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Keeping your mind active can help you cope with stress, whether you are struggling with your work-from- home routine or are overwhelmed by the stress. As you get older, you can reduce the risk for cognitive decline by staying mentally active.

When it comes to your mental health, keeping your brain busy has become more important than ever. “Staying busy helps us focus on the here and now, and distracts us from our worries,” says Dr. Divyansu Patel, a psychiatry specialist at TeleMed2U.

Do you want to keep your brain busy? We have apps for you to try.

“It’s possible to use apps to solve puzzles, learn new languages, or just do other things.”

For example, Sam Nabil, the lead therapist for Naya Clinics, says some studies highlight that the practice of learning a new language contributes to cognitive plasticity and improves the brain’s ability to absorb new information.

Meanwhile, linked studies from 2018 and 2019 of more than 19,000 participants found that regularly playing puzzles and completing crosswords or word-based games actually improves brain function.

Mindful meditation — as little as 10 minutes per day — can calm the mind and support body health through positive influences on blood pressure and levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).

It stands to reason that learning a new language may help counteract brain fog.

Read on to find out which apps can help you.

To make this list, we consulted healthcare professionals, including psychologists and psychiatrists, to discuss optimal activities and apps to keep people busy.

We read reviews and recommendations from app users to find out which apps were popular and which were not.

  • Did users find their stress lessened after using the app?
  • Did the app give you a routine?
  • Did users learn a new skill?
  • Was the app useful during the epidemic?

The best app for your brain is dependent on your goals.

There are some things to consider.

  • Are you trying to improve your cognitive abilities?
  • Are you looking for an app to help you sleep?
  • Do you prefer to listen to workshops, personal anecdotes, and inspiring stories?

The answers to these questions can help you make a decision.

Many people find it beneficial to use more than one brain app regularly, since different apps help sharpen different skills and they really complement each other. For an overall brain boost, you can learn how to meditate via Headspace, improve your memory and focus with Lumosity, and so on.

Best overall


  • iPhone rating: 4.7 stars
  • Android rating: 4.5 stars
  • Cost: free for basic subscription or $11.99 per month for standard subscription
  • Who it’s best for: anyone who wants to improve memory and focus

Lumosity claims it will help users “improve memory, increase focus, and feel sharper” with its daily brain-training exercises. The app is suitable for anyone of any age or ability level, and will even adapt to your strengths and weaknesses.

User reviews suggest that Lumosity helps with concentration, mindfulness, and cognitive ability.

One reviewer felt they had achieved positive results in 2 weeks, while another said the app had helped with their focus, processing speed, math calculations, memory, mental agility, and flexibility.

The app is free to use. Users can play three brain games a day. Standard monthly subscriptions are $11.98.


  • Great ratings.
  • There are new games added regularly.


  • It can be hard to see games on the phone.
  • The free version is limited.

Best for free features


  • iPhone rating: 4.7 stars
  • Android rating: 4.5 stars
  • Cost: free
  • Who it’s best for: anyone who wants to learn a new language or brush up on their language skills

Duolingo can be a great app for anyone who’s ever wanted to learn another language. The app offers “bite-sized” lessons in more than 35 languages, featuring minigames and a community of more than 300 million users.

Reviewers suggest that Duolingo is a good way to start learning a new language or to refresh your knowledge.

One user wrote that Duolingo is a great starting place and language practice tool to have when first learning a new language.

The app is free to use. You will get more features if you pay a subscription.


  • Language lessons are easy to digest.
  • There is a huge variety of languages.


  • Some language courses are more robust than others.
  • Users complain about excessive reminder emails.

Best for reducing anxiety


  • iPhone rating: 4.8 stars
  • Android rating: 4.4 stars
  • Cost: $14.99 per month or $69.99 annually
  • Who it’s best for: anyone who wants to learn about mindfulness and meditation

Calm may help reduce anxiety and help improve sleep quality and focus via mind exercises, meditations, music, and sleep stories. The app features a slew of famous voices, including Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, and Idris Elba, to help you relax.

User reviews list reduced anxiety, better sleep, guided meditations, and self-care as reasons they enjoy Calm.

One user said that it has changed his perspective and state-of- mind in ways that have been beneficial to his everyday life.

