July 03, 2019Preventive Healthcare

Stressed? These apps can help you to relax body and mind

Modern societies suffer from fast lifestyles, overwork, information overload. Long to-do lists, appointments, and deadlines, but also daily duties as a student, worker, mother, husband – stress is an integral part of our lives. To find a balance and calm, you don’t need to be a yoga master or a monk. You just have to choose the right mobile app.

Key health determinant

Stress is a natural physiological reaction, a response to threatening situations, emergencies and unfamiliarity. Our body produces adrenaline which causes an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar level. This way we quickly get mobilized and motivated to protect ourselves. Although this feature helped our ancestors to survive in a world full of dangers, in today’s world – where we don’t have to fight with animals and hostile tribes – it can be damaging. While short periods of stress are not harmful at all, chronic stress, which is often unrecognizable, can lead to many physical and mental disorders. It is enough to mention cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and stroke, or depression. That’s why it’s so important to manage stress regularly. Going on vacation twice a year is not enough – emotional and mental tensions must be relieved on a daily basis.

Apps help to find a balance

The number of mobile apps for stress management reflects the scale of the problem. In the Google and Apple stores, there are thousands of them. It is important to choose the one that fits your daily schedule and offers stress reduction techniques that you like, while giving the possibility to monitor your progress and to discover stress triggers. For some, simple breathing sessions, games or painting exercises are much more enjoyable than meditation. There is no best “one-fits-all” option, so I would recommend trying out a few of them first to choose the perfect one that meets your personal expectations.

Note: apps can’t so far estimate stress levels reliably. The only measurable biometric would be in this case heart rate, which varies in different situations.

Moody. Take the first step and start to monitor your ups and downs

For a long time, I was looking for a well-designed and easy to use mood journal. It takes only a few seconds to register your current mood: score it on the 5-grade scale, describe (or include a picture) and write what you are doing. If you make entries regularly, you get a big picture of your mental state. It also helps you to recognize when you are stressed and to take steps to improve things. After a month of using Moody, I discovered a pattern I had never thought about. For instance, my mood goes up significantly when I use my bicycle instead of public transport. An eye-opening experience. Similar app: Daylio.

Calm. A mindfulness app for beginners

A leading app with over 400k ratings (4.8 points of 5.0). Its design, with beautiful pictures of nature, is already soothing. Sometimes, I start using apps then leave them after a certain time, but that was not the case with this one. At the beginning, I chose the session “7 Days of Managing Stress” so I was “forced” to do guided meditation sessions every day. After this time, Calm became a morning ritual I practice after waking up. What’s important is that you can choose the length that suits you best: from three to 25 minutes. At the end of a stressful day, it also helps me to fall asleep. After a seven-day free trial, you will be charged 38,99 euros annually (you can get it forever for 349,99 euros). I was struggling to decide whether to pay for it, but now I’m sure it was the best money I ever invested. A similar choice is “Pacifica for Stress & Anxiety” or the Headspace app.

Kenkou Breathe Pro - Breathe in, breathe out

When I feel that I urgently need a short break in a chaotic and busy day, I switch on the Kenkou app. This science-backed breathing training course delivers deep relaxation within a few minutes. During the training, the app measures my stress resistance level and tracks improvements. I love the graphics and clarity. The Kenkou app promises to reduce anxiety, provide instant stress relief, and lower the risk of burnout syndrome, but what matters for me personally is that guided breathing lets me restart my mind in the middle of a hectic day and cope better with tough challenges.

Colorfy. Relaxing flow state

If you think that you can calm down only by exercising meditation, yoga, breathing or mindfulness, you should try coloring therapy! Before I found Colorfy, Angry Birds helped me effectively to reduce stress. But simple coloring books give me an ultimate flow state or focused meditation without the feeling I’m wasting precious time on gaming. I promise it’s a lot of fun. You can choose your favorite motif from a gallery of 1,000+ pictures: flowers, animals, famous paintings, patterns.

Happify. Build resilience and emotional well-being

“The single destination for effective, evidence-based solutions for better mental health and wellbeing in the 21st century” – I was really skeptical when I read the description of the app. But can 86 percent of people – who use Happify regularly and report feeling better about their lives in two months – be wrong? You can choose a personalized happiness track which contains quizzes, games, meditations sessions, etc. It’s a very complex solution which offers a set of tools that make the app. Some say it transforms life for the better, reduces stress or improves well-being. Do a free trial before you opt for the quite expensive Plus version. 

Stress & Anxiety Companion. Handle stress and anxiety on the go

I prefer apps that have been validated or are based on medical knowledge. This app – created by a psychologist and their patient – meets the UK’s National Health Service’s (NHS) strict criteria for health apps and was classified in the NHS Apps Library. It helps to identify anxiety and stress triggers and to change the way you think by using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Breathe, relax and reframe negative thoughts. The evidence-based therapy and clear design mean Stress & Anxiety Companion has been my private companion for years already.


Artur Olesch

Digital health freelance journalist, blogger (aboutdigitalhealth.com), researcher, editor.