These apps will help unwind your mind this festive season

Relaxed woman. (Photo: Getty Images)
Relaxed woman. (Photo: Getty Images)

It’s that time of year: end-of-school craziness, Christmas parties, presents to buy, holidays to plan. If you’re feeling the end-of-year frazzle, perhaps you should carve out some time for rest and relaxation amid the mayhem – and that’s where apps come into their own.

Many of us have heard of bighitting R&R apps such as Headspace and Calm (YOU, 9 August), but here are a few more worth trying.

Whether you want to take half an hour to colour in a pretty picture, lie down and meditate or take a 15-minute snooze, there’s a path to peace waiting in your app store.

All these apps, with the exception of iOS-only Oak and Lake, are available at both the Apple App and Google Play stores.

Some expect payment, others are free, but all can be tried and tested without having to use your credit card.

These apps will be a friend to you – give them a whirl.

Insight timer

If you’re tempted to try meditation but don’t know where to begin, this brilliant app is a great place to start. Think of it as YouTube for meditators: take your pick from teachers around the world, select how long you have to spare and enter the type of experience you’re looking for: sleep, relaxation, anger issues. Whatever it is, there’s a teacher out there who can help. A music channel offers a variety of sounds to unwind to, from Tibetan bells to ocean waves.

Check out Canadian Jennifer Piercy, a yogic sleep educator whose dulcet-toned instruction is sublime. A great place for insomniacs to start. Then there’s happiness expert Jonathan Lehmann whose silky-smooth voice will set you up for a joyful day. The app also offers courses on a variety of topics.

There’s plenty of free stuff but if you want the full experience it will set you back R529,99 a year. This allows you to download 10 000 tracks to your device so you can meditate offline.

10% Happier

This app promises to help if you’re interested in meditation “but allergic to woo-woo”! It’s the brainchild of American Dan Harris, who describes himself as “a sceptical former news anchor with the attention span of a threemonth-old golden retriever”. He had a panic attack on national television, the trauma of which ultimately led him to meditation.

The app features highly qualified international meditation teachers who struck a chord with the likeable Dan. There are also courses to download and a personal coaching facility.

At the core of his app, Dan tells us, is a radical notion: many of us assume happiness is contingent on external factors but in fact science tells us happiness is a skill that can be learnt.

Newcomers are offered a seven-day free trial, after which the course will set you back R1 399,99 a year. There are also eight free meditations to try, so check it out to see if it’s something you might like to invest in.

Pzizz

Having trouble sleeping? This is the app for you. JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame reckons Pzizz is the biz, tweeting that it’s the best relaxation app she’s tried. And even Britain’s Prince Andrew has endorsed it.

The beautifully designed app features three main functions: sleep, nap, focus. Choose between a soothing male or female voice to guide you on the path to sleep or help you nap against a backdrop of relaxing sounds and music. It’s backed by science too.

Pzizz’s “focuscapes” – calculated sound sequences – and layered voice narrations are designed to boost body awareness, relax muscles and regulate your heartbeat, says the app’s CEO, Rockwell Shah.

This is an app worth paying for and you can check out the features before investing. Monthly it costs R154,99 and an annual subscription is R1 549,99. A one-time no-renew outlay of R2 799,99 will have you covered for three years.

Oak

No frills, no bells, no whistles. The beauty of this elegant app is its simplicity and intuitiveness – and it’s not after your money. This is meditation and relaxation pared down to the basics, with a strong emphasis on breathing.

Find instant relief with the three breathing exercises: deep calm, to soothe an anxious soul; box, to heighten performance and concentration; and awake, “the perfect replacement for coffee”, just the ticket for that mid-afternoon slump.

There are three meditations: mindful, loving kindness and unguided. In all cases you can decide how long you’d like to sit.

The third section in this app is sleep, with two options: relaxing sounds of nature (from a stream and a fireplace to a wood sauna and Tibetan Om) and guided breath.

If you like to measure your meditations, you can earn badges, and you can record how many breaths you’ve taken through the app and how many sessions you’ve completed. You can also set reminders and hook up your results to Apple Health. Available only at the Apple App Store.

Lake

This delightful colouring app is a great way to switch off. Colouring can be tricky on a tiny phone screen but Lake has a tool that lets you colour within lines and another that lets you block-fill whole spaces, making for an extremely satisfying colouring experience. There’s also a dynamic colour palette featuring gorgeous hues and it’s easy to zoom in on pictures for close work.

Lake showcases various artists’ work, from traditional paintings to quirky canvases, so there isn’t that samey sense you get with many colouring apps. And each artist offers a free painting so you can check out the app before committing to spend.

If you decide to pay after your seven-day free trial, you’re looking at R849,99 a year, a monthly plan of R149,99 or a weekly plan of R42,99. Available only at the Apple App Store.

Stop, breathe, think

This app is perfect for anxious teens who might feel the benefits of meditation, time out and self-reflection. When you open the app it asks you to check in with how you’re feeling. For 10 seconds you dim the screen and go inside your head to examine your state of mind. Then it asks you to select key words. Cute graphics accompany your answers: physically and mentally are you feeling great, meh or rough? You then add emotions ranging from happy words – grateful, relieved – to the other extreme – angry, jealous. Based on your input, the app recommends meditations and breathing exercises. It has a friendly and accessible interface – an ally especially around exam time.

And it’s free.

Down dog

Just the place to start if you want to follow a home yoga practice. It’s easy to use and there’s plenty of free content.

Choose your level from beginner to advanced, then decide on the type of practice you want to do: from gentle, restorative yoga consisting of stretches to quick flow classes or a full yoga practice.

The instruction is excellent. Choose your guide (male or female – and a further selection of voices in the paid app) and you’re guided through your moves with a simple no-frills video of a real person doing the poses. Choose your length of workout from 6-90 minutes and you can also opt to have music playing in the background – from spiritual and alt beats (free) to acoustic, piano and so on in the paid version. The free version allows you to choose between a slow and normal pace, and if you pay for the full version you can speed up or go even slower.

So much to enjoy here without spending a cent. But if you want the full experience expect to pay R124,99 a month or R779,99 a year. At the time of going to print there was a 40% off special offer on the app.