The 5 best meditation apps to help lower stress and manage anxiety

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Meditation is a very effective way to lower stress and anxiety and boost memory and attention span.
  • Learning to meditate is actually quite easy – you just need 10 minutes, quiet, and maybe an app.
  • We tested top meditation apps to find the best for different needs, including newbies and skeptics.

We’ve all been hearing for the better part of a decade that regular meditation can help us better control anxiety, handle stress, and generally support our brain health. But 2020 gave us more of a reason to pick up the habit than ever before: Around 30-35% of Americans have been experiencing anxiety and depression symptoms consistently since June 2020, and roughly 21% of adults were still reporting “high levels of psychological distress” in early 2021.

Meditation can sound daunting, but it’s truly one of the most accessible ways to calm your mind and your body. All you need is 10 minutes and a quiet space. If you’ve never tried to meditate before, or you haven’t had success trying to teach yourself before, meditation apps are incredibly helpful.

Generally, the apps involve a voice guiding you through the session or, at the very least, calm music to focus on. There are plenty of smartphone apps dedicated to various techniques. To find the best, we tried dozens of the most popular meditation apps.

Not only did we choose those that delivered feelings of relief but the apps below worked so well, we didn’t want to stop meditating (and they still currently occupy real estate on our smartphones). Give it a shot yourself and see if they’re able to help you feel a little less stressed, anxious, or panicked during this very uncertain time.

Here are the best meditation apps:

The best meditation app overall

Headspace

Headspace’s narrator talks to you through each meditation and uses helpful animations and guidance to make the practice super accessible.

Pros: Free 7-day trial for initial judgement, lists the time of each meditation, uses a helpful narrator, free Weather the Storm meditations designed specifically for troubling times

Cons:Must complete basic meditations to have access to more advanced sessions, pricier than other meditation apps

Headspace is one of the most recognized names in meditation apps and our top pick for a lot of reasons: For starters, you have to start with a 10-day basic meditation course. This introduces you to both the app as well as to the world of meditation. You’ll get explicit, simplified instructions on how to meditate, often alongside quick video messages which leverage adorable graphics. These help you better understand the concept of not latching onto thoughts and how to find your calm amongst the chaos. As a newbie, I found it incredibly digestible and accessible.

These sessions and videos are all narrated by Andy Puddicombe, a former Tibetan Buddhist monk and the co-founder of Headspace who happens to have one of the most soothing and enjoyable British accents which, seriously, make the guided meditations more enjoyable.

Completing the intro course and subscribing unlocks a ton of different meditation sessions, including a Recommended for You section, ranging from a focus on appreciation, breathe, happiness, and sleep. The latter includes audio experiences, wind-down guided exercises, sleep sounds, and a moonlight library all aimed to help you get better shut-eye.

Although Headspace does offer a free meditation hub called Weathering the Storm, these are a limited number of short sessions to help you in the moment. To really learn how to meditate, you’ll need to pay the monthly fee, which is a bummer and roadblock for many.

Price: $12.99/month, $95/year

The best for sleep

Calm

Calm tailors its suggested content and meditations to your specific goals and needs, which it asks about upfront.

Pros: A beautifully designed, aesthetically appealing layout, easy to navigate, masterclasses offered by world-renowned experts, specializes in sleep meditation

Cons: Pricier than other meditation apps

Calm starts off by having you answer one simple question: “What brings you to Calm?” The answers include anything from reducing stress and improving performance to reducing anxiety or improving sleep. You’re even able to zero in on a desire to develop gratitude or build self-esteem.

The app then recommends content based on your goals and needs. This lets you practice guided meditations, breathing exercises, or enjoy relaxing music and soundscapes. They even offer walking meditations if you’re on-the-go. There are over 100 guided meditations for anxiety, stress, and sleep, and a robust library of sleep stories (perhaps its best feature) — including a sleep story narrated by the wonderfully soothing voice of Matthew McConaughey.

