After the passing of Anthony Bourdain in June 2018, a lot of us were forced to take a real, exposed look at our own mental health. Words like anxiety and sadness may scare a lot of men who have been raised in a culture where feeling is equated with weakness and emotions should be packed down and swallowed like pills.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says men die from suicide 3.53-times more often than women and Mental Health America explains that 6 million American males are affected by depression each year — even rich and famous athletes like NFL players Brandon Marshall and Terry Bradshaw, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, and NBA ballers Larry Sanders and Keyon Dooling.
It’s normal to feel sad. And angry, anxious, worried, and fearful. The trick is learning how to recognize the fleeting nature of these emotions and move on. The mind is powerful, so let’s harness that power. As we enter the holidays — which, for many, is the most stressful time of year — crush your fear, understand your sadness, and get comfortable with your mind by using one (or multiple) of these amazing mental health apps.
We tested a ton of apps; spent hundreds of hours trying new meditations, therapies, and gaming methods; and, yeah, we actually feel a lot better than we used to. Here are the best mental health apps.
If you want a tranquil mind
The first 10 meditation sessions on Headspace are free, but to reap real Jedi-level mental peace, I recommend subscribing to their monthly charge ($12.99), giving you access to all programming. Most people think of meditation as hokey hippies singing “kum ba yah” but it’s really just the practice of sitting down and focusing on your breath. A nice British man guides you through your meditations and you pick the duration (three, five, 10, 15, 20 minutes, etc.).
The result: You learn to be an observer instead of pairing a narrative with every action or feeling.
If you’d like to speak to a real person
Basis is a fairly new mental wellness startup founded on the idea that keeping your brain healthy and happy should be a practice that fits into your busy day. Listen (and talk!) during 45-minute focused conversations with someone who is trained to guide you into a better mental space. That’s a full 45 minutes dedicated solely to you, where you can talk through your worries, fears, and frustrations with an objective, and a real person, but without judhement. Basis research has shown the service’s method is more useful than spilling to a friend.
The result: You feel a little lighter, more listened to, and your thoughts are normalized. Plus, you’ll learn tools to use immediately when you face setbacks, confrontation, or negative self-talk.
If relaxing music and sounds help you chill out
To begin, Calm prompts you to pick a goal — reducing anxiety, improving focus, building self-esteem, or sleeping better — but the app is really designed best to help you sleep and meditate to relaxing music. Much like Headspace, Calm’s library of meditation sessions ranges in topic and duration (we’re partial to Headspace’s British accent), but the sleep category on Calm has amazing stories that will lull you into slumber without boring you to deeper levels of anxiety. Plus, you get tons of nature sounds and mellow music.
The result: The sounds, music, and stories will distract your mind and transport it.
If you worry about the future
For only $2.99, Worry Watch will help you track all the events looming in the future that cause you to lose sleep, then report on whether they were really that bad or if all the worry was in your head. So much of anxiety is living in the future, while depression is living in the past. If you’re anxious, you may be projecting outcomes for future meetings, dates, trips, or milestones.
The result: By writing down what we’re worried about, then revisiting what actually happened, you’ll come to see that you’re strong, capable, and don’t need to overthink the future. Even if your boss emails, “Come to my office on Monday morning.”
If playing games is more interesting than deep reflection
Happify does a tremendous job at helping us understand the complex nature of happiness and how easy it can be to cultivate a happy state of mind. First, the app asks your gender; age; and relationship, employment, and kid status; as well a slew of questions to understand your unique mental attitude toward skill-building. Happify likes to focus on recognizing positive emotions instead of over-explaining the negatives, and the main avenue its uses is games. Correction: cience-backed games to make you feel more inspired, thankful, and empathetic. There’s also character-strength assessments and community posts to engage with.
The result: Focusing on the positive makes you see it more in yourself and the outside world, plus you get to game. (Sorry, Red Dead Redemption, we’ll play you later.)
If you’re going through a breakup
Heartbreak can make you depressed, sick, and anxious mentally and physically. That’s why Mend has focused completely on getting through a break-up — the healthy way! Mend takes the approach of being a best friend who happens to know the latest research on love and relationships. The holistic program of daily audio training, easy tips, and community engagement is designed to literally help you heal faster. They also offer amazing article content, a break-up assessment, and cool city guides.
The result: Mend gets you back to living your life and doing you.
If you like to self-analyze
Name five countries that are cold right now. This What’s Up question secretly helps get you grounded and distracts a racing mind. Not to be confused with WhatsApp, What’s Up is designed to put your thoughts into perspective, showing that there’s no reason to be scared, worried, or self-conscious. Enter mini-notes about how the day went, make comparisons on their catastrophe scale, and play Freud by self-analyzing your thinking patterns.
The result: Dimple and distracting (in a good way) systems based on CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy) methods that make your tendency to get really sad or crazy angry lessen more and more.
If you don’t want a bunch of goofy programming
This totally free app is bare bones in the best way. Set the timer and meditate (the practice of focusing on your natural breath and noticing thoughts that arise and letting them pass). In the background of these sessions, eight polyphonic overlay bells (reminiscent of traditional Eastern meditation) ring in intervals for a deeper meditation. The cool community of Insight Timers practices everything from meditation to tai chi, chanting, prayer, walking, and yoga.
The result: No distracting content, just real-deal meditation.