Application

In our Challenge of Change Resilience courses, we talk about the need to value and develop our mental health as much as we do our physical health.

One way we encourage participants to do this is to suggest they engage in a 10 to 20 minute period of quiet mind — being in the river’s eddy — each day.

Course participants learn and experience a number of practices to help with this, including use of a guided mediation from an app. But, does learning to quiet the mind using an app work? A New Zealand study published in October 2018 suggests it does — at least in the short-term.

Two-hundred-plus university students aged 18 to 49 were randomly assigned to use one of three apps – HeadSpace, Smiling Mind, or Evernote for 10 minutes each day for 10 days. Mental well-being measures were taken at three points: before the study, at 10 days, and again at 40 days.

What did the results show? 

Practicing meditation or mindfulness using any of these apps improved a number of mental well-being measures at the 10 day point; e.g., depression and stress lessened, and resilience for Smiling Mind users improved. There were no differences in the results between the two Apps, with the exception of mindfulness, where Headspace achieved better results. Of note, some of the measures for the control group worsened in that time.

10 day results
  Headspace Smiling Mind Control group
Depressive symptoms
Anxiety  
Stress  
College adjustment  
Mindfulness    
Resilience    
Flourishing    

Participants were then offered the chance to continue the use of the app for a further 30 days, at which point, usage dropped off considerably. About half the participants never used the apps again, and less than 20% used the app 2+ times per week. This makes it difficult to be confident of the longer term insights; however, participants who used apps more frequently during the next 30 days showed statistically greater improvements than the control group in Resilience for HeadSpace users, and college adjustment and mindfulness for Smiling Mind users. Smaller improvements were found for depressive symptoms and anxiety for users of both apps.

Comment

The results show that using mediation/mindfulness apps over a short period of time can improve our mental well-being. They also suggest that doing nothing to manage our minds may worsen our mood. 

This is an experimental study, but it could well be that if improvement in mood can be achieved in the field with 10 days of 10-minute practice, then people will experience the relief. If this is the case, it offers a simple and accessible intervention for emotional upset or distress that gives the sufferer some control.

Change is challenging, and to make lasting change we need to go through the process of developing new habits. As the drop-off rate in this study shows, ten days does not a habit make — even though participants reported better mental well-being!

I find sticking to a standard time to practice stilling my mind — being in the eddy — helpful. People often ask whether it is better to practice in the morning or in the afternoon. Many people say the morning, but I think the time of the day matters less than just doing it! It is the use of the app that matters most.