Doesn’t it always seem to be the way that anxiety and panic attacks have a terrible habit of striking at the worst possible moment?
Sure, there’s never a *good* time to deal with them, but more often than not the stress hits hardest when we’re far beyond our comfort zone, with our usual anxiety relief tools well out of reach.
Perhaps we’re at a friend’s house, on the train or at the store. Wherever it is, when an attack strikes of the stress of the situation simply becomes too overwhelming, we could all use something quick, simple and effective to help us through it.
That’s where the leading anxiety relief apps we’re featuring today come in handy.
Over the past couple of years, a whole host of tools have come onto the market to help those dealing with stress, anxiety and depression gain some respite from their symptoms wherever they are, whenever they need them.
On the face of it, this is certainly good news. It means that however stress and anxiety manifests itself for you, and however you prefer to regain your calm, there’s a tool available that you can download and use at a moment’s notice.
But here’s the thing:
With so many of these apps now available, finding one that’s truly effective can take a long time and a lot of work.
Of course, there is an easier way.
Here, we’ve rounded up the very best anxiety relief apps currently available, each one tried, tested and reviewed to help you pick the ones that are going to work best for you.
Deciding how to rank our top two anxiety relief apps was no easy task. Both calm and second-placed Breathe2Relax offer incredible value for a free app and have ultimately helped thousands of people to get their anxiety under control.
In the end, however, it was Calm’s reputation as the world’s number one mindfulness and relaxation app which cemented its position at the top of the chart.
Voted Apple’s App of the Year in 2017 and currently the third most popular iPhone app in the category of health and fitness, Calm offers a plethora of relaxing meditations.
Each meditation comes with its own enchanting visuals and tranquil soundtrack, so you can always find one that’s just to your liking.
Also available for Android devices, the app allows you to choose meditations ranging anywhere from a quick two to twenty minutes.
Whilst the former can prove incredibly effective in an emergency, using the longer meditations on a regular basis can work wonders for keeping anxiety at bay and enjoying a greater sense of calm throughout day-to-day life.
Like most of the apps on this list, Calm is free to download and has lots of free content that you can use right away. However, there are some options to purchase subscription-only content if you wish to.
Best for: All-round stress-management and relaxation
- iPhone rating : 4.8/5
- Android rating: 4.6/5
Few apps have been more widely acclaimed nor as expertly put together as Breathe2Relax.
As the name implies, the app helps you get through an anxiety attack by practising breathing techniques, with a particular focus on diaphragmatic or “belly” breathing.
That said, this isn’t just as a great tool to use in an emergency.
Break it out regularly and practice some of the exercises whenever you simply want to enjoy a moment of quiet mindfulness or to help you feel fully relaxed before sleep.
As you might expect from a tool developed by the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, this one has plenty of science behind it. A series of videos and graphics can show you how stress is affecting you in different parts of your body, as well as offering the best techniques to tackle that stress.
Simple, effective, and very easy to use, this is well worth a download for anyone dealing with stress, anxiety, or panic attacks.
Best for: Breathing exercises
- iPhone rating : 4.4/5
- Android rating: 4/5
3. Self-Help for Anxiety Management
Developed by a team of psychologists, computer scientists and students at the University of West England in Bristol, Self-Help for Anxiety Management (or SAM, if you prefer) is one of the most fully-comprehensive anxiety relief apps currently out there.
Whilst other tools tend to focus specifically on one aspect (such as breathing exercises or meditation), SAM sets itself apart as a one-stop-shop for all manner of tools, tips and techniques for busting stress, reducing anxiety, and dealing with panic attacks.
The ability to connect and communicate with other SAM users is particularly helpful.
Dealing with anxiety can often be a very lonely experience, especially if you don’t have anyone around you who really understands what you’re going through.
To address this, SAM comes with a secure, private social network that puts you in contact with others who are going through a similar experience to you.
That being said, the best part of this app is the ability to put together your own personalized toolkit of things that really help you.
