A new study on mindfulness apps on cellphones has found improvements in the mental health of students who used them.
Author Jayde Flett of Otago University said the workings of mindfulness is not yet fully understood, "but some experts believe that mindfulness works in part by helping people accept their experiences, including painful emotions, rather to react to them with aversion and avoidance".
Students were invited to complete an online survey of their mental health, and then were asked to download and use an app every day for 10 days. After that, they were permitted to use the app at their own discretion.
"We found that practicing mindfulness for 10 minutes per day for 10 days was associated with modest but tangible improvements in mental health in a healthy student population," Ms Flett said.
"Even thought use dropped when they were able to use the app at their discretion, users still reported a 14 to 17 per cent reduction in anxiety after 40 days of access to the app.
Apps present a promising opportunity for delivering healthcare intentions because they're so accessible, Ms Flett said.
"Mobile phones are often scorned as devices of distraction, but paradoxically, they may serve as a good platform to practice being in the moment and being mindful given their wide use," she explained.
Just over 200 students between the ages of 18 and 49 used either Headspace, Smiling Mind or Evernote - a non-mindfulness app that was used for the control group.
Despite the encouraging findings, apps should not replace councillors or clinical psychologists, Ms Flett stressed. But they could benefit "those who are looking for a beginner guide to mindfulness meditation", she said.