Some features are free for everyone. Premium subscription costs between $12 and $14.99 a month and includes full access to the app.


  • The interface is easy to use.
  • The app is updated frequently.


  • Beginners are more suited to guided meditations.

Best for strengthening cognitive skills


  • iPhone rating: 5.0 stars
  • Android rating: 4.1 stars
  • Cost: $20 per month or $200 annually
  • Who it’s best for: anyone who wants to sharpen their memory and attention span

PsychologyCompass calls itself “a cognition coach in your pocket” that can help you overcome anxiety, improve leadership, and enhance memory and learning.

The app is designed to strengthen cognitive skills with short weekly lessons that become helpful, automatic habits with practice, according to Dr. Elizabeth Gilbert, the head of research at PsychologyCompass.

One user said of the app, “Very helpful for seeing your mental cognitive abilities improve with simple practices.” Another called it “easy to use and navigate.”

A monthly plan is $20. It costs $200 annually.


  • The app is easy to use.
  • Science supports tips.


  • No tracker for habit.
  • There is no integration with calendar apps.

Best for guided meditations


  • iPhone rating: 4.9 stars
  • Android rating: 4.5 stars
  • Cost: $12.99 per month or $69.99 annually
  • Who it’s best for: anyone who wants to start or maintain a meditation practice

Headspace provides “hundreds of guided meditations on everything from stress to focus to relationships.” It also offers music and soundscapes to aid sleep; short, guided meditations; and longer courses.

User reviews claim the app helps with focus, sleep, and increased productivity. One user called the app “life-changing,” while another revealed that it had helped with their “anger issues.”

The app costs $12 a month or $6 a year. The free version has some assets, but they are limited.


  • You can see your progress in the app.
  • Reminders are provided in the app.


  • More focused on beginners.
  • “It’s more expensive than other apps.”

Best for reducing stress

Ten Percent Happier

  • iPhone rating: 4.8 stars
  • Android rating: 4.8 stars
  • Cost: free for the standard version or $99 for annual membership
  • Who it’s best for: anyone who wants to improve stress levels with small, buildable changes

Ten Percent Happier offers meditation lessons and new content on a weekly basis. Meditations, stories, and inspiration cover a range of topics, from parenting to anxiety to sleep.

User reviews suggest that Ten Percent Happier is a great way of reducing stress, working on anxiety, and learning how to meditate in an easy way.

One reviewer said that they appreciated that they got to know the names, voices and styles of the teachers, and another said that their days had never started so well.

“There is a free version of the app. Membership costs 99 per year if you don’t.”


  • includes meditations on a topic.
  • “meditations are general and don’t have any religious ties”


  • There are no white noise options.
  • There are limited sleep meditations.

Best for mindfulness

Insight Timer

  • iPhone rating: 4.9 stars
  • Android rating: 4.8 stars
  • Cost: free for standard version or $9.99 per month or $59.99 annually
  • Who it’s best for: anyone who wants to learn via workshops and courses

Insight Timer is a meditation app with a difference. Featuring workshops, guided meditations, music, courses, and celebrity speakers, Insight Timer can help keep your brain busy while helping you reduce stress and get better sleep.

The app has great teachers, including celebrities like Russell Brand, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Gisele Bndchen, as well as a plethora of helpful content, according to user reviews.

Users can pack their schedule with workshops, talks, and classes even during the Pandemic.

The app costs a yearly or monthly fee. The free standard version has a lot of helpful features.


  • The free version has thousands of meditations.
  • You can connect with other users in the app.


  • Premium features and meditation courses are paid for.
  • Many of the meditations are geared towards advanced users.

Best for inspiration


  • iPhone rating: 4.6 stars
  • Android rating: 4.5 stars
  • Cost: free
  • Who it’s best for: anyone who wants inspirational talks on various topics

TED boasts more than 3,000 free talks in more than 20 languages on its app, meaning that users can explore myriad topics from all over the world.

The feature suggests new content that can be learned from world-class thinkers.

One user called it “a brilliant way to educate yourself if you lose your focus a lot when reading,” while another suggested it was “a must-have for long journeys and opens up a lot of different perspectives.”

