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11 Apps to Help You De-Stress on the Go

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Whether you suffer from chronic anxiety or are just a little stressed these days, you can use your phone to help slow down your racing thoughts. Here are 11 apps you can use to chill out during the day: 

1. OMVANA

This app serves as a marketplace and media player for meditation tracks. While some cost up to $8, there are a decent number of free meditations for sleep and relaxation ranging from only 30 seconds to 20 minutes in length. The coolest feature: You can mix tracks together, adding different ambient sounds to guided meditations. 

Free for iOs, Android, and on your desktop

2. HEADSPACE 

One of the most prominent mobile meditation apps, Headspace offers meditation and mindfulness exercises that are between two minutes and an hour long. You can enroll in their free 10-day meditation boot camp or subscribe to access their larger content library. 

Free for iOS, Android

3. HEAR AND NOW 

Using your phone’s camera, this app measures your heart rate during a deep-breathing exercise. The app analyzes changes in your heart rate to track how accurately you follow the breathing exercise and what effect it had on your stress level, quantifiably showing the progress you can make with just a few minutes of breathing. 

Free for iOS

4. PACIFICA

Screenshot via Google Play

In addition to audio exercises designed to reduce stress and anxiety, Pacifica has a daily mood tracker that you can use to chart your emotional progress over time. There are also group chat rooms for support dealing with specific issues (such as PTSD) and daily challenges designed to help you overcome chronic roadblocks like social anxiety one day at a time. 

Free for iOS, Android; full access for $3.99 a month

5. BUDDHIFY 2

This is a great app for meditation beginners that doesn’t come with any hidden costs or subscriptions. It features 80 guided meditations (with very soothing British voices) designed for specific situations and feelings, such as meditations for waking up, going to sleep, dealing with stress, and more. 

$2.99 for iOS, Android

6. PAUSE

Inspired by the slow gestures of tai chi, Pause is like a gamified version of a lava lamp. You move your finger slowly around the screen, following any pattern you’d like. The slower and more deliberately you move, the bigger the splotch of color under your finger grows. Move too fast, and it shrinks again. 

$1.99 for iOS, Android

7. RAIN RAIN SLEEP SOUNDS

Screenshot via iTunes

Perfect for a little ambient background noise, Rain Rain has a suite of nature-focused tracks featuring sounds like rain, thunder, and crackling fire. You can mix tracks together or upgrade to premium tracks, such as the sound of an overhead fan or a busy cafe. If you use it while in bed, you can set a sleep timer that will fade the noise out after you fall asleep. 

Free for iOS, Android; upgrade packs range from 99 cents to $2.99

8. STOP, BREATHE & THINK

Take a basic survey about how you’re feeling, and this slick app, run by a nonprofit called Tools for Peace, will recommend specific meditation exercises for you. If the meditations offered by the basic app aren’t enough, you can pay to download more, including some guided by musician k.d. lang. 

Free for iOS, Android; upgrade tracks range from 99 cents to $2.99

9. PRUNE

The meditative soundtrack on this simple game makes it ideal for taking your mind off anxious thoughts. The goal is to prune a growing tree so that it successfully grows out of the shade and into the sunlight where it can flower. It’s just challenging enough to get you out of your own head, but the deliberate, slow pace keeps it from feeling like a stressful competition.

$3.99 for iOS, Android, and Windows

10. WA KINGYO

When you can’t spend a few minutes by an actual koi pond, a virtual one might do the trick. The Japanese app Wa Kingyo consists only of two fish swimming across your screen. You can scatter bait for them and send ripples across the water, creating a soothing waterscape for your fish friends.

Free for iOS; full version for 99 cents

11. NEKO ATSUME: KITTY COLLECTOR

Screenshot via iTunes

If you don’t already have a horde of virtual cats waiting for you when you open your phone, you’re doing something wrong. Hanging out with pets has been shown to relieve stress, and even watching videos of cats can boost your energy. When you leave your real-life buddy at home, you can get some of the more subtle perks of watching animals roam around with Neko Atsume, which allows you to purchase food and toys to attract virtual cats to come calling. 

Free for iOS, Android

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The American Museum of Natural History
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10 Surprising Ways Senses Shape Perception
The American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History

Every bit of information we know about the world we gathered with one of our five senses. But even with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision, our perceptions don’t always reflect an accurate picture of our surroundings. Our brain is constantly filling in gaps and taking shortcuts, which can result in some pretty wild illusions.

That’s the subject of “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience,” a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Mental Floss recently took a tour of the sensory funhouse to learn more about how the brain and the senses interact.

