DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Wildfires, hurricanes, confrontational politics, nuclear threats. I mean, it is no wonder the American Psychological Association has found a significant increase in Americans' stress levels this year. So if you are looking for a way to unplug, NPR's health team has a couple things you might want to try. First Allison Aubrey reports on one tool that is gaining popularity. It starts with a simple download.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Imagine this environment - a babbling brook, birds are singing and soothing sounds surrounds you.
(SOUNDBITE OF GONG CHIMING)
AUBREY: You don't have to go on a retreat to tap into this. Like a lot of you, I'll be sitting in traffic this morning. All I've done is download an app.
JASON PARCOVER: Right now I am looking at an app called Simply Being.
AUBREY: That's Jason Parcover, the director of the counseling center at Loyola University, Maryland. He says mindfulness is really based on this simple idea - stay in the present. Don't fixate on regrets of the past or worries about the future.
PARCOVER: These approaches help us to feel more relaxed, more calm in the moment.
AUBREY: And he says apps can help people get there. There are dozens of them, and some are very simple.
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AUBREY: If you just focus on this sound, you can clear your mind, and that can help you break the cycle of anxiety. Now, other apps provide guided meditations, something like...
(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED MEDITATION APP)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Let yourself take a few minutes now to just blow in the wind.
AUBREY: Parcover says these apps are no replacement for training with a teacher or taking a class. On his campus, lots of students take a mindfulness workshop then use the apps to stick with the practice.
PARCOVER: I think that one of the struggles that folks have is having the discipline to build meditation into part of their lifestyle, and so apps can be a wonderful way to remind ourselves that we want to be doing this a few times a week.
AUBREY: Parcover says people should be skeptical of apps that make specific health claims, and they should not try to use them as a replacement for therapy.
PARCOVER: The apps really aren't at a place where they can be specifically tailored to the need of the individual.
AUBREY: But, he says, at a time when many of us are glued to our smartphones, always connected, using the technology as a way to disconnect has value. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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