Calm: mental health mobile app review

A team of application developers have attempted to tackle public mental health issues using an innovative, holistic app called Calm.
Calm focuses on a variety of techniques and tools meant to aid a user in the process of improving their sleep, stress level and overall mood.
I was initially skeptical, as the full subscription is 60 dollars per year. Some of the worst apps I have downloaded were on the pricier side, despite the expectation that higher cost means higher quality. But every free, mental health-focused app I have tried of late, like eMoods and Calm Harm, left me disappointed and desiring more versatility. I decided it was time to give a more all-inclusive app a try, so I downloaded the full subscription of Calm.
When I first clicked on the app, the phrase “take a deep breath” appeared across the phone screen, before transitioning to a homepage that reminded me of an iPhone background. I was able to select a moving image to be the backdrop of the app, so each time I open it the visual that is most calming to me pops up. I chose a fireplace, and seeing my screen shift to warm tones and hearing the crackling sounds synched with the video had a significant impact on my stress level pretty instantly.
The primary buttons on the main page are “sleep,” “meditate” and “music,” with an additional features section containing “calm masterclasses,” “calm body,” “breathe” and “scenes.”
My initial attraction to the app was the “sleep” section, as it focuses on improving length and quality of sleep through the use of 15 to 70 minute audio clips tailored to assist the mind in a peaceful rapid eye movement (REM) cycle. The user chooses an audiobook based on what they believe will best suit their needs, with genres like fairytales, fables, Shakespearean plays and even children’s stories.
The app creators’ professionalism in designing the novels’ graphics and hiring the voice actors impressed me, and I have seen a noticeable difference in my ability to both fall asleep and enjoy my sleep since I started using this feature. Although people tend to think storytelling at bedtime is childish, I think that quality is why it is such an effective tool for comfort and sound sleep, and people should not shy away from its utility.
Much like the “sleep” button, the “meditate” button has distinct categories the user can choose from, including anxiety, beginners, stress, self-care, inner peace, focus, sleep, emotions, less guidance, relationships, personal growth and kids. But unlike “sleep,” the tools are more long term, with almost all of the meditation programs lasting at least a week, if not a month.
The sheer number of options to pick from makes this section of the app impressive, but it was actually the range and individualization of those options that wowed me.
Although they featured traditional meditation sessions like “7 Days of Managing Stress” and “Breaking Habits,” they also had more playful, surprising sessions like the “World Cup Penalty Series,” which the app describes as being a tool “to help World Cup fans ease the anxiety of watching penalty shoot-outs.” By tailoring to audiences which may otherwise find meditation uninviting, the app is setting itself apart from more elitist meditation programs.
The final button on the main page is music, which contains both short, five minute nature melodies and longer, 60 minute soundscapes. Though this section had a lot less to offer in terms of varied content, the enormity of the “sleep” and “meditate” tools made up for it.
The last component of the app is what, in my opinion, constitutes its hefty price tag.
Exclusive only to full subscribers, there is an additional toolbar of features users can explore, two of which are “calm body,” which is a collection of yoga video courses, and “breathe,” which is a small round circle that grows and shrinks to the proper beats of deep breathing. But what really sells me on the app is the final feature, hidden away in the “more” tab.
“Calm masterclasses” are, as the app describes, “exclusive classes from world-renowned mindfulness experts.” Mindfulness is a therapeutic technique that has gained significant popularity in the last two years. In essence, it is about focusing on the present moment, and it is especially common in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to help struggling patients with emotion regulation, distress tolerance and addiction.
The masterclasses are much like Netflix shows, as each one contains a trailer and episodes with short, summarized descriptions. Certified doctors and mental health experts teach their subject-specific course, which I found allows them to be incredibly specific, thus being most-effective for treatment of mental health issues besides just depression or anxiety. The episode I found most useful, “Breaking Bad Habits,” actually has Dr. Judson Brewer, cofounder of Calm, as the teacher.
I have scoured the app store looking for programs that are cost-efficient and effective at addressing a wide variety of mental health issues without losing out on the specificity and expertise.
I think Calm manages to prioritize both, and even though the full subscription is expensive, there is a free version available for those who are unable to afford it.
But I would also argue the sheer magnitude of content the app provides warrants the 60 dollars a year, and even if someone is not struggling with serious mental health issues, I urge them to try it out and see what mindfulness and therapeutic tools have to offer.