The Rise of Digital Mindfulness: Exploring the Impact of Meditation Apps on Mental Health

As mental health has grown more important, so has interest in mindfulness. A casual glance at Google trends will show that ‘mindfulness’ as a search term has taken off in popularity over the past few years.

Although originally rooted in Buddhism, mindfulness has become a popular practice for many (regardless of their religion) to adopt, in order to improve their mental health. Riding this popularity are tech firms that have developed mental health apps, designed to help their users become more mindful. However, how useful are these apps, really?

We dive into how mindfulness boosts our mental health – and more importantly, whether these mental health apps are effective at supporting our mental health.

Why is mindfulness important?

Mindfulness is the practice of centering ourselves in the current moment; experiencing the present, with no judgement in our hearts. It is a way of stilling ourselves – which is a tall order, given the hectic schedule of the modern world.

By being mindful, we become more aware of ourselves. This awareness encompasses both our physical and mental states. More importantly, a key point of mindfulness is to allow this awareness and any thoughts to pass through us without any judgement.

Consistent practice of mindfulness can lower your stress levels and boost your cognitive performance. Mindfulness has even been linked with alleviating mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression. 

How do mindfulness apps work?

Because of the numerous benefits of mindfulness, many apps have popped up to make it easier to start practising mindfulness. Leading the pack are Headspace and Calm; both, of which, have received rave reviews and high ratings from their users. They work on a ‘freemium’ model, where you’d have to pay for more exclusive services after a certain point.

Typically, these apps have different ‘paths’ that you can choose: beginner sessions that slowly ease you into mindfulness practice (these tend to be the ‘free’ part of the model); or themed sessions that focus on specific goals like better sleep, improved mood, and the like.

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Advantages of mindfulness apps

There have been a couple of studies on the effectiveness of mindfulness apps. Generally, usage of mindfulness apps has been linked with benefits on your mental health – although it’s worth noting that these studies tend to be quite limited in their scope.

Even so, there are various ways that mindfulness apps can be effective for your own practice.

Ease of getting started

It can be intimidating to dive into mindfulness practice. Especially for newcomers, mindfulness apps can help to decrease this level of intimidation as they tend to have a set curriculum that you can follow upon signing up for an account. 

With this guided process in place, it can be easier to start practising mindfulness, as one can just rely on the experts on the app. There is less pressure or energy required to research ‘mindfulness best practices’, which decreases the inertia of beginning one’s practice.

Encourages a daily routine

Mindfulness apps utilise push notifications and app nudges as a force for good. Most apps have a function for you to set reminders for when it’s time for a mindfulness session. (This, of course, works in the app’s favour as well, as they would want you to return to the platform to drive engagement.)

These daily reminders are a good way of keeping one on track when they first begin their mindfulness routine. After all, it’s harder to fall off the bandwagon, so to speak, when your phone is constantly reminding you that it’s time to practise.

Drawbacks of mindfulness apps

As with everything, mindfulness apps have their own detractors. Common criticism of such apps include the following:

Simplifies mindfulness

On the flip-side of ease, mindfulness apps may inadvertently make mindfulness ‘too easy’ and simple. The thing is: mindfulness is difficult and challenging to practise. Our brains are ever-active and it can be easy to get distracted. 

However, mindfulness apps may make mindfulness appear easy to attain – and hence, it can be discouraging if we find ourselves stuck or distracted. The glossy packaging of mindfulness apps betrays the depth of commitment and grit one actually needs to continue, even when it gets challenging.

Information sharing can be dubious

The unfortunate price of living in present times is that information is currency. No matter how noble an app’s mission may claim to be, it’s inevitable that our data is being collected by the app creators. This could be for a more innocent purpose to personalise the content we’re being served; but it’s also likely that our information is being packaged and sold to advertisers as well.

As such, the price we’re paying for a subscription to a mindfulness app isn’t its true cost. We may end up sacrificing our personal data too.

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How can we incorporate mindfulness apps in our lives?

Despite the drawbacks of mindfulness apps, there’s no denying that it can be a good tool if you want to start practising mindfulness. You could consider using an app to begin your practice, and bolster this with additional reading material, so that you have a better grasp of mindfulness as a holistic concept.

Ultimately, how you want to use these apps depends on what you’re looking to achieve as well. Are you just looking for an easy gateway into practising mindfulness? Or, do you think you need more sustained support for your mental health?

No matter the merits of mindfulness, it shouldn’t replace professional help if you think you need to speak to an expert. Mindfulness apps can be a good complement to good mental health practises, but it shouldn’t replace seeking therapy or counselling if you require more specialised support.

That’s what we’re here for! Reach out to us at A Space Between to connect with a licensed therapist and counsellor. You can make use of our client-matching service, to get paired with a mental health expert that’s best able to support your mental health goals.


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