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The best free apps and Alexa skills to boost your wellbeing

These popular Android and iOS smartphone apps can help you de-stress

A new study on mobile downloads shows self-care apps are growing in popularity. But although Headspace and Calm lead the pack, there are lots of alternatives.

An estimated $32m will be spent on self-care apps in the first quarter of 2018, according to data-gathering group Apptopia. Meanwhile, smart home hub owners can take advantage of a vast selection of wellness-related Alexa smart hub skills (the equivalent of apps).

So what’s all the fuss about, and can a self-care app really help you make some big lifestyle changes? We’ve got the details below.

Smart hub reviews – make your internet-connected devices even smarter.

The rise of self-care apps

Apptopia’s study on app store trends shows installs for self-care apps are up 36% compared with this time last year. More and more phone owners are choosing to give ‘meditation on the go’ a try, which has seen a range of apps land on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Headspace and Calm are the front runners in terms of total downloads, but we’ve spotted plenty of other self-care apps worth a closer look. We’ve rounded up five of the most-downloaded self-care apps for Android and iOS.

Top self-care apps for Android and iOS

1. Headspace

This is one of the most well-known self-care apps around, but most of the experience is behind a paywall. If you sign up for a free account, you’ll miss out on lots of content.

Headspace is home to a selection of downloadable audiobooks themed around breathing techniques, curing anxiety and banishing stress. A free account gets you the ‘Basics pack’, a 10-session (one-a-day) program to teach you the essentials of meditation and mindfulness.

Downloading other packs will cost you, but there’s lots of variety, with talks on relationships, patience and productivity. You also have the option of trying a bite-sized ‘Minis’ course with sessions that last up to three minutes – good if you need a moment of peace on a busy day at work.

An annual subscription to Headspace is £6.25 per month, or you can pay £9.99 monthly without committing for the whole year.

2. Calm

The team behind the Calm app say it can ‘change your life’ with a series of meditation sessions lasting up to 25 minutes. The sessions, accompanied by a soft-spoken voiceover, run through topics including deep sleep, happiness and self-esteem.

You can keep track of your progress on the Profile page, which tells you how many ‘mindful minutes’ you’ve logged on the app. Even on a free account you get a solid selection of calming soundtracks to listen to in the evening. Some are designed to help you focus on a tricky task, while others are meant to soothe you to sleep. There are some bedtime stories on there too, including a reading from Stephen Fry about a hillside village in Provence.

Calm has a number of ‘masterclasses’ available for paid-up members to download – they’re full-length talks from medical professionals that explore how to break bad habits and the science of rest. Billed yearly, the app costs £2.99 a month.

3. Fabulous: Motivate Me!

This motivational app invites you to conquer a series of health-related challenges. Download the app, answer some questions about yourself and you’ll get your first challenge – ours was to drink a glass of water first thing in the morning for the next three days.

As you tick off the app’s challenges, you unlock more. We think this is one of the nicest-looking self-care apps out there, with vibrant menus and lots of interactive elements.

If you get bored of challenges, the ‘Make Me Fabulous’ menu has some other activities to keep you busy. You can try a seven-minute workout routine, a course on mental toughness or an introduction to yoga. The core app is available for free (and there’s lots to explore), but you can unlock the premium experience (a wider selection of courses) for £14.99 a month.

4. Simple Habit Meditation

Acting as a ‘daily vacation for your mind’, this app for Android and iOS lets you meditate for 5, 10 or 20 minutes. If you’re travelling you can select ‘On the go’ and then pick a category such as Big Event, Tough Day, Walking or Commute.

You’ll get to explore over 50 free sessions without parting with any cash, but a membership gives you access to a library of 1,000+ meditations. The app costs £9.99 a month, or £88.99 for the year. Members can also download content to listen to offline without an internet connection.

5. Stop, Breathe & Think: Meditate

Whether you’re a beginner or a meditation pro, this smartphone app has a strong variety of courses to try out. You’re asked to track your emotions before and after meditation to see if your work on the app has an effect on your lifestyle.

We counted around 50 guided activities on a free account covering breathing exercises and acupressure. The app is suitable for children, too – handy if you’re a parent whose child is dealing with some homework-related stress.

Upgrading to premium will set you back around £40 a year.

Amazon Alexa skills to help you relax

Smart hub owners with an Amazon Echo can try out some Alexa skills dedicated to meditation. Here are some listed on Amazon:

  • Relaxing Sounds: Spa Music – this simple Alexa skill will play soothing music from your speakers. Simply say ‘Alexa, play spa music’, sit back and relax.
  • Guided Meditation: Meditation of the Day for Calm – this app serves up a new meditation each day that lasts up to eight minutes. It’s made up of a mixture of breathing exercises said to help you eliminate stress and improve focus.
  • Meditation Timer: Relax, Focus & Sleep –say ‘Alexa, open Meditation Timer’ and you’ll be asked how long you want to meditate for. The sound of a gong signals the start of your experience, accompanied by a calming soundscape.

A smart hub can communicate with your internet-enabled devices to manage various tasks hands-free. If you don’t own a smart hub yet but want to know which models we recommend, head over to our smart home hub reviews. Alternatively, see our guide to how to buy the best smart home hub to help you find the perfect model.

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