My Choice for Health App of the Year

Tired of stressing out every time you glance at your smartphone? Introducing Pause and Sway, a couple of simple but effective apps to help us relax and achieve inner peace.

Let’s face it: Our smartphones are an indispensable part of our lives, but they’re also a huge source of stress: The anxious text from mom, the angry customer rant or the “where’s-the-report-you-promised-me?” note from the boss.

So it’s refreshing to discover a smartphone app that actually relieves stress.

Introducing Pause, a “mindfulness app” that is the brainchild of PauseAble, which happens to be headquartered right down the street from us here in Copenhagen.

Pause, and its newer cousin, Sway, are simple but amazingly powerful apps that promise to help us lead a more stress-free existence. In my experience, they really work! Drawing upon Chinese tai chi-based philosophies, they combine deliberate movements with a soothing soundtrack to help us relax and unwind for brief periods of time throughout the day.

Trace Your Way to Better Emotional Health

Anxious about that upcoming presentation? Just got a call that sent your blood pressure soaring? It’s Pause to the rescue! Simply place your finger on the small, lava lamp-colored blob and gently glide it around your smartphone screen. Moving it smoothly takes some practice, but as you do, the blob gradually accumulates more and more mass.

While tracing away with your blob, you’re serenaded by a palette of gentle sounds you can hear through your earbuds. The rushing water, chirping birds and rustling winds provide a soothing, immersive experience, and confirming your rhythm is right.

The Pause app measures how quickly you’re moving your finger at any given time. Move the blob too slowly and Pause will encourage you to speed up; too fast and it will make you slow down. You can choose from different levels of difficulty and customize the length of your session. Ten minutes is recommended, and although that may not seem like much, it takes plenty of discipline to focus on a brightly colored splotch for that long.

Which is the point, of course. Pause is based on the psychological principle of attention restoration, which states that stress levels can be decreased and focus restored by focusing our brain on an activity that requires less mental effort. In other words, by concentrating intently on the task at hand, we let go of everything else in on our minds.

Don’t Stress… Sway!

PauseAble must be doing something right, as evidenced by hundreds of thousands of downloads and all the rave reviews Pause has earned since it was introduced in 2015.

Riding high on its success, PauseAble recently introduced a similar app, Sway. It works in largely the same way as Pause, but on a bigger scale. Instead of merely using your finger to re-focus you, Sway gets your whole body involved.

Sway uses your smartphone’s motions sensor to track your movements and provides you with an audio cue as you hit the right pace. It offers six unique levels – everything from simply moving your phone in your hand to gently swaying your body while, say, waiting for your Uber ride or slowly pacing around the office. Regardless of the setting you choose, the result is largely the same as Pause: Reduced stress and an inner feeling of peace and calm.

Mindfulness apps like Pause and Sway are among a handful of techniques we can use to train our brains to achieve better concentration and find inner peace. Listening to music, engaging in a brisk workout and becoming one with nature can help us sharpen our focus as well.

The timing couldn’t be better for Pause and Sway. Whether it’s the incessant chiming of our smartphones, an endless stream of emails or the siren song of social media, too many things are vying for our attention, which is driving us to distraction and shooting our stress levels skyward.

In a digital world in which smartphones are the cause of much of our stress, it may seem counterintuitive to reach for your device when you need to relax. But once you’ve experienced the tranquility that comes from tracing the blob or swaying to the music, you’ll be happy you did.