10 mental wellbeing apps for all the family
The COVID-19 lockdown has added many new pressures to our lives. It’s therefore no surprise that more people are currently worried about their mental wellbeing than they are about their general health.
Anxiety is a natural bodily response to a major life change. But managing anxiety can be difficult, especially when we cannot do all of the things, or see all of the people, that can help us cope.
Fortunately, there are plenty of smartphone and tablet apps to help you manage anxiety and stress – many of which are based around the principles of mindfulness: meditation, breathing and stillness.
We’ve tried 10 of the most popular mental wellbeing and mindfulness apps available in the Apple App and Google Play Stores, to help you find the right one for you and your family.
A guided meditation app with a wide range of 5-20 minutes sessions, covering anxiety, focus, stress and more. Calm also offers expert and celebrity masterclasses and sleep stories. As part of the premium subscription you get Calm Kids meditations for age groups from 3 to 17, in association with Disney, Thomas The Tank Engine and others. It’s a high-end product (not least in price, £13.49 per month), but looks and sounds fantastic.
Pros: 100+ meditations and regularly updated, for every age.
Cons: Premium product, premium price.
Get it... if you want to chill out (with Matthew McConaughey).
With daily meditations, expert exercise routines, courses and a range of tools to support mental wellbeing, Headspace is packed with content. It also looks great – and sits on the higher end of the price scale (£9.99 per month). Unlike Calm, it focuses less on brands and celebrity collaborations, and more on the user. It can be hard to navigate, but there are many options to personalise your experience, from session length to voice gender. There’s also a dedicated area for kids (under 5, 6-8, and 9-12) with exercises in calm, kindness and sleep.
Pros: Loads of resources, including for children.
Cons: Tricky to navigate.
Get it… if you really need some you-time.
A free app for adults that focuses on strategies of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It offers short text-based courses and exercises on depression, mindfulness, coronavirus and more. The 14-day ‘mood path’ asks you regular questions and then offers you an assessment of your emotional health, with activities to improve it. The app is very much about how you feel and advice for what to do, rather than offering a complete lifestyle package. The premium subscription (£25 for 3 months) also includes a large range of audio courses.
Pros: Free courses and simple user experience.
Cons: Less personalisable content.
Get it… if you want a cost-friendly route to feeling happier.
A free app from mental health charity stem4, helping young people to manage anxiety and fears through a series of goal-setting mini-courses. These simple processes aim to change behaviours in dealing with strong emotions, such as panic attacks. Unlike guided meditation courses, this app requires the user to do a fair bit of the work, by entering fears and choosing goals to overcome them. But it does offer simple methods to improve your mood.
Pros: Simple and quick to navigate.
Cons: Requires committed engagement.
Get it… if you suffer from daily anxiety.
Teaches and explores emotional wellbeing with 10-to-17 year-olds. Its USP is a cartoon AI chatbot. As your mentor, WiseNinja gently asks you your worries and guides you to soothing videos – exploring moods and coping skills – as well as simple breathing techniques. This attractive NHS-approved app tailors content to a child’s age and builds them their own profile, goals and daily quests. It also links to UK emergency professional support networks. The app is free during the COVID-19 lockdown and offers specific answers to questions on dealing with coronavirus.
Pros: Nice design, lots of advice, NHS-approved.
Cons: Ninjas aren’t for everyone.
Get it… for a young person who wants an emotional outlet.
Aimed at ages 6-8, the free Chill Panda app offers both mini mindful activities (breathing, colouring, physical) and a main sandbox game that vaguely resembles Animal Crossing. In it, you explore Chill Panda’s world and complete a series of tasks that focus on ways to reduce anxiety. This NHS-approved app has a lighter approach to mental wellbeing, suitable for younger minds. It’s also a bit fiddly on a smartphone and may be more suited to tablet play.
Pros: NHS-approved, will appeal to younger children.
Cons: Difficult for little hands on a smartphone screen.
Get it… for a child who needs some calming play.
Offers inspiring daily Buddhist quotations and relaxation tips via personalised notifications, reminding you to be mindful about your day. This free app is less a go-to for mental wellbeing support and more of a background tool to help you to stop and think during busy times and stressful situations.
Pros: Quietly adds a little mindfulness to your schedule.
Cons: Doesn’t do much more.
Get it… if you have precious little time to stop.
Offers short (approx 10min) audio meditation sessions and courses around stress relief and sleep. The free app includes Level 1 Basics, but then moves up to a subscription model (£6.49p/m) that features over 200 meditations, including 20 for children. Serenity has a clean no-frills feel, unlike Calm or Headspace, but offers many similar functions at half the price.
Pros: Simple mindful courses for adults and children.
Cons: A bit basic compared to other paid apps.
Get it… if you want a complete meditation course on a budget.
Helps primary-aged children play towards a healthier relationship with their life, emotions and anxieties. After soothing their own Flibbertigibbet – a friendly but emotional floaty pet – children can then go on an audio-led storyline, discovering mindful and calming techniques. Younger children will enjoy nurturing their pet – and parents may also quietly enjoy having a play with this very relaxing and satisfying app.
Pros: Calming, interactive, mindful gameplay.
Cons: Can’t we have a real-life Flibbertigibbet?
Get it… if you want a friendly mindful virtual pet.
Chart your emotions and moods by creating soundscapes that reflect your mental wellbeing. The process of describing your feelings and then adapting them to music is a calming and introspective process, allowing you to reflect on those emotions and how they sound. You don’t need to be Grade-8 on clarinet to use this NHS-approved app, although the limited options on the sounds may not cater for every person or emotion.
Pros: Simple use of sound to reflect on your emotions, NHS-approved.
Cons: Limited functions.
Get it… if music helps you relax.
What else you need to know
There are many apps available to support mental wellbeing. They are not a replacement for prescribed treatment of mental health. Some apps may be more suitable than others, while other prescribed apps are available via the NHS to support the specific mental health needs of adults and children. You can find a full list of NHS-approved mental wellbeing apps here.