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

Mindfulness & Meditation for children

There appears to be a real buzz on social media and the news at the moment about mindfulness and meditation for children. Yet, social media does not always provide the full picture and you may be left wondering what the research evidence says about the effectiveness of these activities.

Greenberg & Harris published an article reviewing the research that was available in 2011. At this time, they stated that the enthusiasm for promoting ‘contemplative practices’ (such as mindfulness) outweighed the evidence supporting them. But also stated that “interventions that nurture mindfulness in children and youths may be a feasible, and effective, method of building resilience…” In 2015, Schonert-Reichl and colleagues studied the impact of a mindfulness programme on children’s cognitive and social emotional development using a randomised control trial with ninety nine 9-11 year olds . They found that children who received the mindfulness program improved their scores in cognitive control, stress physiology, empathy, perspective-taking, emotional control, optimism, self-concept and mindfulness as well as decreasing their scores in depression, peer rated aggression measures.

Although the outcomes of this research are positive, an updated review article would appear to be helpful in synthesising all the new research studies carried out since 2011 to better enable teachers, school staff, parents, educational psychologists and other professionals to fully understand the potential impact of mindfulness and meditation based interventions. It does not yet seem clear whether the benefits outweigh the risks and costs, or what the long term impact is for children receiving such an intervention.

Please comment below with your thoughts and links to further research that you may have come across.

 

Free mindfulness and meditation resources for children:

 

Fun, interactive games from the Kids Activity Blog:

  • Blowing bubbles. Have your children focus on taking in a deep, slow breath, and exhaling steadily to fill the bubble. Encourage them to pay close attention to the bubbles as they form, detach, and pop or float away.
  • Pinwheels. Use the same tactics from blowing bubbles to encourage mindful attention on the pinwheels.
  • Playing with balloons. Tell your children that the aim of this game is to keep the balloon off the ground, but have them move slowly and gently. You can tell them to pretend the balloon is very fragile if that helps.
  • Texture bag. Place several small, interestingly shaped or textured objects in a bag, and have each child reach in to touch an object, one at a time, and describe what they are touching. Make sure they don’t take the object out of the bag, forcing them to use only their sense of touch to explore the object.
  • Blindfolded taste tests. Use a blindfold for each child and have them experience eating a small food, like a raisin or a cranberry, as if it was their first time eating it.

 

Citations

Greenberg, T.M. & Harris, R.A (2011) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1750-8606.2011.00215.x/full

Schonert-Reichl. KA et al., (2015)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25546595

Meditation? Mindfulness? I want to try!

Has your social media feeds been full of words and phrases like ‘guided meditation’, ‘meditation’ and ‘mindfulness’? If it sounds like something you would like to try out, the Calm App is a great place to start. The app has plenty of free resources to get you going including:

  • Short (approx 10 mins each) guided meditations (for stress, anxiety, everyday calm and lots more)
  • Calming playlists to use as a background to whatever activity you are doing (perhaps yoga?)
  • Brilliant sleep stories including a free story narrated by Steven Fry.

Click the link below to explore further. You do not need to purchase the app to use the free resources.

www.calm.com

Have you used this app (or any other similar app) before? Has it been useful for you? Comment below with your thoughts.