Week ten seems to have appeared upon us once again in the blink of an eye (thanks quarter system!) and that means that finals are starting for everyone.
Testing time can feel like a tsunami of stress, which can make us feel low and even perform worse on the things that we are trying to score high marks on. With that being said, let me present to you a way of reducing stress levels and keeping calm during midterms: meditation. We’ve all heard of it, some of you may have even tried it, and thanks to technology we can all access it on our phones. We have our devices in our hands or by our sides for more hours a day than we may want to admit, but during testing time this can be a particularly good thing if we use them in beneficial ways, like downloading a meditation app to open up whenever we are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or like we just need a breather. This past week I’ve tried a number of different meditation apps and have compiled a list of all of their unique attributes that may spark your fancy. Even if you’ve never thought that meditation would be the thing for you, the vast variety of exercises and features spanning these apps may make you reconsider.
General Opinion: This was my personal favorite of the four meditation apps I tried, but, to be fair, I’ve been using it for half a year and have had some good experience with it.
Structure: It invites you to check-in everyday with how you are feeling both physically and mentally, and add specific emotions that you are feeling at the time you are planning to meditate. It then takes this information and suggests a number of meditations to suit your interests, or you can peruse their entire list of meditations to find one that calls to you.
Meditation Types: Their meditations range from breathing exercises to mindful walks to acupuncture and yoga for stress to those focusing on joy, compassion, gratitude, and change. The app also provides a very short falling asleep meditation that I swear by. Now the only time I look at my phone right before I go to sleep is to partake in this exercise. Almost all of the meditations offer varying time lengths to meet anyones need, from beginners to those more adapted to the practice. Most of the meditations offer both a female and male voice to guide your session, and neither Jamie nor Grecco have ever failed to make me feel like I’m floating on a cloud. If you’re more of an independent meditator, the app also has a meditation and breathing timer that simply rings bells to keep you focussed at intervals that you set yourself. The app also has an entire section dedicated to teaching users how to meditate, so don’t be nervous about starting the practice because you don’t feel like you know how.
Features: The app tracks your progress by showing you how your emotions have changed throughout the week, which meditation you use the most, and how much time you actually spend meditating on the app. It also allows you to have a meditation streak for consistently using the app– move over Snapchat! The cherry on top of this app is that it rewards you with rather adorable stickers in your trophy case, which keep you incentivised.
General Opinion: This app actually got its start on the TV show Shark Tank, and is geared towards helping busy people find the time to focus on their mental health by providing short, five minute meditations to reduce stress. I had never heard of this app before a week ago, but it has found a cozy spot on my device and comes in a close second. This app supplies a considerable amount of free meditations (I can only imagine what the subscription would unlock) and is a great app for people looking to break into the meditation world one five minute break at a time.
Cost: This app is also free to download; however, it requires a paid subscription to access the app in its entirety, and, once again, for the sake of monetary conservation, I did not explore that part of the app.
Structure: This app starts users off by giving you a choice between a handful of diverse themes, each lasting seven days, and only requires five minutes a day to complete.
Meditation Types: These free seven day meditations on the app include: simple habit starter, foundations of mindfulness, learn to meditate, calm anxiety, and improve focus. Four different sleep meditations are offered for free, one morning meditation in bed, two 11-day podcasts, one before an exam meditation, and two 31-day fresh start meditations. Three different nature sounds variations are offered (ocean, rain, and water) as well as an unguided meditation timer. The coolest part of this app is that it has an “on the go” section, where users can select what kind of special activity they are doing (ex: tough day, taking a break, commute, etc.) and after another menu pops up to narrow the selection even more (I clicked on “taking a break” and then clicked “taking a bath” in the next menu and up popped a meditation for people who are taking baths!) I have never seen this type of specificity in a meditation app before, and it’s really amazing how easy it is to find precisely what it is that you are looking for. I had never done a bathtime meditation before (nor knew that such a thing existed!), but it may very well be my new favorite meditation.
