Calm is an app that has great potential to help you achieve a mindful, relaxed state of being in your life despite stress and anxiety. Does it deliver? (Spoiler alert: It indeed can, but like anything, it’s not perfect.) Here’s an indepth look at what the Calm app has to offer, who can benefit from it, what it costs, some pros and cons, and more.
What Is the Calm App?
Calm is an app that allows you to create moments of peace and tranquility any time you need it, anywhere you are (provided that you have access to a smartphone or computer). Available for iOS, Android, and desktop, Calm offers an array of stress-relieving tools and techniques to help you reset, reduce anxiety, and be still in your moment.
Open the Calm app, and you’re greeted with an invitation to take a deep breath. This gentle reminder invites you to destress even before you fully enter and delve into all that the app has to offer. Once inside, you can set your own calming scene and soundscape by choosing one of almost 40 tranquil nature settings. Simply gaze at and listen to the sounds of a flowing river, garden rain, tropical beach, crackling fireplace—whatever helps you feel at ease.
After you’ve taken your first deep breath and settled into your peaceful scene, you’ll discover numerous features to meet you where you are in your moment. Find activities including:
- Daily Calm: Become still and listen to a 10-minute guided meditation and discussion of the wellbeing topic of the day.
- Breathing exercises: Either choose no time limit or set your duration for one, two, three…up to 60 minutes and select a breathing pattern, then simply inhale and exhale to Calm’s gentle rhythm in order to bathe your body and brain in oxygen; studies show that deep breathing lowers stress hormones like cortisol, and activate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” system).1
- Quick & Easy: Short and sweet exercises, including a swift mood-check in and tracker, allow you to reset even if you have only a few minutes to spare.
- Meditations: Find brief to moderate-length (less than 10 minutes to more than 20) contemplation exercises in a wealth of categories such as anxiety, self-care, emotions, relationships, and more.
- Mental Fitness: Special topics such as a series called “Train Your Mind” taught by NBA star LeBron James help you enhance your thinking in ways meaningful to you.
- Masterclasses: Dive into life-enhancing courses offered by mindfulness experts and other respected professionals. Most are divided into manageable segments so you can experience them in bite-sized bits.
- Sleep stories: Sleep is vital for mental and physical health, and impacts every part of the body from each cell to every major organ and system.2 If you struggle falling asleep or staying asleep, play an approximately 15-45 minute sleep story or sound to help focus and quiet your mind so you can drift off into peaceful, restorative slumber.
- Whole-body stretches: Because we experience anxiety, stress, and other mental health challenges not just in our mind but throughout our entire body,3 Calm offers a section with yoga-like stretches, each program lasting from about five to 15 minutes, so you can ease tension all over.
- Background music: Select from over 200 soundtracks of nature sounds, instrumentals, or other soothing sounds and listen as you work, relax, walk, or fall asleep.
- Calm Kids: Kids experience stress and anxiety, too, so Calm boasts a section with meditations, sleep stories, and music geared for them. Teaching kids mindfulness has been shown to help them regulate their emotions, increase resilience, and equip them to handle life’s ups and downs.4
Calm is thorough in its approach to helping you (and kids in your life) relax and recenter at your convenience. However, most of it is accessible only to paid subscribers (more on pricing below). You can use Calm for free when you create an account, but your access to their library is quite limited.
Without paying for a subscription, you can choose your background scene and soundscape, use the breathing exercises, engage in a small number of meditations, track your mood with the “How are you feeling” feature, access a few sleep stories, and listen to a handful of the music tracks.
A subscription to Calm may be worth the annual fee, for this app is not mere entertainment. Research indicates the numerous benefits of mindfulness meditation for your quality life.
Scientific Basis for Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation slows your thoughts, reigns in your emotions, and teaches you to focus fully on your present moment. It’s an approach to total health and wellness that is thousands of years old and is part of traditions both religious and secular.5
When you practice mindfulness meditation, you intentionally focus on deep breathing and turn your attention to the moment, thus overriding your brain’s stress and anxiety responses. You create space inside of you and slow your thoughts and emotions, soothe sensations of stress in your body, and free yourself to respond more calmly to the people and situations in your life.3
The Calm app uses a non-religious approach to mindfulness meditation that lets you use this proven technique to boost your own mental health without imposing spiritual beliefs on your practice. Calm’s tools are science-based and shown by researchers to improve mental health.