1. LIGHTING REVEALS HIDDEN IMAGES.

Woman and child looking at pictures on a wall

Under normal lighting, the walls of the first room of “Our Senses” look like abstract art. But when the lights change color, hidden illustrations are revealed. The three lights—blue, red, and green—used in the room activate the three cone cells in our eyes, and each color highlights a different set of animal illustrations, giving the viewers the impression of switching between three separate rooms while standing still.

2. CERTAIN SOUNDS TAKE PRIORITY ...

We can “hear” many different sounds at once, but we can only listen to a couple at a time. The AMNH exhibit demonstrates this with an audio collage of competing recordings. Our ears automatically pick out noises we’re conditioned to react to, like an ambulance siren or a baby’s cry. Other sounds, like individual voices and musical instruments, require more effort to detect.

3. ... AS DO CERTAIN IMAGES.

When looking at a painting, most people’s eyes are drawn to the same spots. The first things we look for in an image are human faces. So after staring at an artwork for five seconds, you may be able to say how many people are in it and what they look like, but would likely come up short when asked to list the inanimate object in the scene.

4. PAST IMAGES AFFECT PRESENT PERCEPTION.

Our senses often are more suggestible than we would like. Check out the video above. After seeing the first sequence of animal drawings, do you see a rat or a man’s face in the last image? The answer is likely a rat. Now watch the next round—after being shown pictures of faces, you might see a man’s face instead even though the final image hasn’t changed.

5. COLOR INFLUENCES TASTE ...

Every cooking show you’ve watched is right—presentation really is important. One look at something can dictate your expectations for how it should taste. Researchers have found that we perceive red food and drinks to taste sweeter and green food and drinks to taste less sweet regardless of chemical composition. Even the color of the cup we drink from can influence our perception of taste.

6. ... AND SO DOES SOUND

Sight isn’t the only sense that plays a part in how we taste. According to one study, listening to crunching noises while snacking on chips makes them taste fresher. Remember that trick before tossing out a bag of stale junk food.

7. BEING HYPER-FOCUSED HAS DRAWBACKS.

Have you ever been so focused on something that the world around you seemed to disappear? If you can’t recall the feeling, watch the video above. The instructions say to keep track of every time a ball is passed. If you’re totally absorbed, you may not notice anything peculiar, but watch it a second time without paying attention to anything in particular and you’ll see a person in a gorilla suit walk into the middle of the screen. The phenomenon that allows us to tune out big details like this is called selective attention. If you devote all your mental energy to one task, your brain puts up blinders that block out irrelevant information without you realizing it.

8. THINGS GET WEIRD WHEN SENSES CONTRADICT EACH OTHER.

Girl standing in optical illusion room.

The most mind-bending room in the "Our Senses" exhibit is practically empty. The illusion comes from the black grid pattern painted onto the white wall in such a way that straight planes appear to curve. The shapes tell our eyes we’re walking on uneven ground while our inner ear tells us the floor is stable. It’s like getting seasick in reverse: This conflicting sensory information can make us feel dizzy and even nauseous.

9. WE SEE SHADOWS THAT AREN’T THERE.

If our brains didn’t know how to adjust for lighting, we’d see every shadow as part of the object it falls on. But we can recognize that the half of a street that’s covered in shade isn’t actually darker in color than the half that sits in the sun. It’s a pretty useful adaptation—except when it’s hijacked for optical illusions. Look at the image above: The squares marked A and B are actually the same shade of gray. Because the pillar appears to cast a shadow over square B, our brain assumes it’s really lighter in color than what we’re shown.

10. WE SEE FACES EVERYWHERE.

The human brain is really good at recognizing human faces—so good it can make us see things that aren’t there. This is apparent in the Einstein hollow head illusion. When looking at the mold of Albert Einstein’s face straight on, the features appear to pop out rather than sink in. Our brain knows we’re looking at something similar to a human face, and it knows what human faces are shaped like, so it automatically corrects the image that it’s given.

All images courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History unless otherwise noted.

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Learn to Spot the Sneaky Psychological Tricks Restaurants Use
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While dining out, you may have noticed (but perhaps didn’t question) some unusual features—like prices missing dollar signs, or burgers served on plates that could accommodate a baby cow.

These aren’t just arbitrary culinary decisions, as the SciShow’s Hank Green explains in the video below. Restaurants use all kinds of psychological tricks to make you spend more money, ranging from eliminating currency symbols (this makes you think less about how much things cost) to plating meals on oversize dinnerware (it makes you eat more). As for the mouthwatering language used to describe food—that burger listed as a "delectable chargrilled extravagance," for example—studies show that these types of write-ups can increase sales by up to 27 percent.

Learn more psychological tricks used by restaurants (and how to avoid falling for them) by watching the video below. (Or, read our additional coverage on the subject.)

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