The Best Apps to Distract Your Brain from the Nightmare That Is 2021

We’re barely into 2021 and it’s already been kind of a lot, to say the least. If you’re able to take a break from doomscrolling, we recommend it. We’ve also rounded up some of the best iOS and Android apps for calming your brain amidst the chaos. Close Twitter, take a break from cable news, and give your mind a break—for a few minutes, at least.

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Endel (Android, iOS)

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Screenshot: Endel

Endel bills itself as a neuroscience-backed, algorithm-powered collection of soothing soundscapes that you can use to drift away into a blissful and relaxed state (or a sharp and focused state, if that’s what you prefer). You do need a paid subscription to make use of the app, but you can also try it out for a week for free to see if it’s something you’ll use.

The app gives you plenty of options when it comes to setting timers for sounds and controlling the highs and lows of the synthetic sounds that you’re hearing. It’s also smart enough to incorporate other data signals—such as the local time or your heart rate, if you grant it the relevant permissions—to personalize the audio feed that it generates.


Portal (iOS)

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Screenshot: Portal
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Portal helps you to travel all over the world from the comfort of your own home, or at least experience ambient sounds from around the globe. Listen to thunderstorms in the Amazon, sit beside the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii, or take off to an Alpine village—the choice is yours. You get a choice of six for free, with dozens more on the premium plan.

Besides simply playing these ambient sounds, the app also builds up a relaxing atmosphere, with detailed graphics and on-screen breathing exercises, if you want to use them. You can set your own custom timers to work with the sounds as well, and the app is even able to control your Philips Hue lights to help the mood, if you have any installed.

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YouTube (Android, iOS)

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Screenshot: YouTube
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When it comes to YouTube, we’re not talking about the conspiracy theory videos, or the political rants, or anything else that’s likely to put you on edge rather than chill you out. Instead we’re talking about the wealth of videos and live broadcasts (with and without visuals) that give you an opportunity to relax.

If you’ve never dug into what’s on offer you might be surprised at how much chill content YouTube has to offer. Rain storms in the woods, laid-back jazz bars, hours of ambient music, slow railway journeys through the Arctic, and video feeds of a fireplacethere’s something for everyone. Whatever sounds and sights you feel you need to relax, YouTube can provide them.

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Monument Valley 2 (Android, iOS)

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Screenshot: Monument Valley 2
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It’s spawned plenty of imitators over the years, but it’s still hard to beat Monument Valley 2 (or the original that preceded it) for a chilled out, gently paced, relaxing mobile gaming experience. It’s a well-known game that’s earned plenty of plaudits, so you may already be aware of it, but if not, we’d encourage you to give it a try.

Every level gives you another brain teaser to work through in the form of an isometric structure puzzle. You need to work out how to get the mother and child characters through a series of fantasy-land style architecture—finding hidden doors, pushing the right buttons, discovering secret staircases. It’s just a shame that the game doesn’t last longer.

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My Oasis 2 (Android, iOS)

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Screenshot: My Oasis 2
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Few mobile games are quite as relaxing as My Oasis, which tasks you with—you’ve guessed it—building your very own oasis. It doesn’t concern itself too much with game mechanics and options, instead focusing on helping you reduce stress and just experiment with what’s in front of you, adding peaceful music and sounds along the way.

My Oasis 2 is half meditation and half world-building game, and that combination works pretty well when you need to zone out on your phone, whether you’ve got two minutes of free time or 20. You can go through the whole game without paying, but there are also various premium upgrades to try out if you’re so inclined.

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Breathly (Android, iOS)

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Screenshot: Breathly
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Sometimes the simplest apps are the most effective. Breathly doesn’t try and overwhelm you with a ton of exercises and options—instead, this free, open-source app concentrates on a couple of simple breathing techniques, guiding you every day through routines that can improve your mood and calm your mind.

It’s a really well-designed app, even if it doesn’t offer much in the way of sophistication, and you don’t need to be a meditation expert to get started with Breathly. You have the option of letting a voice guide you through the breathing exercises on screen or running through them silently, and the app is even able to work with your phone’s dark mode.

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The Mindfulness App (Android, iOS)

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Screenshot: The Mindfulness App
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You can tell what this app is about just by the name, but until you try it, you just can’t appreciate the sheer amount of material there is available to you (both free and premium). There are hundreds of different exercises to work through here, ranging in duration from three to 30 minutes, so you can always find something to slot into your day, no matter how busy.

The meditations cover all kinds of different goals, from better sleep to better focus, and the app also impresses in how it helps you to track your meditations over time, encouraging you to build up a healthy mindfulness habit in the same way that you might try and hit a regular daily step goal. You might just emerge on the other end feeling a bit more rested.

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Aura (Android, iOS)

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Screenshot: Aura
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Another mindfulness and meditation app, Aura gives you the tools to tackle almost every aspect of wellbeing, peacefulness, focus and relaxation. There are thousands of guided and unguided meditations, specially crafted stories, and specific life-coaching exercises in the app, with features for developing habits and monitoring your progress over time.

If you don’t want to pay for the app, you still get a free 3-minute session every couple of hours. Unlock the full premium experience, and the available exercises cover all kinds of topics and time durations, and you get extras like music and nature sounds, too. It’s one of the most comprehensive mindfulness apps out there.

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