In a 2010 study conducted at UCLA,6 researchers examined trait mindfulness, a natural tendency to keep thoughts and emotions rooted in the present moment rather than running amok in automatic negative thoughts about the past or future. They discovered that this tendency can be learned, honed, and practiced.
The more people develop this ability, the more they experience a pervasive sense of inner peace because they learn to respond less negatively and emotionally to stressors.7 The Calm app is your personal tool and guide to developing trait mindfulness; as such, it isn’t a short-lived quick-fix but is instead a long-term approach to true wellbeing and inner peace.
Who Is the Calm App Right For?
If you are experiencing stress and/or anxiety and are willing to consistently take action to free yourself and experience deeper wellbeing, the Calm App may be right for you. It exists to help people rise above their negative thoughts and emotions and reclaim their lives, and it has the potential to do just that.
Calm is science-based and approaches mental health in different ways (see the list of its numerous offerings, above). The more you use it, the better it works because you develop healthy habits as you train your brain to become still in response to life’s stressors.
Thanks to the Calm Kids section of the app, Calm is great for people of almost any age, from the elementary years through older adulthood. Equally helpful, no one has to have a bit of experience with meditation in order to use and benefit from this mental health app.
Brand-new beginners can start with “How to Meditate,” a 30-day program to get you started confidently.Yet it’s not simply for beginners. Calm’s wide range of meditations and other programs appeal to people with all levels of experience. Those who have meditated for quite some time can choose three programs categorized as “Less Guidance” for open-ended, largely non-directed meditation sessions.
Who May Want an Alternative to the Calm App
While Calm can benefit people of many ages and backgrounds, like anything, Calm isn’t for everyone. Very experienced meditators may not need to invest in basic meditation apps, including Calm. Likewise, people who may need support starting a new approach to mental health might want to avoid apps altogether.
Calm works best when used consistently. While it does track some basic statistics such as your longest streak (consecutive days used), number of sessions, and number of minutes you’ve used the app as well as let you set meditation reminders, users must be largely self-directed and able to rely on their own subjective feelings about the experience rather than on empirical feedback.
When living with anxiety and stress, it can be challenging to develop new habits on your own. Calm may be less effective for people who have a hard time committing to a daily practice.
Also, while Calm is helpful for people experiencing all levels of anxiety and stress, from mild to extreme, people experiencing moderate- to severe anxiety shouldn’t rely solely on the Calm app. Calm isn’t a substitute for other treatments like psychotherapy or medication.
Calm App Pricing & Costs
While Calm does offer a free version, to access the full spectrum of meditations, courses, and other offerings, you do need to pay for a subscription.
Calm has a few different pricing options when you download the app on your smartphone:
- Start a 7-day free trial (you’ll be asked for your credit card, which will be automatically billed at the end of the week unless you cancel)
- $59.99 per year (amounting to $4.99/month), paid fully upfront and automatically renewed each year until you cancel
- $12.99 per month, billed in monthly installments (amounting to $155.88/year)
- $399.99 for a lifetime membership, paid fully upfront
It’s with noting that the pricing can be different if you elect their “free” trial. At the end of the trial week, the agreement indicates that your credit card will be billed for $69.99 for a 12-month subscription. This is different from their base price of $59.99. This may have been a temporary glitch, but it is worth verifying before you allow your card to be charged a higher price than necessary.
If you purchase the app on your desktop, you might get a sale price. Frequently, a popup offer appears when you visit their website allowing you to purchase a year’s subscription for a discount off the regular $59.99 annual cost.
How to Get Started With the Calm App
Once you’ve decided to give Calm a try, here’s a look at what to expect.
Download the app and complete the sign up. You do need an account to use the app’s features, but you don’t have to supply your credit card information in order to have an account.
Choose to access the 7-day trial to explore the full features of the app.
If you decide to purchase a subscription, you’ll be prompted to pick a payment plan and then asked for your payment information. Your subscription will automatically renew each year unless you cancel it. You can cancel easily in the “More” section of the App under the heading, “Manage Subscription.”
Once you’ve activated your trial or purchased a subscription, you’ll have access to Calm’s entire library of material to help you relieve stress and anxiety to live calmly during the day and sleep peacefully at night.
You can see some basic stats to track your progress when you navigate to the “More” section and tap on your Profile.
