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SciTech Tries: Mindfulness apps

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With our increasing awareness of mental health issues, it comes as no surprise that the use of meditation and mindfulness apps is also becoming more commonplace. Practicing meditation can be a useful tool for anyone wishing to take some time to relieve anxiety, improve sleep quality and reduce the stresses of day-to-day life. While yogis and therapists may recommend detachment from smartphones and tablets, apps like Buddhify have become a more modern approach to improving mindfulness.

The increased popularity of apps could be attributed to the fact that they are better adapted to our busy lifestyles. But, in a world where everything is slowly becoming digitised, can we do the same with the practice of mindfulness and meditation? The popularity of health trackers, such as Fitbit, indicates that it is possible, but can meditation work effectively if you’re always plugged in to a device?

The increased popularity of apps could be attributed to the fact that they are better adapted to our busy lifestyles…

There are numerous apps available but, after a little research, I downloaded Headspace, Calm and The Mindfulness App, all of which were free from the App Store. As someone who has never attempted to meditate or practice mindfulness before, I wanted to discover whether these apps could actually make a positive difference to my stress-levels, or if they would just provide a placebo-like effect. I have friends that claim meditation is a brilliant way to manage stress but, as the devil’s advocate, I could argue the same for exercise, or simply unwinding at the end of the day with an episode of The Great British Bake Off. Nevertheless, I decided to try out the apps for a few days to see if I could find some answers for my questions.

Headspace has previously received praises from public figures such as Emma Watson and Ella Woodward (founder of Deliciously Ella). Aimed at those who struggle to set time aside for themselves, Headspace offers sessions as short as three minutes within its basics pack, as well as other mini meditation sessions. Unfortunately, access to full use of the app, including stand-alone single meditative sessions and a meditative music library, requires the purchase of a subscription for a month or a year.

There are numerous apps available but, after a little research, I downloaded Headspace, Calm and The Mindfulness App…

In contrast, Calm offers a wider range of meditative sessions without requirement of subscription, although there are several prompts to subscribe within the app. You also have access to music for different moods and short stories, narrated by the likes of Stephen Fry, to improve sleep. There are also backgrounds to choose from as a setting for meditation sessions, which can be accompanied by sounds. Similar to Headspace and Calm, The Mindfulness App offers single sessions that range from three to 30 minutes, as well as guided and silent sessions, during which you can opt to have background sounds if you prefer. As with Headspace, more advanced meditation sessions, such as meditation for travel or challenges, can be bought with a subscription.

Having used the apps for a few days, I noticed several things. Something I recognised almost immediately was that I was terrible at meditation. My brain seemed to wander off within seconds, and I caught myself checking the remaining time on a session more than once – which was pretty bad considering some of them were only a few minutes long! I also found that I had a clear preference for Calm and Headspace over The Mindfulness App. After the second day, The Mindfulness App was mostly neglected. The basics package available in Headspace was quite appealing as I found the voice of Andy Puddicombe, the founder of Headspace, to be easy to follow throughout the sessions. His straight-forward tone of voice also helped me to feel a bit less restless and more at ease about how self-conscious I felt.

Something I recognised almost immediately was that I was terrible at meditation…

As to whether the apps really had a positive impact on my life in general, it is quite hard to say. I enjoyed the use of the short stories in Calm to help me to sleep, but on the whole it’s inconclusive whether meditation helped me to manage my life better. I did find I was quite productive following meditation, although the same could be said for how I feel after going for a run or having a short power nap. As a scientist, I have to acknowledge that a few days is not really sufficient for any kind of life-changing test, but I do think that finding the app that suits your needs the best will help you the most.

 

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