August 28, 2023

8 Mental Health Apps for Stress, Sleep, and Self-Care

photo of Perry Santanachote

Written By

Perry Santanachote

photo of Leah Johansen, MD

Medically Reviewed By

Leah Johansen, MD

Lifeforce Physician

photo of Mary Stratos, PA-C, IFMCP

Medically Reviewed By

Mary Stratos, PA-C, IFMCP

Lifeforce Physician Assistant

8 Mental Health Apps for Stress, Sleep, and Self-Care

You already use your smartphone for nearly everything, from work to working out, so why not use it to support your emotional well-being, too? 

Mental health apps can help you manage stress and anxiety, get better sleep, start a meditation practice, drink less alcohol, and track how a new habit is affecting your symptoms. Most importantly, these apps can improve your overall quality of life and help you reach the wellness goals you set for yourself.

“The external feedback that apps offer can enhance motivation, accountability, and overall awareness of your health and fitness journey,” says Vinnie Antonelli-Galizio, a Lifeforce Health Coach. "With the power of push notifications, you're reminded of the habits you want to create and the lifestyle you're trying to live. You’re also provided with the tools and insights to make informed decisions, track your progress, and work toward achieving your goals.”

Tens of thousands of mental health apps are available in your app store, so how do you choose? We reached out to a licensed psychologist and our team of Lifeforce Health Coaches to help us find the best mental health apps worthy of your memory space.

What Mental Health Apps Offer

“There is a broader awareness of the importance of our mental health and people are seeking out help more than they were in the past,” says Dr. Vaile Wright, a licensed psychologist and the senior director of the American Psychological Association’s Office of Health Care Innovation in the Practice Directorate. The deluge of mental health apps available today is in reaction to that.

“There’s the commercialization of it with companies that see there is money to be made in the space,” says Dr. Wright. “But there are also people who just want to create apps that can reach the masses and alleviate suffering.”

She says the best mental health apps teach healthy skills, like mindfulness, emotion regulation, and journaling, but they don’t replace a therapist. “Apps provide the opportunity for people to safely explore the space and hopefully that leads them to explore more robust treatment options if they feel that's a good fit for them.” 

What to Look for in a Mental Health App

What to Look for in a Mental Health App

There’s a wide variety of mental health apps available at the click of a button. But an app with the most downloads or stars doesn’t always mean it’s the best option.

“I encourage people to do a little bit more digging than that,” says Dr. Wright. “Nobody is regulating the space, so a user could stumble upon an app that not only doesn't work but is actually harmful.”

Due diligence means going to the website to look for published research, whether the company has a scientific advisory committee that includes subject matter experts, and if the app has a strong data security policy. “These apps are not governed by HIPAA, which means there are no regulations for what they can do with your sensitive personal data,” says Dr. Wright. That means they could be selling what you’re sharing.

Many popular mental health apps share data, allow weak passwords, and target vulnerable users with personalized ads. Choose your app based on your own comfort level and know what you’re signing up for before clicking the “I agree” box. 

The Best Mental Health Apps

After mining the best of the best in the App Store (more on our selection criteria below), here are eight apps you should tap — some to unwind and some for peace of mind. Many charge a monthly or annual fee but offer free trial periods, so you can try out several to find the right fit for you.

Daylio App - Mood Tracker Journal

1. Daylio

Best Mood Tracker and Journal

Part personal journal and part mood tracker, Daylio can record everything from mood and symptoms to activities and energy cycles. By tracking these various factors, you can set goals and analyze your patterns over time. The app can help increase insight and self-awareness. 

“Daylio is by far my favorite app,” says Lifeforce Health Coach Kelly Lynch. “I recommend it to all of my members and use it myself because it’s a customizable check-in for yourself.” 

Generally, mood-tracking apps have yet to be thoroughly researched, but it is known that self-monitoring and mood-tracking can lead to increased insight into one’s emotional well-being.

The app suggests that mood tracking could help with depression and bipolar disorder, which are serious mental health conditions that require medication and psychotherapy, but the app can be a useful tool to help track moods, identify triggers, and get a handle on symptoms.

Daylio; free or premium subscriptions starting at $4.99 per month

2. Meditopia

Best for Meditation

Meditation has many mind and body benefits, including improving sleep and cognition and regulating blood pressure and stress response.

Meditopia provides guided meditations and informational media about stress, anxiety, and mindfulness. A short initial assessment gauges where you are in terms of sleep, stress, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and mindfulness. The app then suggests focused modules to help you reach your goals and pairs you with a wellness coach for one-on-one support. Users can also enter their mood at any moment and receive a personalized meditation recommendation, as well as use a journal to check-in. The app can connect to external devices, like smartwatches, for a more immersive experience. 

“The meditations are wonderful and range from beginner to expert, with guided sessions for sleep, anxiety, stress, and more,” says Sara Ramirez, a Lifeforce Health Coach. “You can track your stats as you progress to see real-time improvement.” 

