Once somewhat niche, meditation apps such as Headspace, Calm and Ten Percent Happier have seen a surge in usage in the past month — so much so that they are launching new features weekly and partnering with local governments to meet demand. Much like recent videoconferencing standout Zoom, these apps are also having to deal with an unprecedented spike in users as more people search for ways to stay occupied inside.
Downloads for “mindfulness” apps hit 750,000 during the week of March 29, a 25 percent increase from the weekly average in January and February, according to mobile insights and analytics platform App Annie. Android users also spent about 85 percent more time using those apps that week than usual.
Meditation is often thought of as a solitary activity, a way to sit alone and feel centered. But in this era of isolation, people are using it as a way to feel a sense of togetherness with other people, even if it’s just virtually.
Vicki Overfelt, the founder of Mindfulness Utah, was diagnosed with covid-19 last month. As she recovered, she tuned back in to her meditation communities, which by then had moved online. Soon she was meditating virtually on calls with more than 3,000 people.
It makes sense that people have turned to something that grounds them in an uncertain time, she said.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the existential angst of it all, and meditation helps us understand and work with the overwhelming stress,” she said.
Most meditation apps offer short daily recordings to help people relax and find peace, even if just for a few minutes every day. The apps have new guided meditation recordings daily and often offer recordings ranging from three minutes to 30 minutes. They also have training courses to learn to, say, reduce stress or even get in some brief exercise.
Increasingly, the apps are offering live classes, where a mindfulness instructor and sometimes celebrity guests take viewers through a meditation session and then answer questions at the end. Live commenting features and the Q&As help people feel connected, instructors say.
Headspace, an app that offers daily guided meditation sessions, said downloads of its app have doubled since mid-March. And people are using its live meditation feature — where people join a guided meditation all together at a scheduled time — 70 percent more frequently than usual.
“I think we are craving human connection and shared stories more than ever,” Headspace CEO Richard Pierson said.
At the (virtual) headquarters for meditation app Ten Percent Happier, helmed by ABC News correspondent Dan Harris, the 30-person team has been doing a “monumental” amount of work to keep up with the increase in customers, Harris said. The number of monthly downloads has doubled since mid-March, he said.
The company released a free “coronavirus sanity guide” to help people deal with stress and made the app free for more than 25,000 health-care workers so far.
Its daily live guided meditation sessions are attracting thousands of participants. Even after the live session has ended, people are choosing to listen to its recording instead of other options in the app.
“People are deriving a sense of community from it,” Harris said.
Blaire Gearhart, a banker in Griffith, Ind., was a meditation skeptic until she started using Headspace to calm herself before a surgery this year. Now, she uses it after especially stressful days at work — a common occurrence now that so many people are concerned about their personal finances.
“It’s been a really great way for me to just take the weight off of my shoulders,” she said.