Put Relaxation in the Palm of Your Hand

Woman relaxing on the floor with smartphone
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Historically, self-help tools have included resources such as published books, and then online materials. However, with the advent and popularity of smartphone app technologies, you can now literally carry self-help strategies in the palm of your hand.

Below is a list of apps aimed to address anxiety, stress, anger, and worry by enhancing relaxation, meditation, and mindfulness practices. Apps that specifically target problematic thinking and self-judgment — those that closely ally with some of the popular evidence-based psychotherapies for anxiety — are reviewed separately.

This list is not comprehensive, but it is representative of some of the more popular apps currently available.


Platform: Calm is available for the iPhone or Android, with full functionality on the web.

Cost: free, with the exception of “The 21 Days of Calm” program available to paid subscribers.

What it offers: This app offers meditation sessions. The length of sessions can be personalized, from 2 to 30 minutes, to suit the individual’s needs. Meditations can be guided, or the app can be set to ‘timer only’ for the more experienced user. A variety of nature scenes and sounds are available to help enhance the relaxation process. There are three set programs: “The 7 Days of Calm” for beginners, “The 21 Days of Calm” to deepen existing meditation progress (not free), and “The 7 Days of Sleep” for individuals who experience sleep disturbances due to stress and anxiety. Thus, this app is well suited to people looking to experiment with mindfulness and meditation, or to those who would like to continue a routine meditation practice. Besides the established programs, the app has a reminder function, which can be programmed to cue users to meditate as desired. It does not, however, include any tools for tracking progress.

Breathe 2 Relax

Platform: Breathe 2 Relax is available for the iPhone or Android.

Cost: free.

What it offers: There are a number of breathing exercises that can help decrease the physical sensations of anxiety and facilitate mood stability. This app is designed to guide users through one of an essential breathing technique — diaphragmatic ‘belly’ breathing. The app can be programmed with inhalation and exhalation durations that match the individual’s own version of a deep, full breath. In addition, stress levels can be monitored. Notably, this app is recommended by the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology.


Platform: Headspace is available for the iPhone or Android.

Cost: free 10-day trial, then approximately $6-12 per month sessions.

What it offers: This app is good for a beginner seeking to establish a regular meditation practice to reduce anxiety and stress. The app describes important concepts (like mindfulness and cognitive diffusion) clearly and offers illustrative videos and supplemental podcasts to enhance understanding. Meditations catering to different areas of life, such as relationships or personal health, are available. It can track progress somewhat — namely, how much you’ve used the app to meditate — but it does not include ways to monitor other aspects of progress such as improvements in focus or overall anxiety level.

A Few Words of Caution

Please note that while the use of an electronic app can be a fantastic way to supplement ongoing treatment (be it talk therapy or medication), prevent relapse, and get assistance with subclinical anxiety, these apps are not designed as stand-alone anxiety treatments.

If your symptoms persist or worsen, it is critical to seek out a consultation with a mental health professional.

New apps are being created at a fast clip. The range of sophistication, utility, and appropriateness for a given problem can vary widely. A little research — to understand a bit about the app’s purpose and target audience — can go a long way. The U.S. Department of Defense’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America are two organizations that offer helpful reviews of apps that are updated with some regularity. If you are currently in treatment, you might also ask your provider for apps that they recommend.

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