Coach (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia) is a free app to help you track your sleep related behaviors, sleep and wake times, and sleep assessments. There are relaxation exercises and plenty of free information about healthy sleep hygiene. This is best used by folks who have completed the SHUTi program listed above or are in therapy with someone who is knowledgeable about CBTi.
Compassion & Guided Self Acceptance Imagery
- Stop Breathe and Think: I've never used this free app or heard from clients who have, but it's been recommended by other therapists who use it in their practice. From the creator's website: "With this app, you can develop and apply kindness and compassion in your daily life through a process called STOP, BREATHE & THINK"
- Free guided imagery and self-compassion exercises by Kristen Neff, co-creator of an 8 week program called Mindful Self Compassion.
Mindfulness and Meditation
- Insight Timer is a very popular free app that provides a timer and beautiful Tibetan bell sounds. It's also a social network so you can connect to your friends on the app. There are free guided meditations and talks by famous meditation teachers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn.
- Calm is a free app that I use frequently. The best feature is the relaxing sounds of rain, the beach, or birds chirping. There are also guided relaxation scripts as well as a timed meditation feature. I live in an urban area with loud street traffic, and I often have the website open for peaceful background noise. It's also helpful if noise keeps you awake at night.