The best meditation apps to help lower stress and manage anxiety

  • Meditation can be a vital part of anyone's weekly wellness routine as it can help lower stress and anxiety, provide temporary respite during a troubled time, and boost memory function and your attention span.
  • Knowing how to meditate starts by learning the basics, which aren't as daunting as you might think — as long as you have some dedicated time, a quiet space, and proper posture, you can easily start meditating. 
  • We tested some of the most popular meditation apps currently available to find the ones best suited for a variety of users including newcomers, those who prefer inspirational quotes, and even skeptics.

Whether the craziness (and expense) of the holidays is getting to you, the second wave of the pandemic has you constantly anxious and lonely, or you're dealing with other battles in your life, if you often feeling stressed, anxious, panicked, or even high strung, you're not alone. One of the best methods for managing anxiety and stress is through meditation. Not only can regularly meditating help reduce the effects of troublesome feelings but it also reduces depression, improves memory function, and boosts your wellbeing.

And it can be done by anyone, too, whether you're a beginner or a full-on meditative pro. You can certainly practice meditation on your own, but most people find it helpful — especially in the beginning — to have a voice guiding them through the session or, at the very least, listen to calming music in the background. 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 our picks for the best meditation apps:

  • Best meditation app with daily takeaways: Headspace
  • Best meditation app for sleep: Calm
  • Best meditation app for variety: Insight Timer
  • Best meditation app for skeptics: Ten Percent Happier
  • Best meditation app for newbies: Simple Habit

Updated on 12/8/2020 by Rachael Schultz: Updated the introduction lightly, added additional information about Headspace, and updated the prices, links, and formatting. 

The best meditation app with daily takeaways

If calming music and silence don't do it for you, you'll love Headspace's narrator that talks to you through each meditation.

Pros: 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 leading meditation apps for a lot of reasons. For starters, anyone who tries it has to start with the 10-day basic meditation course, which introduces you to both the app as well as to the world of meditation. You'll get course explanations, including what they are, how they work, and how exactly each is able to benefit you. This helps you better understand the end goal of feeling calm and centered.

Headspace is unique because during this 10-day course (as well as with other sessions on the app), you're sometimes prompted with a quick video that leverages adorable graphics to make the concept of not latching onto thoughts and finding your calm amongst chaos all a lot more understandable.

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.

Together, these key features allow the service to really hold your hand through understanding what exactly meditation is and what benefit it has for your life.

Once you complete the intro course and subscribe, you'll unlock a bunch of different meditation sessions. The app also features a Recommended for You section full of curated sessions. These range from topics like appreciation, breathe, and happiness. Some are courses with multiple sessions, while others are single-session meditations. Every day there's a group meditation, too, that's listed with timing on the homepage and where you can join others using the app.

One of its most unique aspects is the Sleep section which includes sleep casts or audio experiences, wind down guided exercises, sleep sounds, and a moonlight library all aimed to help you get better shut-eye.

Headspace currently offers a free meditation hub called Weathering the Storm. This features a selection of meditation, sleep, and other experiences to help support the public during this pandemic.

Any Headspace Plus subscription is also free to healthcare professionals throughout 2020 to address rising levels of stress and burnout. There is even Headspace for Work tools to help businesses around the world, too. 

Price: $12.99/month, $95/year

The best meditation app for sleep

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 meditation app for variety

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. It also allows for the ability to fast-forward or rewind audio and offers a daily mindfulness practice. Personally, I stuck with the free version as I felt like it provided the meditation options I was looking for. 

Price: Free, $60/year for premium content

The best meditation app for skeptics

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 meditation app for newbies

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

Pros: Short, five-minute meditations, 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.

Meditation experts needn't worry: Longer sessions can be found in the app as well, and are just as beneficial. The app's main idea is that five minutes can help anyone create a simple habit (hence the name). 

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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