Pros & Cons of Calm Based on User Reviews
To help you decide if Calm may be right for you, we sorted through user reviews available in the app stores and online. Here’s a summary of what people are saying:
Overall, the app receives high ratings. Commonly mentioned features and technicalities that people like include:
- The free content is sufficient for many people
- It’s user-friendly, simple to learn and use
- You can select your own soothing background scene and soundscape
- Sleep stories improve people’s ability to relax and fall asleep
- For people with specific challenges like OCD and anxiety, the app helps with both thoughts and emotions
- Users like it for a variety of general difficulties, including stress and chronic pain
- The app helps soothe both negative thoughts and emotions
While Calm has overall positive ratings, not everyone reports a great experience with this app. Primary complaints include:
- The cost is high, making it unaffordable for some
- The free content is quite limited
- New content isn’t added often enough
- Some narrators have unappealing voices
- An inability to cast to devices like Google Home, Alexa, or bluetooth speakers
- Various operational bugs, such as soundscapes continuing to play during guided meditations even when muted, the volume suddenly increasing during a relaxation session, or sessions stopping mid-play, requiring the user to exit and re-enter
The negative feedback around cost and bugs seems to be common across many apps, including other mental health apps.
Calm vs. Headspace vs. Insight Timer
Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer are all popular apps designed to reduce stress and anxiety and enhance mental health through meditation. With their free trials, total cost, meditations, sleep tracks, courses, and section for kids, the essence of these three mental health apps is very similar. They seem so similar, in fact, that deciding which one of them is right for you can be confusing.
While in the end it’s a matter of personal preference (which do you find easiest to use, which is most visually and auditorily appealing to you, etc.), this brief overview of how Calm compares to Headspace and to Insight Timer to help you decide.
We recommend, after reading about the apps, trying the free version of each one to see how it grabs you. Then, explore the free trial of your favorite (or try all of them) to make sure you like the complete program before buying a subscription—just remember to cancel the subscription before the trial period ends so you don’t incur an unwanted, spendy charge.
Calm vs. Headspace
Calm and Headspace both teach you how to meditate in order to center your thoughts and emotions so you can better deal with the stresses of life. Calm uses nature to induce a sense of relaxation and peace from the moment you open the app. Headspace, in contrast, uses bright, cheerful, cartoon drawings and graphics to invoke a sense of playfulness and happiness. Those who appreciate natural beauty and want a more relaxing feel to their app may prefer Calm to Headspace.
Both Calm and Headspace help people de-stress, but Headspace appears more geared to enhancing focus, performance, and happiness. If you feel that you are experiencing significant stress and specifically are seeking help dealing with anxiety, Calm might be the more useful of the two for you.
Calm vs. Insight Timer
At first glance, both seem equally suited for people of all levels of meditation experience; indeed, Insight Timer offers a beginner’s kit with basic meditations and Calm offers meditations with little guidance for experienced users. Upon closer examination, though, Calm (and Headspace, too) seems more suited for beginners and intermediate meditators while Insight Timer may be better suited for intermediate to advanced practitioners.
Aesthetically, Insight Timer is more about content and less about visuals and graphics. Insight Timer’s library of meditations and courses has much more depth than Calm’s. The number of free meditations offered by Insight Timer tops 45,000 different tracks, and people can select sessions by topic or length of time.
Users may find Calm’s meditations to be simpler and more guided than those found on Insight Timer. With its vivid graphics, large selection of backgrounds and soundscapes, and simple tracks to target anxiety and stress, Calm may be more inviting and helpful for those new to meditation whose main goal is to relieve stress rather than to develop a rigorous meditation practice.
Final Verdict on the Calm App
Calm seeks to teach meditation to people of all ages and backgrounds in order to bring relaxation and anxiety relief. If you aren’t already a seasoned meditation practitioner, you might just find the Calm app to be exactly what you need. Its wide variety of features and plethora of tracks within each of its categories provide practical, meaningful ways to boost wellbeing of mind and body.
Ranging from $60 or $70 to almost $156 per year, Calm isn’t cheap. If you consider it an investment in your mental health and quality of life rather than unnecessary purchases of, say, gaming or other entertainment apps, you might find it to be worth the money. That there is a cost could be a good thing, actually, for knowing that you’ve spent some of your hard-earned money on Calm, you may be more motivated to use it. And, like all approaches to wellbeing, Calm is most effective when used regularly.
To become calmer, check out Calm. With it, you might experience great relief and once again be at ease with yourself and your life.