Meditopia; $69.99 per year

Whoop - Habit Tracker

Photo courtesy of Whoop

3. Whoop

Best Habit Tracker

A Whoop membership includes an app and a strap — a wristband device that collects metrics, including heart rate variability, sleep patterns, stress levels, exercise trends, and menstrual cycles. The Whoop app is meant to help you sleep and train better.

“It's a fantastic snapshot of how your unique physiology responds to various stressors and inputs throughout the day,” says Lifeforce Health Coach Serena Holtsinger. “You can track various habits, such as alcohol consumption, cold showers, and screen use at night. A comprehensive monthly report shows you how those behaviors affect your daily recovery scores, translating into the resilience of your nervous system, your physical performance, and your capacity to show up for the people you care about — you know, things that matter to you! Whoop is also an excellent way of tracking a fascinating health metric called Heart Rate Variability. Some experts refer to HRV as a 'personal joy score' since it's so heavily affected by mental health and overall resilience.”

Whoop; $30 per month or $239 for an annual subscription

4. The Tapping Solution

Best for Reducing Stress and Anxiety

The Tapping Solution uses Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) — tapping exercises on various body parts — to significantly improve anxiety. EFT is based on Chinese acupressure principles and modern psychology and is combined with controlled breathing and affirmative statements. You focus on the negative emotion at hand while tapping your fingertips five to seven times on nine meridian points on the body. Tapping, while addressing the root cause of distress, sends a calming signal to the brain, allowing you to feel relaxed and in control. 

"This tool is great because it can help re-center you and encourage introspection,” says Sunny Alzayani, a Lifeforce Health Coach. “You pick an emotion you’re feeling, sit with the video, and follow the steps outlined, which will have you tap and speak aloud."

The Tapping Solution; $11.99 per month, $94.99 for an annual subscription, or $399.99 for a lifetime subscription

Calm App - Improved Sleep

5. Calm

Best for Improving Sleep

Sleep is critical for optimal brain function and overall mental health but becomes more elusive as we age. Help prep your mind and body for bedtime with an app.

Calm provides meditations, breathing programs, bedtime stories, and sounds from nature to aid sleep, relaxation, and mindfulness. People can also choose from several master classes where mindfulness experts record audio programs. And suppose you've always dreamed of Harry Styles gently lullabying you to sleep. In that case, you can find him and other celebrities narrating Sleep Stories.

Calm; $69.99 per year or $399.99 for a lifetime subscription

6. Reframe

Best for Cutting Back

There are no more ways around it: Alcohol consumption, in any amount, is bad for your health. Drinking negatively impacts cognition, mood, sleep, heart health, body composition, and sexual wellness. If swapping mocktails for cocktails is easier said than done, you don't have to do it alone.

Reframe is an alcohol reduction app to help you drink less or quit drinking entirely via a neuroscience approach that includes education, progress tracking, a private community, and tools to manage cravings and feelings. You might even figure out why you drink and establish healthy habits to replace alcohol. For extra support, Reframe also offers a premium service that provides access to a certified recovery coach and exclusive video content.

Reframe; $13.99 per month or $79.99 for an annual subscription

7. PTSD Coach

Best for PTSD

PTSD Coach offers education, support, and various tools to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Tools range from relaxation skills and positive self-talk to anger management and other common self-help strategies. 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs developed the app, and it is well known among mental health experts for its research-backed effectiveness and reputation for protecting patient privacy. It’s one of the very few apps that the Mozilla Foundation deems trustworthy.

PTSD Coach; free

8. The School of Life

Best for Building Mental Resilience  

The School of Life is a digital resource full of videos, articles, audio essays, and interactive media that help you make positive life changes and develop a calmer, wiser, and more resilient mindset. You can dip into the content when you have a few minutes to spare or lean on the First Aid section when you need immediate assistance with a particular emotion.

“I read The School of Life app every morning,” says Karen Katzenbach, a Lifeforce Health Coach. “It compiles quick psychology snippets that draw on history, religion, art, and modern therapy. There are also conversation starters that you can use with family and friends.”

The School of Life; $5.99 per month or $58.99 for an annual subscription

Mental Health Habit Trackers

About Our Selection Criteria 

Mental health is one of the most popular categories in the App Store. To make our selections, we not only factored in features such as robust tracking, journaling, and user-friendly interfaces, we also looked at privacy and availability of research and/or evidence-based support. While these apps can help provide additional resources and tools to help individuals better manage aspects of their mental health and well-being, keep in mind that they are not meant to replace in-person therapy, or treat or diagnose mental health conditions. 

This article was medically reviewed by: 

  • Leah Johansen, MD, Board Certified Family Practice Doctor, Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner

  • Mary Stratos, PA-C, Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner

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