So, instead of relying solely on a pre-defined set of tools, any time you come across a resource that works for you, you can add it to your toolkit.
That way, whenever you need it, you’ve got instant access to all the things you know you can rely on to help you out when stress or anxiety is at its peak.
Best for: Putting together your own anti-anxiety toolkit
- iPhone rating: 3.9/5
Available for iOS
With HeadSpace, you start off with a free trial version and then have the option to pay for premium content. Whilst that may not make it the ideal app for everyone, it does have plenty of benefits that make it a worthy inclusion on our list.
The free version provides a complete course that teaches basic meditation techniques that you can use in a variety of situations to feel calmer and enjoy mindful living.
Often, one of the biggest problems facing those with anxiety is that of racing thoughts; taking relatively benign situations (or those which would otherwise be only mildly stressful) and blowing them up into huge, terrifying ordeals.
Most of the time, these terrifying ordeals never actually occur in the real world, but because we’ve created such large, vivid representations of them in our minds, we feel as though they’re entirely real.
The result, of course, is heightened anxiety or a full-blown panic attack.
HeadSpace addresses this by focussing on mindfulness — bringing us back into the present moment through a series of guided meditations and enjoyable animations.
The latter help teach valuable mindfulness skills that can help not just with stress and anxiety, but in tackling everyday life situations such as eating healthy, exercising and getting a restful night’s sleep.
Best for: Mindfulness and meditations
- iPhone rating : 4.9/5
- Android rating: 4.6/5
5. Worry Watch
Worry Watch is one of the few anxiety relief apps out there available exclusively for Apple devices. It’s also one of the few apps that you’ll need to pay up front to use.
However, if you have $2.99 to spare, then you’ll find it well worth taking a few moments out of your day to download this very useful tool.
Unlike other apps which help you to cope once the stress or anxiety is already at its peak, Worry Watch does something much different.
It helps you to track and identify the trigger situations that cause much of your anxiety in the first place.
Using the password-protected journal, you can log all the situations, circumstances, and people that cause you the most anxiety. You can even categorize different types of worry and note down how high the level of anxiety is that they cause.
In turn, this can help you develop new coping strategies or come up with alternative ways of doing things which avoid those trigger situations.
Revisiting these events, you’re also likely to see that the things you worried about the most never turned out even half as bad as you expected. In the long-run, this can help boost your confidence and reduce anxiety when going into similar situations.
Best for: Identifying anxiety triggers
- iPhone rating : 4.5/5
Available for iOS
Dealing with stress and anxiety can be terrifying and exhausting no matter what you’re age.
Yet for teenagers and young adults, it can be practically debilitating, preventing them from enjoying the best possible opportunities in life as they work their way out of high school into the wider world.
Developed by the Canadian charity, AnxietyBC, MindShift remains one of the best tools out there for helping young people overcome this crippling anxiety and develop effective coping strategies for almost all aspects of life.
Through a combination of learning exercises, meditations, and tools, MindShift helps users to change the way they think about anxiety and stop it from controlling their lives.
A highlight is the “chill out tools,” designed to aid relaxation and mindfulness. These can prove particularly effective in stressful situations or in helping youngsters whose sleep is affected by anxiety.
Elsewhere, breathing exercises and various strategies can be taught to tackle a series of issues including social anxiety, panic, conflict, and riding out the intense emotions that play such a big part in the lives of growing young people.
Best for: Teenagers, and young adults with anxiety
- iPhone rating : 3.7/5
- Android rating : 4.1/5
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has long proven to be incredibly effective in coping with stress, anxiety and depression.
Pacifica takes the most prominent principles and most useful tools of CBT and packs them into one helpful app, along with meditations, mindfulness exercises, and more.
By far one of the most beautifully designed apps featured today, the app is like having your own CBT therapist in your pocket at all times.
