Mind and Body
13 Best Apps for Anxiety, Depression, and Mindfulness
For those of us who struggle with anxiety and depression, choosing the wrong outlet can increase the effects of feeling addicted to screens. If we self-soothe by, say, mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, Instagram, or Reddit, we’re avoiding what’s causing our emotions and dulling our senses. If we use iPhone or Android apps designed to combat mental illness symptoms, however, some screens can be forces for good.
Like any technology, mental-health apps are most effective if they ascribe to a proven, existing method of treatment like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Some apps connect us to others in anonymous sharing sessions and others encourage us to check in with ourselves using therapeutic techniques. Using a range of strategies, here are thirteen effective depression or anxiety management apps for iPhone and Android.
Note: if you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 before using any app. Do not experiment with or discontinue the use of prescribed mood medication without the help of a doctor.
This CBT app encourages users to write mini-journals once or twice daily, tagging each entry with specific emotions. Moodnotes is similar to the experience of speaking with a therapist who uses CBT — the app allows you to express yourself, read through the list of logical fallacies often discussed in CBT, reflect on your experience through that lens, and analyze patterns in your moods over time.
Writing out a to-do list and prioritizing is an age-old anxiety management tactic. Streaks streamlines the process and reminds you daily to check off your boxes. It’s best used for building or breaking down habits, and if you use it to meditate more often or remind you to make a gratitude list every night before bed, it will eventually have a positive effect on your mood.
No one needs technology to meditate, but like every other app on this list, Headspace simply aids the user in a healthy practice. It can remind you to meditate as often as you’d like, and it takes the guess-work out of length or intensity by gently guiding you into mindfulness and coaxing you into the real world when you’re done.
7 Cups, formerly called 7 Cups of Tea, is an anonymous instant messaging service that connects the user to a licensed professional or experienced volunteer. It can be a temporary fix for anyone who feels powerfully lonely, though it can’t replace the benefits of regular therapy. Think of 7 Cups like an emotional band-aid, to be used until better treatment is accessible, and it’ll be doing its job well.
Has your therapist told you that you’d benefit from writing a daily journal, but you don’t have the time or interest in diary-keeping? Daylio combines the structure of a mood-boosting journal app with the functionality of social media. Plug in your emotions using emojis, hashtag-length phrases, and adjectives. Daylio puts it all together with clear data visualization.
This app requires that users fill out a simple questionnaire before receiving their “expert track” via email. Once you’re in the system, Happify offers writing prompts and mini-games that aim to restructure your thinking, pushing you away from feelings of self-doubt and anxiety and closer to gratitude and serenity.
The Pacifica app combines the structures of several apps on this list. It offers a chat function, message boards, journaling, gamification, goal setting, and habit tracking — all those functionalities add up to a holistic approach to mental health. The app’s creators say their efforts are based on a three-prong approach: mindfulness, CBT principles and tracking one’s mood alongside physical health. For what it’s worth, Pacifica also has the most sophisticated UX design on this list.
The MONitoring, treAtment and pRediCtion of bipolAr Disorder system, or “MONARCHA,” combines the use of a mobile app with a web portal, and both tools are based on research funded by the European Union. Specifically geared toward patients with bipolar disorder, MONARCHA reminds users to take their prescribed medications and asks for updates on side effects and outcomes. It’s not just meds, however; the app also helps users manage their sleep cycles and rate of regular physical activity, the other two elemental parts of managing bipolar disorder, according to the EU-funded study.
This app is the one on our list that’s most acutely focused on suicide prevention. My3 asks users to identify three contacts in their phone as last-line-of-defense social support pillars — these people can be professionals, family members, friends, or in a pinch, friendly acquaintances. Its UX design features a large button on almost every screen asking the user whether they’d like to call 911, and it encourages users to write out a “safety plan” similar to those used in fire drills, only the My3 plan focuses on suicide prevention.
What are, for example, three things you tend to think before you get to thoughts of suicide? What activities can you engage in to distract yourself in a healthy way? Who are the three people you can call in an emergency? What are three things you can do to make your apartment safer? What are all your clinicians’ names, and how can they be contacted? My3 keeps all this information in a single, easily readable place on your phone.
Whether or not you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety order, you might benefit from tracking worries or intrusive thoughts over time. Worry Watch uses an extremely simple interface to let you write down your worries in brief, tag them as “personal,” “professional,” or otherwise, and most importantly, return to them after enough time is passed to assess whether they came to fruition. The secret? Most of the things you worry about either don’t occur, or you find that you’re more resilient than you gave yourself credit for.
Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock
Have you ever had the misfortunate of hearing your iPhone’s set alarm sound in the wild? You hear it coming from someone else’s phone, and though it’s the middle of the day, you experience a sensation of dread or anxiety — after all, your body has adjusted to that particular sound meaning your rest is over.
Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock cycles through calming noises to wake you up, but even better, it sits face-down on your mattress and tracks your movement throughout the night, making it the most accurate mobile-phone app for sleep tracking. Know exactly when you fall asleep, how many full cycles of sleep you experience, and track how your moods correspond to this pattern.
Koko uses AI to moderate a message board geared toward mental health— sort of like if all of Reddit was as full of healthy feelings as, say, r/wholesomememes. You can post and comments on others’ posts, but each time you express a thought about yourself or your life, Koko walks you through the CBT-approved process of reframing. Wired’s Liz Stinson writes, “It was as if Whisper or Secret had repopulated its trolling avatars with actual humans who, for some inconceivable reason, gave a shit about my shit. It was weird and strangely helpful. I gave everyone up-votes.”
Talkspace is the ultimate therapeutic mobile app, which means it comes with a price. However, at only $49 a week, it’s far, far less expensive than regular therapy. The app walks you through an assessment similar to any profile-building questionnaire at a therapist’s office, and once you’ve picked a plan, you’re matched to a therapist who can either answer your in-app message once or a twice a day or schedule a Facetime call. For $79 a week, you and your partner can enroll in Talkspace couples therapy.