The 5 Best Apps for People With Anxiety, According to Experts
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Start browsing for mental health apps on your phone and it’s easy to feel anxious just scrolling through all of the options. It’s not just you, though. Right now there are anywhere between 10,000-15,000 different ones available to download, says Stephen Schueller, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Psychological Science at UC Irvine. Schueller is also the Executive Director of PsyberGuide, a non-profit online resource that evaluates mental health apps for their credibility, user experience, and data security and privacy.
PsyberGuide recently named the five best apps for people with anxiety, and surprisingly the popular meditation apps Headspace and Calm aren’t on the list. “The research on meditation for anxiety is still mixed a little bit at this point,” Dr. Schueller explains. “There’s so much content in these apps that sometimes it’s hard to find those specific meditations that align with what you need.”
The apps that did make the cut specifically feature evidence-based methods shown to help with diagnosable anxiety disorders, but they may also benefit anyone experiencing anxiety or stress. Each one in the list represents the variety of different options and strategies available, Dr. Schueller says. To get the biggest benefits, do a deep-dive into an app’s features during the first week and use it for at least another month or two before deciding whether it’s making a difference, he advises. The same app won’t work for every person, and they’re just one aspect of addressing mental health.
“Apps are not a replacement for treatment,” Dr. Schueller states. “You do have to think about if you aren’t in treatment, where you’re going to get the human support and motivation.” To find a mental health service provider in your area, check the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s Find a Therapist Directory. With that in mind, here are the five best apps you can try for anxiety:
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1 ReachOut Breathe
“Sometimes when we’re anxious, we shift into the fight-or-flight mode where we have these really shallow breaths,” Dr. Schueller says. “Breathing exercises, especially in the moment, can actually counter some of those physiological measures that can happen.” ReachOut Breathe implements this technique by guiding your breathing, telling you when to inhale and exhale. The uncomplicated interface can also measure your heart rate using your phone’s camera.
User Review: “I work in the mental health field and find a simple app like this to teach deep breathing techniques useful. Plus, you can customize it.”
2 Self-Help for Anxiety Management (SAM)
Developed by scientists in the U.K., SAM is an unusual app because it encourages users to think about situations that make them anxious and how they would think and act in each scenario. “What we see in anxiety disorders often is that people get trapped in this avoidance cycle where they avoid the things that make them anxious and therefore don’t master the skills to cope,” Dr. Schueller says. “One of the most effective treatments for anxiety disorders are exposure-based treatments, so things that actually get us to face our fears.”
User Review: “I love this app so much. I have tried several apps for anxiety and none of them have worked because they were all centered around, and frankly their only feature was, meditation … This app has so many other ways to deal with it and help learn from and about it. Thank you SAM!”
This app draws on a lot of strategies used in cognitive behavioral therapy, including progressive muscle relaxation. This guided technique can teach people with a generalized anxiety disorder to recognize the tension carried in their bodies and how to release those muscles, Dr. Schueller says. Plus, Pacifica has some research to actually supports that it is effective at reducing depression and anxiety in individuals.
User Review: “Pacifica, especially the premium version, has been invaluable to my mental health. It’s got an array of tools for you to use daily, including mood trackers, meditations, health trackers, a hope board, thoughts, and goals. Each tool has a number of options to choose from, and it’s likely you’ll find at least one thing helpful to you and your situation.”
Whether you’re struggling with general worry, social anxiety, perfectionism, panic, phobia, or another kind of anxiety, Mindshift offers customized tips depending on what you’re dealing with. “A lot of apps tend to go wide in that, because they’re commercial products, they want to try to attract as many people as possible,” Dr. Schueller says. “This one is more specific, which I really like, and it walks people through these different areas to come up with tailored coping plans.”
User Review: “I’ve had severe anxiety for the past 5 years, and when I was told about this app, I was initially skeptical. This is one of many things that helped improve it a lot. It’s a fantastic resource/tool for tracking and managing it. I strongly recommend this.”
If you love playing games on your phone, try out MoodMission. This app rewards you for completing different types of challenges designed to benefit your mental health, like repeating a coping statement or going for a walk. “It gamefies this process of getting people to go out and do these missions in way that’s more fun and engaging,” Dr. Schueller says.
User Review: “I like that it gives you recommended strategies after each check-in and how it draws from a wide variety of coping mechanisms for you to use and you can choose which is best for you at that moment.”
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