Calm’s Masterclasses series offers classes taught by world-renown meditation experts, as well as doctors. I enjoyed listening to these, as they provided background on the expert and it allowed for a bigger sense of trust in what they were discussing or teaching. 

The app layout is extremely intuitive, too, so finding the content you’re looking for isn’t an issue. 

Price: $12.99/month, $69.99/year, $299.99/lifetime

The best for free

insight timer

The Insight Timer app offers one of the deepest wells of content, giving your meditations some variety — and it’s completely free.

Pros: Free version offers over 35,000 meditations

Cons: Anyone can add content so finding the good sessions can take some digging

This app has over 12 million users, thanks largely to its extremely diverse library of content — it has over 35,000 free guided meditations. Keeping track is easy, too, as you’re able to bookmark your favorites, allowing you to easily find and revisit them later. 

Though the meditations come from over 6,000 teachers, anyone is able to publish content on the app, so keep that in mind as you search. We recommend thoroughly reading the descriptions of each or quickly trying them out before settling on one. You can also follow your favorite teachers and be alerted when they add something new — making the hunt for content much easier. 

There is a premium version of the app available for $60 a year, featuring new courses published daily and the ability to fast-forward or rewind audio. But the free library is quite extensive and personally, I didn’t see a need to upgrade as I felt like the free meditations provided the options I was looking for. 

Price: Free, $60/year for premium content

The best for skeptics

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With Ten Percent Happier, even those skeptical of the benefits of meditation can ease into the practice and find what works for them.

Pros: Plenty of short meditations, sessions are divided into easy-to-understand courses, works well for beginners

Cons: The talk series is only available via a paid subscription

Ten Percent Happier knows meditation might not be everyone’s cup of tea. After having you answer a few initial questions about your meditation experience and goals, the app creates a program it says will help you make mediation a habit. 

As a beginner to meditation, I like that the app asked about how much mediation I’d done in the past so that it didn’t show me advanced content I’d be unfamiliar with. For anyone who’s unsure of meditation or skeptical of its impact, diving into something advanced could turn them away. 

The app is divided into various courses, each offering multiple meditation sessions to complete. Singles have just one meditation depending on what you’re looking for that day, Sleep is geared towards helping you get a few good zzz’s, and Talks are like short on-the-go podcasts (but are only available via a paid subscription). 

Emmy-winning journalist and ABC News correspondent Dan Harris is one of the faces in the app, which offers live YouTube discussions with him and experts about the current climate. 

Price: Free, $99/year for premium content

The best for beginners

Simple Habit

Simple Habit offers quick and easy five-minute meditation sessions that anyone can fit into their daily schedule. 

Pros: Short, five-minute meditations (longer also available); meditations for a variety of topics including intimacy and pain relief

Cons: Not a large offering of longer meditations

Simple Habit‘s opening questionnaire asks specific things such as if you’re going through a breakup, whether you want beginner meditation, if you’re looking to feel less tired, or need help after an argument. You’re then provided with your first five-minute course.

Perhaps surprisingly, the majority of the meditations on the app are only five minutes, which is one of its best pros. I’m still new to meditation, so it’s hard for me to complete long sessions. These five-minute meditations feel very doable and digestible. However, there are longer sessions available for veteran meditators.

Simple Habit also has meditations for relief from pain, which is different but something I enjoyed using. I experienced a bit of lower back pain recently and the meditation gave me a better understanding of the anatomy of the back and helped me bring awareness to my aches. 

The app even has a section for kids, as well as meditations to help spark intimacy. Simple Habit updated its content with relevant meditations centered around the current pandemic and global health crisis, too. 

You can access many sessions for free, but for a monthly or yearly fee, you’ll gain access to over 1,000+ sessions, as well as be able to listen offline and on any device.

Price: Free; $11.99/month for premium

Read our full review of Simple Habit.

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