Once downloaded, you can keep a private journal to record your thoughts and log trigger situations (much like you can with Worry Watch). The CBT-based analytics tools can then help you to break the negative thought cycles that cause much of the stress, anxiety or depression about a certain event or circumstance.
You can also set daily goals and challenges and work through audio lessons and activities designed to teach you new ways of coping with your anxiety.
As with other apps, there’s also a social component where you can connect and share stories, tips and advice with other users.
Pacifica is free to download and use, but some content is only available via a paid subscription.
At time of writing, said subscription will cost you $8.99 per month, $53.99 per year, or $199.99 for a lifetime membership.
Best for: CBT-based exercises
- iPhone rating: 4.7/5
- Android rating : 4.5/5
8. Inner Balance
It’s unique, it’s innovative, and it’s very helpful, so why does Inner Balance rank so far down on our list?
Sure, the app itself is free to download, but if you’re going to actually make any use out of it, you’ll need to shell out around $130 for a wearable sensor.
If you have that kind of money available, then this is certainly worth the investment.
What it does is looking at the physical effects of stress and anxiety, and helping to get those effects under control in a way that promotes calm, relaxing feelings.
When stress is high, or when we’re in the midst of a panic attack, our breathing and heart rate shoots through the roof.
Inner Balance teaches users how to monitor this. It also teaches how to get breathing, heart rate, and emotions all in alignment, turning anxiety into calm and reducing the overwhelming sense of fatigue that can often follow an attack.
Best for: Tracking and improving the physical effects of stress or anxiety
- iPhone rating: 4.7/5
- Android rating: 3.6/5
9. Panic Relief Free
Though all of the tools we’ve listed here do a great job in reducing overall anxiety levels and promoting positive mental health in the long-term, Panic Relief goes one better:
It provides emergency support when you really need it the most – in the middle of an actual panic attack.
As we’ve already discussed, a panic attack can send heart rates haywire and make breathing incredibly erratic.
Naturally, this makes it harder to concentrate, which is why it’s very helpful to find that Panic Relief is so quick and simple to use, even when you’re at the height of an attack.
Once you’re in, you can access four animated tutorials that talk you through proven techniques to minimise the physical effects of an attack, slow your breathing back to a normal pace, and ultimately help you feel more relaxed.
Best for: Dealing with panic attacks
- iPhone rating: 4/5
- Android rating: 4.6/5
10. Rain Rain Sleep Sounds
Finally, we get to an aspect of our lives that can cause us the most problems when it is impacted by high-level anxiety.
All those racing thoughts, worries and stresses can often leave us tossing and turning through the night. This lack of sleep then affects our ability to function the next day and causes us no end of health problems. As a result, we often find our anxiety increasing, and thus the vicious cycle continues.
Rain Rain Sleep Sounds looks to break that cycle by providing a menu of endless soundscapes designed to help users drift away into a peaceful night’s rest.
Most of the tracks are different forms of rain (such as rain falling in the city or at the seaside), but a few, such as crackling fires and thunderstorms, may be more to your liking.
Choose one high-quality track, set it to play, and it will keep on doing so all through the night, lulling you into a restful state so that you can wake up fresh and ready to tackle your day.
Best for: Getting a peaceful night’s sleep
- iPhone rating: 4.8/5
- Android rating: 4.4/5
The verdict: Picking an anxiety relief app that’s right for you
From physical health to mental and emotional anguish, anxiety can manifest itself in many forms.
The good news is that no matter which of those forms you’re struggling with the most, there’s an app that’s tailor-made to help you with it.
Finding it impossible to get out of a debilitating panic attack? Panic Relief is just the thing.
Need help maintaining a sense of calm throughout your day-to-day life? HeadSpace or Pacifica may be more to your liking.
That being said, there’s nothing to say you have to download just one app and stick to it.
Since almost all of the tools featured here are free to at least try out, why not choose a handful that look to be the most helpful and test them for yourself?
You never know, you may just find the one thing that makes all the difference when it comes to taking control of your anxiety and leading a happier, calmer life.
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com