By Claudia Dauden

Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present without judgement, being aware of what is going on inside and outside ourselves moment by moment. Probably you have already heard about the benefits of mindfulness meditation, which are backed up by scientific studies proving that it can improve general well-being and prevent mental health disorders such as depression. Hence, I decided to stop rushing through life in automatic pilot and start practicing mindfulness meditation regularly. Here’s the story of what I learnt while trying to find the mindfulness app that suited me the best.

When looking for mindfulness apps that could introduce me to this journey, I felt overwhelmed. There were hundreds of them, all promising happiness, stress relief, better focus, among many other things. However, these felt like empty promises since most of the apps don’t have their effectiveness validated (i.e. by experts or research studies). Although some claim to be based on science, most rely on mindfulness literature in general to back up their claims. This is alarming because people are using mindfulness apps for mental well-being, thus there is a great need for guidelines and regulation.

Most of the apps I found used the ‘guided meditation’ approach. This practice is characterized by having an experienced teacher that guides the session via verbal instructions, and can be very helpful for people with no previous meditation experience. Experts may prefer just using a timer for their practice, and several apps provided this utility using sounds from traditional meditation Buddhist instruments such as bells or singing bowls.

As a newbie, I needed a mindfulness app that helped me stay motivated to jump-start my meditation habit. Smartphone notifications are very often annoying, but being able to set reminders for my meditation sessions was useful – and most apps offered this option. Each session lasted for about 10 minutes, so fitting mindfulness meditation times into my daily life was quite simple. However, keeping track of my progress wasn’t so much. Some apps kept a record of which days you had fulfilled the meditation session, and even gamified the progress with stickers, but none offered an option to quantify my “mindfulness level” after each session – which can be easily done via questionnaires.

After trying 16 different apps for mindfulness meditation, the one I liked the most was Headspace (free in Android and iOS). The basic content of the app is available for free: guided meditations with infographics to teach mindfulness concepts such as compassion. It is one of the most widely embraced mindfulness apps, with a big community behind it (from the areas of mindfulness meditation, mental health, and researchers to validate its effectiveness). Headspace claims to be “a gym membership for your mind”, mindfulness is a journey and I have just started mine!

Image: Headspace app, courtesy of Headspace.

References

1-Kabat-Zinn, J., & Hanh, T. N. (2009). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Delta.
2-https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/
3-In the UK, the NHS has developed a website to recommend scientifically-based apps for health with a specific category for mental health. https://apps.beta.nhs.uk/
4-Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Hopkins, J., Krietemeyer, J., & Toney, L. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13(1), 27-45

About the Author

Claudia Dauden is an AffecTech Early Stage Researcher (ESR) and PhD student based at Lancaster University in the UK. As part of the AffecTech research team, Claudia’s broad research explores neurofeedback, and affective haptics to design and develop new interactive personal technology to support emotion regulation.

Note: Please note the author has received no fee for this article which is produced independently as part of her learning journey. The article implies no endorsement and is merely personal reflection on the topic.