Digital distractions are everywhere. You’re only two sentences into this blog post, but I’ll bet you’re already thinking about switching tabs to see if you have any comments on that new Facebook wall post you just made.
Now you’ve reached the second paragraph, and I know you want to — have to, in fact — refresh your Gmail just one more time. Or check your @replies on Twitter, again, just like you did five minutes ago. Or pull up Reddit, again, hoping to see that red/orange envelope all lit up to notify you of a brand new message. Wait — did you hear something vibrate from across the room? Was it your phone? Maybe you should go and check your texts.
Technology can scatter our attention into about a million directions at once. A million, anxiety-inducing directions.
But not all technology is bad for our collective stress level. If you need a break from all the digital chatter, you can turn to your iPhone (but only if you promise to turn off your Push Notifications, just for now). Here are three of my favorite iPhone/iPod Touch apps that can actually help to reduce your anxiety. Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? I know. But hear me out…
1. Relax & Rest –
How it works: Choose from three different meditations (Breath, Deep Rest, or Whole Body) that help to bring your awareness to the present moment — and away from any distracting thoughts. You can opt to listen to any of the meditations as voice-only, with music, or with nature sounds.
Favorite part: The quick, 5-minute “Breath” meditation. Short enough to use during breaks at work, yet long enough to actually settle my mind down a bit.
Cons: I definitely wish the app included more meditations — I’ve used this app so often that I’m beginning to memorize the script for each meditation.
2. Equanimity –
I often compare using the Twitter and Facebook apps to sitting in a crowded marketplace. People are everywhere, hawking their wares, throwing hyperlinks at you, telling you what they had for lunch, and demanding your attention.
Equanimity, then, is like sitting in an empty room.
It’s a simple meditation timer with absolutely no bells or whistles. This is a feature, not a bug. Meditation is about focusing on the present moment, and it’s much easier to focus on the present moment when you don’t have unnecessary distractions. (Granted, the premium version of Equanimity has some neat statistical tools available so you can track the frequency of your meditation practice, but it doesn’t really interrupt the simplicity of the app.)
How it works: When you start up the app, you’re presented with a white circle. Click “Start Meditation” and you get about a minute or so to settle into your posture and begin to focus on…well, whatever you’d like. (Because these meditations aren’t guided, this app is best suited for folks who want to meditate in silence and/or are already comfortable focusing on their breath, body, surroundings, or whatever else.) A bell will alert you when it’s time to start meditating; then, you can get lost in the present moment for the duration of your choosing. A gong will sound when you’re finished.
Favorite part: As time passes, the white circle functions like an analogue clock and shades in the elapsed time like a pie chart. It’s very minimalist. The app never tells you that you’ve got precisely 3 minutes and 17 seconds left — instead, you have to roughly approximate how much time is left by interpreting the pie chart.
Cons: In the grand scheme of things, I’m a meditation novice. Sometimes, the simplicity of this app frustrates me. I’ve grown so used to voice-guided meditations that I get lost in long chains of thought when I try to meditate on my own. The triple gong will sound at the end of my meditation, and by that time, I’ll be lost in thought about a project at work. Or the clothes I need to fold. Or the hole in the green sweater that I still, after months, haven’t gotten around to sewing up. I will have forgotten that I’d been trying to meditate in the first place. But perhaps that’s a bug in the Summer Beretsky operating system — not a bug in the app.
Cost: Free, or $4.99 for the premium version.
3. Relax Melodies –
You know those expensive sound machines that include buttons for nature sounds, flowing water, and white noise? They’re definitely relaxing. But most of them only have about 6 different sounds to choose from — and from personal experience, the sounds are often tinny and hollow.
This app has got a whopping 35 sounds…in the free version. (They also have a premium version with 70 sounds.)
How it works: Choose your favorite sound & relax while it loops endlessly. The free version of the app includes all the standard sound-machine sounds (like white noise, rain, thunder, and ocean) and other soothing sounds (like “Icy Snow,” Cavern,” and “Afternoon,” which combines what sounds like birds, a campfire, and popping twigs). You’ll also find a few ambient musical tracks amongst the sound effects.
Favorite part: Layering the sounds! It’s definitely the best part. (As I type this, I’m listening to “Campfire”, “Zen”, and “Birds” simultaneously.) You can augment your imagination by crafting sound combos: I’ve got “Heavy Rain,” “Storm,” and “Wind Chimes” saved as a preset. It sounds like a late-afternoon storm in the summertime and it’s helped me to escape from a winter-y funk on more than one occasion during the past few months.
Cons: “Zen” is actually a little ominous-sounding and it’s giving me the creeps. (Thankfully, you can easily de-layer individual sounds. Back to just “Campfire” and “Birds” for me, then.) The “Heartbeat” sound that’s available in the premium version is also a bit disconcerting for anyone — uh, like myself — who tends to get panicky when focusing on certain bodily sensations. Also, I’ve found myself actually holding my breath while listening to “Immersed.” Uncomfortable.
Cost: Free, or $2.99 for the premium version.
(For the record: while writing this post, I checked Twitter four times, Facebook twice, and Reddit once.)
What are your favorite apps for anxiety reduction? If you give any of the above apps a try, let me know what you think in the comments.