Feeling Calm. Mindfulness & Meditation Apps – review

A 2015 review of mindfulness-based apps found 560 apps available on Apple products (Mani et al.,2015). That number would increase substantially if Android apps and those released since 2015 were included. It is obvious that mindfulness and meditation (guided or independent) are trending in a big way.

Apps 1

Evidence from the field of mindfulness suggests that mindfulness interventions can improve physical and mental health outcomes (Khoury et al., 2013). Mindfulness based approaches are used in clinical practice, schools, workplaces, prisons and the military (Creswell, 2017). Mindfulness interventions used in research studies and interventions often have mindfulness meditation practice or mindfulness components, but some only have informal mindfulness practice.  It is important to be aware that many mindfulness apps are using this evidence base to suggest that their app is “based on scientific research”. However, the research does not often use app technology as the intervention, and therefore the evidence base does not necessarily support the specific app. Some apps (e.g. ‘Craving to Quit’ and a mindful eating app called “Eat Right: Now!”) were put through clinical trials and studies before they were brought to market. Ideally, all apps claiming to benefit people’s well-being would be put through rigorous, scientific trials before being released to the general population. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case with the apps available. Therefore, it is important to check out the claims of the app before signing up to any subscriptions.

Apps 2

Teaching mindfulness and meditation strategies is not a magic wand. People usually feel stress and anxiety as a result of difficult situations in their environment. It is easy to think ‘I’m not coping well’ or ‘I’m not good at managing stress’ and try to find a solution that involves the individual learning ‘skills’ e.g. calming strategies, anger management etc. However, it is important to be careful not to ‘blame’ the individual for their emotional and psychological responses as a ‘lack of skills’. There are often environmental and social factors that could be causing significant stress, anxiety, worry or other mental health difficulties. The environment and social situations of individuals must also be taken into account and changes made where necessary to reduce the factors that are causing the stress, anxiety etc. in the first place.

If practicing mindfulness is your goal; here’s some helpful guidelines to aid you in finding the right mindfulness app for you (as suggested by Tlalka, 2016) :App 4

  • Be clear about why you want the app. Is it to help with anxiety? Is it to help with stress? Is it to help with sleep? Think about how the app will help.
  • Be aware that fancy music doesn’t always help. They might induce a state of calm, but they are not helpful if the goal is to observe and experience the present moment.
  • Look at the research. Any apps making claims about benefits to well-being should have an evidence base of studies that use the app as an intervention.
  • Check out the reviews from real people who have used the app. What are they saying?

It also may be helpful to take a look at the recent review of 23 mindfulness based apps. This review used the Mobile Application Rating Scale (MARS) to analyse the apps (Mani, 2016). Unfortunately some popular apps (e.g. Calm) were not including, possibly because they were too new at the time of the study. This study found that the ‘Headspace’ app had the highest average score, followed by Smiling Mind, iMindfulness and Mindfulness Daily.

Find HEADSPACE app on android –>here<—

Find HEADSPACE app on apple –>here<—

Find CALM app on android –>here<—

Find CALM app on apple –>here<—

Find SMILING MIND on android –>here<—

Find SMILING MIND on Apple –>here<—

Find MINDFULNESS DAILY on apple –>here<— (only available on apple products)

Find iMindfulness on Apple –>here<— (only available on apple products).

REFERENCES

Creswell, J. D. (2017). Mindfulness Interventions. Annual Review of Psychology, 68(18), 1-18.26.

Khoury, B., Lecomte, T., Fortin, G., Masse, M., Therien, P., Bouchard, V., Chapleau, M., Paquin, K., & Hofmann, S. G. (2013). Mindfulness-based therapy: A comprehensive meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 33(6), 763-771. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2013.05.005

3Mani, M., Kavanagh, D. J., Hides, L., Stoyanov, S. R. (2015). Review and evaluation of mindfulness-based iPhone Apps. JMIR MHealth and UHealth, 3(3), e82. doi: 10.2196/mhealth.4328

Talalka, S., https://www.mindful.org/trouble-mindfulness-apps/ ) 2016

Working Memory and Anxiety

It is suggested, in an article for the BPS Digest, that anxiety can upset the brain’s balance between ‘focus’ and ‘vigilance’. That control of what to pay attention to is sacrificed at the “expense of worrisome thoughts” and a quick response to potential danger.  The article cites a paper published in Biological Psychology that tested whether computer-based working memory training could reduce anxiety. The small number of participants in this study make it difficult to judge how long the benefits would last or whether there is generalizability of the results to the wider population. The authors suggest that their study outcomes are “proof of principle”.

What are your thoughts? Comment below.

Sari, B., Koster, E., Pourtois, G., & Derakshan, N. (2016). Training working memory to improve attentional control in anxiety: A proof-of-principle study using behavioral and electrophysiological measures Biological Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2015.09.008

Free Guides – Association of Child and Adolescent Mental Health

ACAMH offer an interesting selection of free topic guides, including links to relevant research studies, in the areas of:

  • Eating disorders
  • Psychotherapies
  • School-based intervention
  • Attachment
  • Autism
  • Anxiety
  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)
  • ADHD
  • Depression

Take a look here.