HealthyMinds: Free Stress and Meditation App to Help You Deal Right Now

HealthyMinds: Free Stress and Meditation App to Help You Deal Right Now

Now more than ever we need tools to help us chill out. With the upcoming election and added stress from COVID, and life, in general, we’re been looking for ways to help us to stay focused and zen.

Enter HealthyMinds, an app that’s created with the intention of translating science into practice. This is rooted in measuring well-being and helping people deal with real stress. For example, you can find mediations to help you to deal with election anxiety or staying calm during chaos.

Read on to learn more about HealthyMinds from our recent interview with Jocelyn Harmon.

Learn more the HealthyMinds App

Learn more the HealthyMinds App

Wellness Patterns: How did the idea for the app come about?

Jocelyn Harmon: The idea of the app originated from our founder, Dr. Richard Davidson’s, neuroscientific research at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. According to Dr. Davidson, “The first impetus for starting HMI really began with a conversation I had with a close Center for Healthy Minds donor. I ran into him in New York City and he pulled me aside and said ‘Richie do you really think that if you had the funding to do the best most important series of research studies, that the world would suddenly change in the way we all aspire it to change.’ And it was the beginning of a wake up call for me that the scientific research was necessary but it wasn’t sufficient and that we needed to really figure out how we can begin to act and disseminate in a way that was informed by the scientific research but was not the scientific research in and of itself.

At the same time, Dr. Davidson’s PhD student, Cortland Dahl, completed a thesis which makes the scientific case for studying different forms of meditation and practice and the ACIP (Awareness + Connection + Insight + Purpose) framework is developed.

A separate but affiliated nonprofit is then created, Healthy Minds Innovations (HMI), which shares a vision with the Center for Healthy Minds (a kinder, wiser, more compassionate world) but a different mission: to translate science into tools to cultivate and measure well-being.  One of these tools is the Healthy Minds Program App, directly developed out of the well-being framework featured in Dr. Dahl’s thesis, offering podcast style lessons to learn about the science and thousands of hours of guided meditations, many of which are voiced by Dr. Dahl himself.

Learn more the HealthyMinds App

Wellness Patterns: How can the app help people who just don’t have the time to mediate?

Jocelyn Harmon: One of the unique things about the Healthy Minds Program app is that every one of our meditations is offered as a choice between a seated or active practice. So, if you’re a busy working mom that just can’t find an hour here or there to sit by yourself and meditate, you can easily do a quick “awareness” or “connection” practice while doing the dishes, or going for a walk, or taking a shower. In addition, our program is intended to support contemplative practice outside of traditional settings – we’re actually supporting you to train your mind to bring these activities into your everyday life.

Millions of years ago, humans weren’t brushing their teeth every day, but now you wouldn’t think about starting your day without 2 minutes of brushing. We’re trying to get the world to do the same thing with well-being practices. In your daily life, before you start your next zoom call, can you take two minutes to breathe and focus on the present? Can you take 2 minutes to appreciate the individuals you will meet with? That’s what training your mind is all about.

Wellness Patterns: How can the app help with added stress from the election, COVID, etc?

Jocelyn Harmon: While all of our guided meditations can support your overall mental health in some way, we’ve also added specific meditations for current events. In the app, you can click the “singles” section at the bottom of the screen, and this will pull up “Meditations for this Moment.” Here you can choose between several “election anxiety” and Covid-19 specific practices, which again, can be done in an active or seated position. We also offer free, live guided meditations weekly on Thursdays at 11 am central on our YouTube or Facebook pages. The entire month of October we are focusing on managing the effects of both negative news and the election.

Wellness Patterns: What’s the best way to use it?

Jocelyn Harmon: The best way to use the app is whichever way gets you to use it regularly. A regular meditation practice, even a few minutes a day or week can have a dramatic effect on your mental health and overall state of well-being. A recent randomized control trial of the app showed that individuals had results of a 28% decrease in stress, reduced symptoms of depression by 24% and anxiety by 18% and increased social connection by 13% (Findings are based on an 8-week randomized controlled trial conducted by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Center for Healthy Minds [Goldberg et al., in preparation]. Results are based on group averages and will vary from person to person.)

One of our tips is forgetting all about something like New Year’s Resolutions and instead focusing on “Weekly Well-Being Resolutions.” That means, every week, make a mental health support plan and stick to it. So, that can be as simple as “on Mondays when I’m folding laundry I’ll do a practice on the app,” or “before I start my work-from-home day I’ll go for a walk and do a practice.

The Healthy Minds Program tracks your progress, so that means you can keep up with “streak” days and understand how you’re improving thanks to the outcomes of your survey responses to the Healthy Minds measurement reports.

Wellness Patterns: Anything else to add?

Jocelyn Harmon: Our app is highly unique in that it goes beyond mindfulness to explore many other forms of meditation that are scientifically proven to have an effect on well-being. Mindfulness is just the beginning – you’ll also explore connection (cultivating kindness and compassion), insight (or self-awareness) and purpose (finding the values that motivate you). That’s a really exciting way to train your mind, especially in these challenging times. Lastly, while many meditation apps can use scientific studies to show the effectiveness of meditation in general, none can boast that they were created by the very neuroscientists who did the research in the first place!

Our app was literally created by the same neuroscientists who brought the scientific study of contemplative practices into the mainstream – so you know it’s built by science and crafted to support your well-being.

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