5 Stress-Coping Tips That Actually Work

It may not seem like it, but stress is a good thing — in small amounts, anyway. Getting that push can be invigorating every once in a while. When it becomes a habit, though, feeling anxious can cause problems for both your relationships and your body

Thankfully, meditation can help. "Meditation is really an attempt to still the mind," says Lisa Levine, MS, LAc. "The more still the mind and the more space there is between thoughts, the more peaceful we feel, because it’s the incessant racing of the mind that can leave us feeling anxious." 

As the founder of Brooklyn's Maha Rose Center for Healing, Levine says mindfulness, and meditation in particular, can help us become observers of the thoughts that usually go unquestioned. "That's half the battle," she says. "Instead of being that negative thought, you can just see that it’s an experience that you’re having."

Science is starting to get on board, too. In research funded by both the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scientists at Harvard have been able to use brain scans to look at our neural activity during meditation. They've found that meditation can physically change the brain, possibly even in ways that allow for us to be more resilient to stress and compassionate. 

Other recent research suggests that mindfulness-based meditation, which teaches us to be more aware and accepting of the here-and-now, can help combat repetitive anxious thoughts. It can even reduce the need for antidepressants and ease chronic pain.

We can't always justify slipping away for an hour for a guided class. But, we can't use a busy day as an excuse to ignore self-care. If anything, those are the days we need it most. So, with the help of our trusty smartphones, we'll find a way to steal a few minutes for ourselves. Click through to see a few of our favorite stress-busting apps for every meditation (and anxiety) level — and get ready to get your "Om" on.
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Photo: Courtesy of Headspace.
The biggest advantage of Headspace is that it's adorable. With a sweet animated interface, it's soothing in a way that's helpful for the meditator who also has five meetings, 6,000 emails, and a train to catch.

You'll start on level one with just a 10-minute meditation session, complete with calming guidance in a soft, British accent (but no cheesy music). From there, your challenge is to "Take 10" for 10 days straight.

I can see how Headspace makes it easy to actually carve out time to try meditation. It gives you tips for how to get started with the practice (you start with your eyes open!) — and how to make it a real habit. After the initial 10-day streak, you can pay for more.

Headspace's other features include sending you little motivating phrases throughout the day (if you so choose), a reminder to take your 10 minutes, and a social networking mode called "Buddies." Overall, it's a straightforward, non-judgmental program that could be the perfect set of Zen training wheels.

(App: free-$94.99)
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Photo: Courtesy of Happify.
The Happify app is a way to make a game of all the positive psychology tricks you know might work, but make you feel kind of silly when you actually do them. You'll start by taking a quick test that assesses the areas of happiness you should work on. Then, you're presented with a few "tracks" that can help get you to your goals.

My suggested track was "Conquer Your Negative Thoughts." Of course, my first thought was, "Oh, fuck this." But, my first challenge was easy enough — just writing down three good things that happened to me that day.

And, it did actually leave me with a nice feeling. Those were good things that happened to me! Being a nerd, I also really appreciated that I could see which experts helped create each track and task, and that I always had the option of learning more about both.

The customizable "serenity scene" meditations aren't too shabby, either. You can choose from various video settings (including a classic beach), session lengths, and, eventually, goals for a guided program.

Over the next few days I continued to be surprised by the fact that I actually felt better after a Happify session. And, I am thankful I didn't have to do any affirmations aloud.

(Basic app: free, Plus app: $11.99-$299)
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Photo: Courtesy of Muse.
When you get down to it, Muse is just another meditation app. But, it has the advantage of coming with a futuristic "brain-sensing" band. In reality, this is a simplified version of electroencephalography (EEG). In the lab, EEG is used to measure different types of brain waves, which can help distinguish between different kinds of work the brain is up to during sleep and while you're awake.

The app gives you a meditation task (e.g., focus on your breath) and the headband measures how well you're doing it. When you're not doing so well, the headband can sense it, and then gives you feedback via a noise in the app. This feedback is what really sets Muse apart — whether or not the graphs make any real sense.

At first, when I was just concentrating on "doing well," it made it even harder to concentrate. But, once I got used to the sound of failure, it was easier to make it go away.

(Headband: $299, App: free)
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Photo: Courtesy of Karmic.
Unlike the other apps here, Karmic isn't just about you. The goal of Karmic is to make you feel better by giving you easy ways to make other people feel better. For instance, my first accepted challenge was to resist the urge to complain for an entire day. I bet you can guess how well that went. My next task, to tell someone that I love them, was slightly easier to accomplish.

The other big draw of Karmic is that it comes with a quick meditation feature. Just set how long you want to go for (anywhere from a few seconds to an hour) and you're off. There's a nice noodling guitar in the background and someone chanting "Om," making it easy to match your breathing with the chanting.

It can get repetitive, but if you'd rather have ambient noise than a voice actually talking to you, this is a nice option. After each session, you'll see your aura — the color of the app's wispy display — change color.

(App: free)
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Photo: Courtesy of Dreamweaver.
The DreamWeaver app was pioneered by Deepak Chopra, so you know you're getting the good New Age fun. Unfortunately, it only comes with one 23-minute meditation option for free. But, it does kick your meditation session up a notch by using your phone's LED flashlight along with a guided narration — epileptics beware.

"Trip To The Forest," the only free program you get, is surprisingly pleasant. You're dropped in a lush-sounding forest full of chirping birds. It starts to thunder and rain. The lights blink to simulate lightning, eventually giving way to calming music.

It was actually lovely, but definitely not the kind of thing you could get away with doing in an (even slightly) crowded place. I can see myself growing tired of the one guided program available, and I can't say I'm particularly willing to fork over six bucks for the "Path To Love" when there are so many other free meditation apps on the list.

(App: free)