FEEL BETTER WITH FREE TOOLS
Stress and anxiety can get the better of anyone, making to-do lists seem never-ending and deadlines insurmountable. For Stress Awareness Month, here are 11 free tools to help organize your life and relieve emotional and mental strain, from an app that induces sleep to browser extensions for staying focused to a crash course in meditation -- all at no cost.
Related: 13 Tips for Reducing Stress While Growing a Business
Peaceful sleep can be elusive when anxiety and restless brain activity won't shut down. Relax Melodies, which plays relaxing sounds, is a simple app with a clean interface. Select and mix sounds to create unique lullabies, and set timers for the app to close automatically once you're asleep. Guided meditation, binaural beats, or isochronic tones can also be played to relax into sleep mode. Relax Melodies is free on the Apple App Store, Google Play, and the Windows Phone Store. The free version comes with a few standard sounds such as rain and ocean waves (more can be purchased in the app).
One major source of stress is disorganization. Google users already have Google Calendar connected to their accounts, but it may be one of the most underused tools for personal planning and errands. Create events, set tasks with email or pop-up reminders, view agendas, and share calendars with others. Users can also create multiple calendars, so a calendar for a specific event (say, a wedding) can be created and compared to a personal or work schedule. Google Calendar is available for free online and can be synced with a smartphone.
TAKE A BREAK
Ever wished for a soothing voice to lull you to sleep? The Take a Break app is a quick alternative to more comprehensive meditation apps that require set-up. Take a Break offers two meditations -- the seven-minute "Work Break Relaxation" and the 13-minute "Stress Relief Meditation" -- with the option of playing calming music in the background. Take a Break is free through the Apple App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon Appstore. Users can upgrade for more background music options, sounds, and advanced volume controls for 99 cents. The company behind the app, Meditation Oasis, also offers free podcasts.
One way to approach an overwhelming project is to break it down into smaller tasks. Try the Pomodoro Technique: Focus on work distraction-free for 25 minutes, followed by a quick five-minute break, then repeat until all tasks are completed. Free Chrome extensions such as Time Doser can help by setting timers. Strict Work Flow blocks non-work-related websites until a 25-minute timer runs out.
The Headspace app for iOS and Android aims to improve mental health and happiness with creative exercises designed for the brain. It includes the free Take10 program, which teaches meditation foundations in 10 minutes a day for 10 days. If users want to continue, they can purchase subscriptions to specific programs, such as relationships and health. For every subscription purchased, Headspace donates one to a nonprofit.
For people with an office cubicle or bedroom wall covered in Post-its, Google Keep can be an easy way to clean up. Users can change the colors of notes created with this simple online organizer, drag them into any order, and add photos, checklists, labels, and collaborators. When a task is done, it can be archived. Access Google Keep online or install the iOS or Android app for free.
STOP, BREATHE AND THINK
Created for youth by the nonprofit organization Tools for Peace, the Stop, Breathe & Think app is a free meditation resource for anyone wishing to practice mindfulness. Users can learn how to meditate, set timers for practice, and select specific meditations such as "Mindful Breathing," "Compassion," or "Equanimity." More meditations can be purchased for an additional fee. Stop, Breathe Think is available as an iOS, Android, or web app.
This app uses the sound of soothing Tibetan singing bowls to start and end meditation sessions. Insight Timer has an international community, and shows who else is meditating on the app in real time when users log in or finish meditating. The app is free to install from the Apple App Store and Google Play and includes 1,462 guided meditations at no cost. For $4.99, users can upgrade for more features, including additional sounds and advanced timer options.
Trello can be a handy organizational tool for stressed-out worker bees, especially when due dates, multiple to-do lists, and attachments are needed for larger projects with multiple collaborators. Trello lets users organize tasks visually on cards, separated on different project boards. Users can add specific people, labels, checklists, and due dates on cards, as well as share comments and attachments. Trello is free to access online or as an app for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire.
Omvana, available online and for iOS and Android, offers a vast collection of audio tracks and background sounds for meditation practice. Omvana is all about personalization, which parent company Mind Valley claims to be key for personal growth. Users can customize vocal tracks, including popular speeches and books, with ambient background sounds in the Omvana Mixer. New users get 25 free tracks at sign-up.
This to-do list manager lets users create tasks, share with collaborators, sync lists across devices, set recurring tasks, and more. Any.do is available as an iOS, Android, Mac OS X, or web app and a Chrome extension. A highlight is the Any.do "Moment," which shows a rundown of the day's tasks first thing in the morning, with options to mark as done, delete, or reschedule for another time.