A new study found the five-minute guided exercises helped people feel calmer and happier.
Credit: Getty Images

Feeling blue? Watching a free, five-minute video on your smartphone may help quickly improve your mood, says a new study—and no, it has nothing to do with cute baby animals. (Although that might work, too.)

Developed by researchers at the University of Basal in Switzerland, these videos provide viewers with guided mental exercises designed to improve psychological health. And according to research published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, they work: Immediately after watching the videos and following their instructions, study participants reported feeling uplifted, calmer, and more alert than before.

The study also found a longer-term benefit, as well: After watching one video a day for two weeks, people who felt those immediate mood boosts also reported feeling better overall from Day 1 to Day 13.

The videos are available online for anyone to use—but before you try them, you should know what you’re in for: They’re not movies so much as guided meditations, and they focus on mental exercises that are commonly used in face-to-face therapy sessions.

One walks viewers through a viscerosensory exercise, in which they are instructed to direct their attention toward their breathing and heartbeat. Another deals with emotional imagery—shifting between thoughts of emotionally positive, negative, and neutral situations (for example, a beloved person, a stressful exam, and a bus ride). A third video instructs viewers to make different facial expressions, and a fourth involves repeating a short sentence or counting sequence over and over again.

In each five-minute tutorial, viewers are instructed to repeat the exercise for a short period of time, take a break, and repeat it again. The exercises are designed to encourage mindfulness and contemplation, says study author Marion Tegethoff, PhD, and are based on techniques that have been shown to improve mood, both in previous studies and in real-life clinical settings.

The study shows that smartphones can be a valuable tool for improving mood in “concrete, everyday situations,” says Tegethoff—and that they could be a relatively inexpensive, widely accessible way to provide psychotherapy techniques to people who aren’t getting them face-to-face.

“The core features of smartphones and other mobile devices are that they are running most of the time, are used in a variety of situations during daily life, and ensure a broad reachability of their users beyond calls, e-mails, short messaging, or instant messaging,” Tegethoff wrote in the study. “Furthermore, mobile phones are the preferred means of communication among young people, the age group most unlikely to seek treatment.”

Despite the number of so-called mental health apps available for smartphones, she notes, very few have been studied for effectiveness. And while this study was unable to determine what types of people might best benefit from smartphone-assisted therapy, Tegethoff does warn that in-person care is still best for anyone seriously struggling with their mood. “The videos cannot replace treatment by a qualified professional for people suffering from depression or other mental disorders,” she says.