There truly is an app for everything these days, and meditation is no exception. There are a wide variety of apps available that can guide you through intentional breathing practices, offer positive affirmations, set a useful timer for your session, and help you to visualize yourself in a peaceful place like a beach or meadow if you are so inclined. Just as with any new technology selling happiness, however, it may be wise to question the effectiveness and explore potential downsides to this method of meditation.
What is Meditation?
As recently as a decade ago, meditation seemed to be mostly discussed as a highly spiritual practice reserved for Buddhist monks and eccentric young adults. More recently, meditation has been popularized to improve mental health, increase productivity at work, and simply help create a happier life. Meditation is not about changing who you are or what you think, but instead about learning to separate yourself from your thoughts and emotions so that you are no longer controlled by an overactive mind.
Meditation practices can look very different for different people. Some find the most benefit from sitting cross-legged in a quiet room with their eyes closed, while others prefer active meditation. Meditation can be done while very alert or in a trance-like state and may involve staying quiet or repeating a meaningful phrase out loud. The key to meditation is to observe your own thoughts without reacting to them. Most people live at the mercy of their own minds, becoming full of anxiety or regret because of persistent thought patterns that they can’t seem to control. The beauty of meditation is that control is not required. The practice involves recognizing your thoughts as separate from who you truly are and quieting your mind enough to watch thoughts come and go without judgment.
The practice of meditation is also about being present, sometimes referred to as mindfulness. Meditation gives you access to the here and now when you would otherwise be wrapped up in the past or future. With time, a consistent meditation practice will allow you to live in the present moment more often throughout daily life. In this way, you can ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and work towards living each day to the fullest.
What Meditation Apps Can Do
In many ways, smartphone apps have made life easier and more manageable. We have apps that connect us to our friends, help us find great restaurants, translate languages, track our workouts, and count our calories, just to name a few. With the rise in mental health awareness came a new set of apps claiming to offer increased peace and joy for stressed out and overworked people. These apps vary in features, some offering hundreds of guided meditations, while others only work as a timer.
One great function of a meditation app is to remind you to sit down and meditate. Setting an intention to meditate every day is one thing, but finding the time to make it happen is another. A friendly notification on your phone can be the nudge you need to give yourself five or ten minutes a day to center yourself. Guided meditations can also be especially useful for those new to the practice by keeping you mentally on track, and reminding you to return to your breath over and over again.
What Meditation Apps Can’t Do
One argument against the use of meditation apps points to the seemingly counterintuitive act of using a device that is known to cause stress and anxiety to improve mental health. Compulsive smartphone use along with excessive social media activity has been shown to worsen mental illness, inducing anxiety and depression symptoms and lowering self-esteem. Aside from the constant comparison and competition that comes from social media use, cell phones also create distractions, making it difficult to focus or create a peaceful atmosphere for self-reflection. Some meditation advocates claim that a successful practice requires a complete disconnection from technology and external stimuli.
Despite the ambitious claims of many of these apps, a study conducted by the American Psychiatric Association in 2017 found that less than one percent of available mental wellness apps had been evaluated by professionals. That is not to say that the remainder of these apps are ineffective, but it is hard to determine a meditation app’s quality before downloading. What is clear, however, is that these apps cannot replace the benefits of in-person counseling or therapy. Many people struggling with anxiety and depression may be tempted to turn to an app for support, and the lofty claims of these apps may be preventing people from getting the help they need. Adding meditation to a mental wellness plan is a fantastic way to decrease stress, but those suffering from psychiatric or substance use disorders should seek professional treatment as well.
Meditation provides a wealth of lifelong benefits to the dedicated practitioner, but an at-home practice is not a substitute for the professional guidance of mental health and addiction experts. If you believe you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and mental health issues, now is the time to reach out for help. At Burning Tree West, you will find a team of compassionate, knowledgeable professionals who specialize in helping young adults struggling with addiction and their families. Here, our clients tackle their addictions head-on and harness the power to restructure their lives in a way that fosters lasting sobriety. We believe that practicing recovery doesn’t have to mean an end to educational or career goals, but instead can become a fundamental part of a successful and fulfilling life. For more information on how we can help, call us now at 972-962-7374