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By: Anya Broytman

Smartphones are taking a toll on our mental health. Many spend a lot of time scrolling aimlessly through social media or getting distracted by

yet another notification. But what if we could harness the power of technology to boost our mental health instead of undermining it? This article will review the different apps that I have used for medita- tion, mindfulness, and motivation. Whether you are looking to sleep better, jump-start your meditation practice or conquer anxiety, there are apps offering science-based tools to help. Turn your phone into an ally and not an enemy on your mental health journey.


One of the first mental health apps to hit the mass market, Calm has been around since 2012 and is a one-stop shop for all things meditation. Its popular Daily Calm meditations are narrated by Tamara Levitt, a Toronto-based mindfulness instructor whose soothing voice catapulted the app to stardom in 2014. The most popular offering on the Calm app that truly sets it apart, though, is its extensive collec- tion of Sleep Stories – relaxing recordings designed to lull adult users to sleep as they enjoy a comfort- ing bedtime story. Some of these are well-known timeless tales like Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan, Little Women, Shakespeare's sonnets and plays or Greek myths. Most are Calm originals designed for every type of listener. Rom-com lovers, avid travel- ers, nature explorers, history buffs, and life scientists will all find a perfect sleep story to drift off to. Some of the sleep stories are narrated by celebrities, such as Diane Keaton, LeBron James, Matthew McConaughey, and Stephen Fry. Unfortunately, Calm only offers limited free content and is subscription-based, but I have found it well worth the investment.


Headspace is another veteran meditation app, also launched in 2012. One of its founders, Andy Puddi- combe, is the voice behind most meditations on the app. In 1994, he abandoned his sports science degree to travel to the Himalayas and become a Buddhist monk. Andy eventually returned to secular life and embarked on the mission of popularizing meditation and making the practice accessible to as many people as possible. Headspace has a daily meditation avail- able to all for free and a vast collection for premium subscribers. Breathing exercises, a fun inspira- tional video series called The Wake Up, courses related to different aspects of mindfulness, work- out videos, and sleep stories (called Sleep Casts on this app) – Headspace offers it all. In choosing between Calm and Headspace, I would recom- mend Calm to those looking for engaging men- tal health content delivered by great narrators and Headspace to those who are serious about building and deepening their personal meditation practice.

Insight Timer

Insight Timer truly stands out in the world of medi- tation apps because of the incredible amount of free content it offers its users. You can spend a lifetime exploring the meditations, soundscapes and yoga practices available on Insight Timer for free without ever having to dip into its premium content. Also, a core feature of the app is the ability to set a timer for your own unguided meditation practice and choose among a wide variety of instruments for your start- ing and ending bells, from a duduk to crystal bowls.


Buddhify is an affordable app available as a one-time $6.99 purchase. Upon purchase, you gain lifetime access to a colourful "wheel" of meditations divided into helpful categories you can tap into depending on what is happening in your life right now. It has tracks for waking up, travelling, walking, practicing with a friend, taking a break from work, using your phone mindfully, and going to sleep. This app is particularly suited for people who like to practice meditation on-the-go and those who prefer a small upfront price to an expensive monthly subscription.

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 Image created by Isabel Khudr


This app may be my favourite. It was incubated in Duke University's Behavioural Economics Lab, led by Dan Ariely, and is all about cultivating good hab- its through small steps, repeated regularly over time. The app is beautifully designed with lovely graphics and animations, making self-care routines feel like an absorbing game. At the core of Fabulous is the Wake- Up Routine, Workday Routine, and Bedtime Routine. It also has a plethora of challenges that you can em- bark on depending on your needs, from gratitude and journaling to deep work to exercise and healthy eat- ing or decluttering your home. App users receive dai- lyandnightlycoachingrecordingsthatblendpositive psychology with inspiring passages from poetry, fic- tion, and memoirs. The Fabulous universe also offers companion apps: Ambiance (ambient soundtracks for relaxation), Clarify (thriving with ADHD), Shape (healthy eating), Lumiere (easing stress and anxiety), and Elixir (finding balance and purpose).


If you are struggling with anxiety or related disor- ders, Dare is the app for you! It was created by Barry McDonagh, a native of Ireland who developed an effective strategy for overcoming his own anxiety. The acronym DARE stands for the four steps Bar- ry recommends you take to address anxiety: Dif- fuse, Allow, Run Towards, and Engage with Life. The app has a free collection of SOS audios you can play when feeling overwhelmed or overcome with pan- ic, and these alone are worth downloading the app for. It also has a treasure trove of helpful training for anxiety relief, stopping panic attacks, ending in- somnia, overcoming worry and intrusive thoughts, embracing body sensations, conquering health anx- iety, and dealing with social anxiety. Stretching prac- tices have recently been added to the app, as well as great masterclasses on reprogramming unwanted habits, healing trauma, and letting go of negative thinking. The app also gives you access to a com- munity of like-minded people who have shared their success stories of progress and recovery they have achieved by implementing the DARE method.

This app is fairly similar to Calm in terms of what it offers and is also subscription-based. Its daily mindfulness meditations are led by Cory Muscara and Melli O'Brien, both exceptional meditation teachers and practitioners. Cory Muscara is a former monk who has taught positive psychology
at UPenn and Columbia. Cory's warmth and wisdom is what keeps me coming back to the app. The sleep stories collection on this app is much smaller than on Calm. However, the app does have
its strengths, such as the lovely Daily Gratitude practices. A truly standout feature is the collection of courses taught by world-class spiritual teachers. My favourites include Finding Happiness,
Emotional Resilience in Adversity, and The Healing Power of Self-Compassion.

I hope you have found this list helpful and are now on your way to downloading an app that will make the stresses of grad school life a little more bearable!

Edited by Ami Patel & Lola Leving
Check out these apps on Android or iPhone!