Features: This app also has a progress section that tracks your total meditation minutes, total sessions, and day streak. You can also go beyond seeing just your contacts or Facebook friends that are using the app, but can also participate in meditation challenges that are happening worldwide.
General Opinion: This was my go-to meditation app until I found “Stop, Breathe, and Think.” I would recommend this app to anyone and everyone, regardless of whether or not they are looking to get involved with meditation, simply because the resources of this app go above and beyond.
Cost: This app is free to download; however, there are aspects that are restricted to users with a paid subscription. As standard, I’m only going to talk about the parts of the app that are accessible without a subscription.
Structure: The app begins with having users choose their top goals they wish to achieve through meditation (ex: increase happiness, reduce stress, increase gratitude) and then recommends meditations targeted towards your choices. After this step, you are brought to the app’s home page, which is a lovely, realistic animation of green mountains lightly topped with white snow spanning the background, while water ripples in front of them. The scene is complete with water, wind, and bird/nature sounds that crank that zen dial up to a million.
Meditation Types: Meditation themes include: breathe, college collection, managing stress, calm, happiness, focus, calming anxiety, sleep, self-esteem, forgiveness, and six others. Another great touch to this app’s design is that while you are searching the meditations for one that interests you, the nature sounds continue to play throughout it all. This is nice because it helps put you at ease and prepares your mind and body for the meditation ahead, so you aren’t just stepping right into the quiet/stillness after all of the events of the day.
Features: This app is also equipped with a music section (which also has themes to choose from) including: engage, captivate, willpower, centre point, falling slowly, and seven more. All of these playlists are about an hour long, which is perfect for relaxing study time, or early mornings when we find it hard to get the day started. The third and final section of the app is targeted towards sleep, where it features a plethora of sleep stories. They are like bedtime stories, but for adults. How great is that? No, the stories aren’t like the three little pigs that we were read while children, they’re interactive, meaning that they incorporate breathing exercises and meditation practice into them. For my story I took a dreamy morning walk through a lovely field of lavender flowers until I drifted off to sleep. While the story is being read, there are captivating images flowing across the screen that match the narration, so when I say I took a trip through lavender fields, I really did take a trip through lavender fields. This portion of the app will actually shut off your phone screen for you and close you out of the app when the story is over, so you can go right to sleep.
General Opinion: I had heard about this app from several students, TA’s, and professors on campus, so I figured that now was as good a time as any to give it a try. I would say this app (the parts that are accessible without a subscription) is good for someone who is new to the practice of meditation that is looking to try a little bit of everything. It allows users to sample many different topic-focussed exercises for just about every situation you can possibly think of.
Cost: This app is free to download; however, many aspects of the app require a paid user subscription. For the sake of this review, I only explored the parts of the app that were accessible without a subscription.
Structure: This app starts users off with ten days of basic guided meditations to ease everybody into the practice and get them comfortable with the app. There is also an extremely cute introduction video animation filled with lots of zainy characters who will be helping you along the way.
Meditation Types: There is a section on very short “mini” meditations, where users can partake in a breathing exercise, and there are also longer, topic-focused meditations called “packs.” These packs include several topics: basics, anxiety, regret, self-esteem, prioritization, leaving home, and a sports pack. All of the above mentioned packs offer one free meditation each.
Features: There is also a section that tracks your statistics while using the app, which lets you know your total meditation time on the app, number of sessions completed, daily average, and a day streak.
Finals are coming, and we need to arm ourselves with ways to protect our brains and bodies from fatigue, stress, and anxiety. Any one of these apps would be a step in the right direction to reducing all of the latter symptoms. With so many resources at our fingertips, we have a way of avoiding some of the negatives that finals can bring with them. Namaste, future zen masters.
Aubrey Freitas is an undergraduate student at UCLA double majoring in English Literature and Psychology with a minor in Italian. She is a blogger for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative in the Mind Well section, which focuses on the importance of mindfulness and mental health. Aubrey is the founder of the organization Warm Hearts to Warm Hands, which teaches the skill of knitting to people of the community in return for their donation of an article of clothing they create with the skill, to be given to local homeless shelters.