Apps: Calm

Our reviewer’s favourite mental health app of all those tested
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I’ve been trying out a few different mental health apps for Spooniehacker, so I had to add a Calm app review because it’s had many awards and recommendations. However, reading up on the app, it seemed to be heavily focused on guided meditation and positive affirmations, very similar to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which I’ve never found very helpful when I’ve tried it via face-to-face sessions. I was curious to find out if this would be any better.

What is Calm?

“Calm is an app for meditation and mindfulness. It was named by Apple as the 2017 iPhone App of the Year; by Google Play as an ‘Editors’ Choice’ in 2018; and found by a major study of 200,000 iPhone users to be ‘the world’s happiest app’ – the single app that left users feeling happiest from spending time on it.

“Calm creates unique audio content that strengthens mental fitness and tackles some of the biggest mental health challenges of today: stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression.

“There are 100+ guided meditations to help you manage anxiety, lower stress and sleep better. It is the perfect mindfulness app for beginners but also includes hundreds of programs for intermediate and advanced users. The programs cover a variety of topics, and there are also sessions for Sleep Stories, Relaxing Music, Body video lessons, Audio Masterclasses, and Nature scenes to watch.”

What did other Calm reviewers say?

The reviews on the Google Play App store leaned heavily towards the positive, and the average score is 4.6/5.  Any negative Calm review usually seemed to be related to the annual cost of the app, and I can understand this (more below). However, the positive reviews are all glowing, focusing on the sleep stories and guided meditations.

“I’m generally wary of meditation apps because they sometimes weave in too much mystic talk for my taste. But Calm instead contains guidance like ‘Concentrate on your body’” (New York Times)

“In the frenetic, crazy, digital world we live in, sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back and smell the roses.” (Mashable)

“Eliminating distraction… ended up helping me relax and realize that all the stuff I was stressing about wasn’t that big a deal.” (Tech Republic)

“Tried @calmfor the 1st time last night and this morning on the subway. Slept like a baby and was very relaxed even on the train! Will definitely continue to use this.” (Michael Navarro)

Content warning

Mindfulness meditation can bring up difficult feelings, memories and thoughts for some people. I don’t think there is anything that would be triggering in the meditations I tried, but obviously I didn’t have chance to try every single option available.

How I tested the Calm app

I first tested this on the free version over a week, I then had to wait to continue testing because I ran out of free options to try. I was doing a guided meditation each morning when I woke up, and a sleep story at night before bed.

Then (through Spooniehacker) I got a one-month free trial. Again, I made sure to test it thoroughly. I tried a variety of different guided meditations available, as well as some of the other sessions.

What worked for me?

Like many of the other users, I loved the sleep stories. I found them very soothing and helpful for switching my brain off at night so I could fall asleep easier. There was a variety of voices, as well as stories (including options for children). I really liked the Nature Sleep Stories.

I also found the various meditations helpful for calming my mind, and ‘reprogramming’ my brain towards the positive. The ‘Focus’ meditation was really great for helping reduce my tendency to focus on the past and future, and helped me stay more in the present.

I liked that many of the meditations didn’t just focus on mental wellbeing but taught you how to notice your body too. It brought together the conscious and unconscious, and tied them in with the body well.

There are also the ‘Masterclasses’. These are more informational than meditations, and are intended to teach about the various obstacles or challenges that somebody can face while pursuing mindfulness. I really enjoyed the one on Creative Living Beyond Fear, and the Mindful Eating one.

What didn’t work?

My only real issue with the Calm app is how little is available in the free version. There isn’t really enough to give you a proper idea of the app. You can get a free seven-day trial of the premium version but you have to give your card details before you join, and I read some negative reviews where people had been charged for the annual subscription without warning.

Would I recommend the Calm app to other spoonies?

This is a tough one, I think it depends what you are looking for. With the free version there is a very limited number of available meditations and sessions, but if you don’t mind repeating the same thing every day you could manage perfectly well on it. However, I definitely think it is worth paying the upgrade cost to unlock all the extra content – however for many spoonies on low budgets this may not be accessible.

Calm is available from Apple and Google Play. It is free to download with limited meditations available. Annual membership is $59.99 or lifetime membership is $299.99. I also saw mention of monthly membership for $12.99 but it seems a more complex option to set up (it has to be done through one of the app stores, not the Calm website).

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