The app is free.


  • You can download the talks to your phone.
  • You can listen or watch.


  • “You can’t save preferences in the app.”
  • There is no option to search by speaker.

Best for productivity


  • iPhone rating: 4.8 stars
  • Android rating: 4.7 stars
  • Cost: $3.99
  • Who it’s best for: anyone who wants to improve time management and implement other positive habits

Forest is a productivity app or a phone game with a purpose: Users create their own virtual forests, literally watching their healthy habits grow.

User reviews suggest that people who enjoy decorating games will enjoy using Forest to set themselves new targets and routines, which could be particularly helpful during the pandemic when people’s normal daily lives face disruption.

One review said that Forest was a beautiful reminder that everything big happens with many tiny steps.

The app is free, but optional in-app purchases are available.


  • The interface is easy to use. with uncomplicated games
  • A break timer and a focus timer are included.


  • There are no new updates with new content.
  • The app can be glitchy.

Best for connection

Words with Friends

  • iPhone rating: 4.6 stars
  • Android rating: 4.2 stars
  • Cost: free but offers in-app purchases
  • Who it’s best for: anyone who likes puzzles and word games

Words with Friends can help you build your vocabulary while playing and connecting with friends and strangers. Much like Scrabble, Words with Friends challenges players to create words from a selection of random letters.

Some reviewers warn that the chat feature is sometimes used to make money, but reviewers say that using Words with Friends has helped make their brains feel sharper and even expand their vocabulary.

One reviewer said they had made new friends and gotten closer to old friends through the games. It has provided me with hours of cerebral challenge and has made me happy.

The basic game is free but offers add-ons.


  • Can help improve your vocabulary.
  • The free version is functional.


  • It can take a long time since you have to wait for someone else to make a move.
  • The free version of ads can be overwhelming.

Best for puzzle lovers

Chess — Play and Learn

  • iPhone rating: 4.8 stars
  • Android rating: 4.7 stars
  • Cost: free
  • Who it’s best for: anyone who loves chess or wants to learn how to play

Chess – Play and Learn is the app for anyone who’s binged “The Queen’s Gambit” and wants to learn the game for themselves.

Chess – Play and Learn is a great version because it provides players with so many options and themes, according to user reviews. Learning a new game will keep you busy and will help you learn a new skill.

The app can be used to make new friends. One review said it was user friendly.

The app is free but has a range of memberships with extra content.


  • There are several additional features, like puzzles and brain games.
  • It is suitable for beginners.


  • “It doesn’t give a lot of explanation behind each chess move.”
  • The app can be glitchy. and cause you to lose progress

Apps Cost What it’s best for
Lumosity free for basic subscription or $11.99 per month for standard subscription improving memory and focus
Duolingo free learning a new language or brushing up on current skills
Calm $14.99 per month or $69.99 annually managing stress and anxiety and implementing mindfulness into your day-to-day
PsychologyCompass $20 per month or $200 annually sharpening memory, attention span, and other cognitive skills
Headspace $12.99 per month or $69.99 annually starting or maintaining a meditation practice
Ten Percent Happier free for the standard version or $99 for annual membership improving stress levels with small, buildable changes
Insight Timer free for standard version or $9.99 per month or $59.99 annually learning via workshops and courses
TED free inspirational talks on various topics
Forest $3.99 improving time management and other positive habits and productivity skills
Words with Friends free but offers in-app purchases connecting with others via puzzles and word games
Chess — Play and Learn free playing chess or learning how to play in a user-friendly way

What is cognitive training?

“Regular mental activities like puzzles or memory games are designed to help maintain or increase a person’s brain function.”

Does cognitive training work?

Studies show that mental exercise can actually improve neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form and reorganize connections between cells in response to new tasks.

Who can benefit from brain training?

Anyone who is looking to reduce stress, improve cognitive function, or experience a mood boost may find cognitive training helpful. Ongoing studies are specifically looking at how it can benefit people diagnosed with ADHD, those with cognitive impairments, and patients recovering from cancer or even COVID-19.

If you feel like you are not being involved in your community, finding an app to keep your brain busy may be the answer.

Now is the perfect time to invest in your brain health, whether you want to learn a new language or just like games.