A smartphone app that allows users to meditate and focus on mindfulness may seem slightly contradictory.
Instead of finding a way to pull people away from their phones to meditate, Stop, Breathe & Think co-founders Julie Campistron and Jamie Price developed a way for people to use their phones to check in with their emotions instead of on Facebook or Foursquare.
The app was originally intended to supplement workshops for Tools for Peace, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cultivating compassion and kindness in the daily lives of youth and adults. Price wanted to take the program a step further and find new ways to inspire and connect with young participants. She quickly realized the best way to connect with young people is through technology. The duo set out to translate the mindfulness techniques and exercises from the workshops to a user-friendly app.
The app asks users to do an “emotional check-in” and provides quick, customized guided meditations based on how the user is feeling. Campistron says most of the meditations are under 6 minutes.
“Even though it’s on a device that’s highly interruptive in your day and highly distracting, to some extent it’s leveraging something you already have in your hand all the time,” she says. “It’s giving you the ability to turn it into something that’s going to settle you down and able to connect with your feelings a couple times a day and be able to do something about whatever those emotions are that you’re dealing with.”
Campistron says the app has had nearly 5 million emotional check-ins since they launched in 2014. Users can choose up to five emotions categorized from highly positive to highly negative. The app then uses an algorithm to recommend three short meditations based on those emotions.
“There are specific meditations and topics that work better to calm you down if you’re angry versus to energize you if you’re feeling sad or depressed versus getting rid of your anxiety,” she explains. “If it’s in the evening, we’ll also recommend a sleep meditation or if it’s in the morning, we’ll usually recommend welcoming the day meditations, which is a great way to start your day.”
They recently added a feature that allows users to do another emotional check-in after they meditate. The app also provides a platform for users to track their progress and see how their moods have evolved. Stop, Breathe & Think also offers incentives to encourage daily practice.
“You can look at your mental and physical wellness over time and we encourage you with stickers,” Campistron says, “It helps people stay on track and really encourage them.”
According to Campistron, half of the app’s users are younger than 25. She says the quick and easy nature of the app is especially ideal for college students. She proposes that simply taking a moment to do an emotional assessment is highly therapeutic for the erratic lives that most students lead.
“We see a lot of feedback from college kids around us helping them with their social anxiety as they get into college, but also preparing for finals,” she elaborates. “It really doesn’t require a lot of time to check in and do a short meditation…you really only need to carve out basically 10 minutes a day…it’s really less about how long you spend and more about how consistent you can be.”
Campistron recommends making meditation part of a daily routine by associating it with everyday activities like breakfast or brushing your teeth.
“It’s also something you can turn to if you’re having a panic attack because you have a final,” she adds.
Campistron and Price are currently working on augmenting the app’s features by including more activities and making the emotional tracker more robust.
“Our goal is to be more than just a meditation app and to really be an emotional wellness app,” says Campistron.
As the app develops and evolves, Campistron says one thing has remained consistent: positive feedback from users. Campistron says people have used the app to overcome everything from assuaging daily stress to dealing with PTSD.
“It’s so infrequent that we take those few minutes,” she says. “We really see the efficacy of it with regards to alleviating stress and really helping people feel more balanced and calm.”