The best apps for dealing with anxiety
These services do more than guided meditation.
There are dozens of anxiety-related apps available, offering options that range from guided meditation to the digital equivalent of a fidget cube, but all that choice can be, well, anxiety-inducing. With that in mind, we’ve come up with a guide we hope will make your selection process a little more relaxing.
If you’re having a panic attack
Panic attacks are hell, and trying to calm your racing thoughts while your body is working to wrongfully convince you that you are literally dying can feel impossible. Wouldn’t it be nice to push a big red button and regain a sense of control? That’s the idea behind Rootd, which presents you with a bright red “Rootr” button that lets you decide whether you want gentle reassurance to guide you through your episode, or to face the attack head-on while openly exploring the uncomfortable feelings and sensations. The latter features Yoda-esque prompts like “Welcome the fear into you. You’ve been expecting it and you know you are capable of handling more.”
Dare: Anxiety & Panic Attack Relief
If you like the approach of popular meditation apps but hate generic self-help inspirational themes like “Saying Yes to Life,” consider Dare: Anxiety & Panic Attack Relief. Dare’s guided meditations are geared to specific situations, including panic attacks, overstimulation, dissociation, and feeling trapped. You can use it for free, or spend $60 on an annual subscription to unlock Dare’s full library of relaxing audios, daily and monthly challenges, and access to a support community.
Calm Harm features short, simple, guided tasks specifically designed to help people who struggle with the instinct to self-harm, but the information and activities contained within are helpful for any intense mental health episode. After opening the app and tapping a button saying you’re ready to “ride the wave” of emotions, Calm Harm offers you a choice of tactics for coping, such as distraction, comfort, expressing yourself, or releasing your emotions. Then, it suggests a list of guided five- to 15-minute mental or physical activities.
If you need a relaxing activity to take the edge off
For anyone who struggles to keep their mind from wandering while trying to focus on audio-only guided meditation, Mediation Game features soothing text-based meditative prompts and interactive visuals. Following the on-screen instructions, moving a glowing orb around an ethereal background, and listening to the app’s calming background music requires just enough concentration to keep you engaged without stressing you out or sapping any of your precious mental energy.
Colorfy and Let’s Create! Pottery
We grouped these two art-focused apps together because while they aren’t specifically designed for dealing with mental health issues, playing calming, low-stakes games like these can be a great form of relaxation or distraction.
Let’s Create! Pottery is a pottery studio simulator where you create colorful vases and other wares for imaginary clients, and Colorfy offers digital coloring pages ranging from pop-art style images of people to intricate mandalas you can spend hours coloring. They’re not quite as satisfying as opening a box of crayons and going to town on an adult coloring book or digging your fingers into wet clay on a pottery wheel, but they’re a lot easier to pull out on the subway or during a stressful Zoom meeting. You can get started with both for free, but the $5 full version of Let’s Create! Pottery comes with more tools and designs, and you can spend $16 a month to eliminate ads and unlock more coloring pages on Colorfy.
If you want to create a routine to improve your overall anxiety levels
MindDoc: Your Companion
MindDoc: Your Companion takes mood-tracking to the next level by providing you with personalized statistics and recommendations. The app also contains psychological exercises rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy and guided meditations, and you can choose to sync the information it collects with the BetterHelp online therapy app. It also offers a $50 annual subscription with more advanced mood tracking, personalized insights, and statistics about your mood, thoughts, and emotions.
If you want something with a bit more structure, Happify allows you to sign up for a preset series of activities, such as “Managing Stress in Uncertain Times,” that contain a curated set of journal prompts and activities including polls, self-assessments, and guided meditations. You can also subscribe for $15 a month or $140 a year to get more in-depth analysis of your skills and progress, plus personalized activity recommendations.
If you need someone to talk to
Online therapy options like BetterHelp and TalkSpace have been around for a while, but subscriptions to those apps can be pricey. For anyone on a budget, or who is more interested in talking to peers than professionals, 7 Cups has communities, forums, and free support chat rooms run by trained volunteers. All that is in addition to self-help guides and an option to spend $150 a month for online therapy that’s more affordable than many other options out there.
Artificial intelligence therapists like Woebot are generally free, and can help walk you through basic cognitive behavioral therapy techniques such as identifying cognitive distortions and understanding why you’re really so angry at your partner for eating the last slice of pizza. The conversations follow specific scripts, so they can come off as super-stilted and forced, but look on the bright side: If you lose your temper and yell at Woebot, it won’t feel bad and you’ll probably relieve some tension in the process.
If you’re just looking to vent to an AI who will let you lead the conversation, Replika is another app with a fair amount of free content, including guided conversations around loving your body or coping with uncertainty, and an impressively natural style of communication. That said, Replika bots aren’t trained in any form of therapy, so their responses can be rude, baffling, and occasionally a bit thirsty. If you want to go further, the $8-a-month premium tier unlocks additional guided conversations, allows you to place voice calls to your AI, and even lets you update your relationship status with it from “friend” to “mentor,” or “romantic partner.”
If you’re a member of a marginalized community
Daily guided meditations can feel a lot more effective if they’re actually aimed at topics relevant to your life and written by people who truly understand what you’re going through. That’s the philosophy Shine’s co-founders (a Black woman and a half-Japanese woman) built their app around, offering daily guided meditations and bedtime stories that relate to how members of marginalized groups experience the world. These include topics such as dealing with representation burnout or giving yourself permission to take up space. The app also includes access to a supportive community of peers you can tap for advice and validation, plus daily discussions on various mental health topics.
If you want more than the free tier has to offer, you can subscribe for $15 a month or $54 a year and gain access to Shine’s full library of guided meditations, relaxing sounds, and bedtime stories. The paid plan also comes with curated meditations and more tools to track your mood.
Sanity & Self
If you thrive in environments overflowing with positive girl-power, Sanity & Self is an app designed for women that contains audio programs like “Stressed Out To Boss Babe” and “Self-Love For Single Girls.” Unfortunately, like a lot of feminism-themed apps, most of its content fails to account for anyone who is gender-diverse.
If you’re looking for a therapist who is trained in and/or part of the LGBTQ+ community, Pride Counseling from online therapy giant BetterHelp has a specific app geared towards LGBTQ+ users. Its $10-a-month premium version grants you access to all the app’s audio programs, a self-love library of inspirational articles, guided journaling, offline access, and more.
There are also tons of non-app-based resources that provide free or low-cost mental health resources to marginalized communities, like The Cupcake Girls—a non-profit dedicated to providing support for sex workers—and National Deaf Therapy—which provides accessible video-based therapy for the hard of hearing on a sliding pricing scale or through a payment plan. If you’re a member of a marginalized community, it’s also worth checking with local and international advocacy organizations to see what resources are available.