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Brain appy: the best apps for mental strength

5 minutes

Smartphones often carry the blame for shortening attention spans, higher levels of anxiety and sleepless nights, but they also carry the apps that could provide the solution.

Find out which apps could improve your concentration and help you to relax.

  • Meditation apps for increasing mindfulness
  • Artificially intelligent music to help you focus
  • The smartphone answer for sound sleep

Writing for LV= Love Life, tech journalist James Day (@James_A_Day) asks regular users to review some of the best brain-health apps on the market.

Destress with some calming apps

Finding mindfulness

Are you constantly checking your phone for messages? Well, this could be a contributing factor to your stress level, according to a recent psychological study. Instead, why not put some time aside to use the apps that can tackle your anxiety?

Calm

Calm uses mindfulness training to lower stress and increase happiness. The free app requires a paid-for subscription the deeper you delve. It’s built around a comprehensive catalogue of guided meditations that claim to improve your daily commute and help you reduce your anxiety.

Headspace

Headspace was founded by a former monk, no less. Pick a topic, such as generosity, stick your earphones in and fade away for a few moments. If you like the cut of its calming jib, subscribing to the app opens up paid-for packs to help with exam revision, sport and more, plus additional content such as animations.

A top tip from user Kris Lewis: ‘Don’t be put off by doing the free 10-day ‘Basics pack’ for as long as you need. You could easily repeat it until you feel ready to continue.’

Aware

A smidge cheaper in the subscription stakes, Aware suggests a structured 21-day Foundation Course, of which the first seven days are free, to teach the basics before progressing to specialist offerings. Aware’s smartest feature is the bank of on-the-fly meditation sessions called Energisers, as user Nicky Chin explains: ‘The biggest thing for me has 100% been the Energisers because they pick me up throughout the day and only take three or four minutes.’

Site back and relax with an app that can improve your focus

Training your Brain

A recent study discovered that the mere presence of a smartphone in the room could distract people from a task. But have one in your hand, with the right apps downloaded, and you could improve your focus.

Brain.FM

Subscription-based app Brain.FM uses AI-generated music for clever cognitive stimulation, and its creators have gone to town to claim that it’s scientifically sound. Music therapy is an established psychological intervention, and with Brain.FM it takes around 15 minutes to get you on track.

When you do finally decide to down tools, you’ll also find music for napping, relaxing, meditating and sleeping – who knew the sound of a distant thunderstorm was so cathartic?

Top tip: download sessions to use the app in offline mode so you can go completely off the grid and concentrate.

Elevate

Neuroscientists helped to develop Elevate, which offers personalised mental exercises for improving memory, maths, speech, and processing speed. Users get three daily exercises as part of their own training programme, which adjusts over time. Elevate requires a subscription to get the most from its 40+ games, additional mini-teasers and smartwatch integration.

Skillz

Skillz for Android or iOS tests similar parameters in 120 ever-increasing levels. If competition gets your juices flowing, a multiplayer feature lets you battle with up to four friends or other users online. The games are simple in design but acutely addictive, although one criticism would be the pop-up ads breaking focus between levels.

Use apps with calming sounds to help you sleep

Rest and relaxation

There’s been an explosion in wearable tech claiming to monitor sleep, but what about drifting off? Powering down digital devices before bed is sensible, but some smartphone apps can bring a new meaning to the term sound sleep – as long you’re using the speakers rather than staring at the screen.

Relax Melodies

Relax Melodies is a clever little concoction whereby you can combine calming noises to create your own sleep soundscape. The app has more than 30 million users piecing together relaxing sounds, binaural beats and white noise set to play for a determined period of time. Anyone looking to become DJ Drowsy can do so for free with 50 sounds, or pay a premium subscription for more. Alternatively, access mixes made by other users or integrate your favourite songs.

Pzizz

Before the smartphone, Pzizz made MP3 players encouraging sleep at the touch of a button using psychoacoustics – our brain’s response to specific sounds.

Fast forward to today and Pzizz has an app working on the same principle, with celebrity admirers including the Duke of York and Harry Potter creator JK Rowling, who tweeted: ‘I love Pzizz’ and ‘Best I've used by a mile’. A free seven-day trial is followed by a fairly pricey subscription – but what price do you put on a sound night’s sleep?

Single solutions

Some apps cover multiple scenarios, but self-help guru Andrew Johnson has individual £2.99 downloads to single out relaxation, power naps, deep sleep, weight loss, positivity, pregnancy and more.

User Stephen Graves is a fan and says: ‘Andrew’s soporific tones lull you into a trance. Individual apps address specific needs – some are practical, like ‘quit smoking’ or ‘public speaking’. Others veer into Paul McKenna-style wish-fulfilment like ‘Visualise Success’.’

We can’t promise all the apps we’ve selected will work for you, but in true Paul McKenna style, we hope you’ve been hypnotised by the choice.