Is it a sign of the pace of modern life that we need a mobile phone app to remind us to breathe?
Possibly, but as far as breathing apps go ‘Breathe’ by ReachOut is simple, elegant, easy to use and might be just the thing you need next time you are feeling stressed.
What is it?
‘Breathe’ is a free mobile phone app (iOS only at this stage, sorry Androiders) that “helps you reduce the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety by slowing down your breathing and your heart rate with your iPhone or Apple Watch”.
Who is it for?
If you are sailing through life, stress-free and happy, then I doubt you need this app. I would also like to punch you in the face.
If however you are more like me and prone to moments of heightened stress and anxiety, then you might find the simplicity of this controlled breathing app perfect for those times when you’ve been tipped a little over the edge.
How does it work?
The app will guide you through a brief explanation when you first fire it up, or fire it up after an extended break, but here are the basics.
There is a menu button in the top left corner that takes you to four options: home, settings, help and credits.
The home page (seen in the above picture) is where you access the core functionality of the app. In a refreshing tip of the hat to simplicity, the app gives you just two options: measure your heart rate, or control your breathing.
If you select ‘measure your heart rate’, a set of instructions will pop up telling how to use the camera and flash to do so – tip – you lay your finger across both the flash and the camera.
It takes about 20 seconds to get a proper reading. It seemed accurate with my resting heart rate, compared to recent measurements taken at my doctor’s office.
The heart rate summary screen shows your current reading compared to the most recent measurement – useful if you are comparing heart rate before and after the breathing exercise. The summary screen allows you to go back to the home page, repeat the heart rate measurement or go to controlled breathing.
On the controlled breathing page, you get a brief somewhat obvious statement (your breathing can be controlled with breathing) and mildly worrying warning (if you feel light-headed, stop using the app).
By default, the app uses a 3-minute breathing program (modifiable) and pressing start launches the program.
Essentially, the app works by diving each breath into four parts: breathe in, hold in, breathe out, hold out. The app instructs you to place your thumb on the screen during the breathe in and hold in phases, and remove your thumb during the breathe out and hold out phases. The app uses a simple mix of circular animations to represent the four phases and the idea is that you time the four phases of your breath to coincide with the animations. I found the animations to be quite hypnotic.
Although not described in detail, the app is encouraging you to use diaphragmatic breathing. What is that? – well imagine each breath filling up your stomach, as opposed to just pushing out your chest. Those deep breaths help slow the overall breathing rate. Lowering the breathing rate communicates to the body to relax – https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/diaphragmatic-breathing
I found the default timings for breathe in and hold in to be about right. However I found the breathe out and hold out timings to be a little short. Thankfully all are modifiable in the settings.
In addition to being able to adjust all the timings of breathe in, hold in, breathe out, hold out and total time, the settings menu also gives you access to two other features. The first, ‘Reminders’, is exactly as it sounds, allowing you to set reminders to use the app, perhaps at a set time each day, or before a critical/stressful event (e.g. the night you reveal to extended family, the full version of your self-choreographed version of ‘Riverdance’).
The second feature, ‘Vibration’ replaces the thumb on/thumb off mechanism with a simple vibration when it’s time to breathe in, hold and breathe out. I found personally that I preferred the thumb mechanism.
The Help section is where you go if you need to be reminded how to use the app, learn a little bit about controlled breathing or find emergency contacts (sometimes breathing might not cut it in terms of reducing distress).
Will this app solve all my problems?
Well…….are all your problems caused by shallow quick breathing? If so, maybe.
Realistically, for those of you who experience regular anxiety, or are easily stressed, slowing your breathing and heart rate is one way to counter the effects of stress and anxiety. It is a simple technique, but practised regularly can become a powerful tool in your stress-relief toolkit.
ReachOut and Soap creative have done a nice job with this app. It is simple, easy to use, and provides users with an unobtrusive tool for managing stress.
Being free, there is little reason to not give it a go. It’s a small download and uses not data or internet once downloaded.
It’s a shame that it is not currently available on Android phones.
I am not an Apple Watch owner (my life hasn’t got that bad yet), so I was not able to test the app on that platform.
Give it a try 🙂
Want to comment on this article, or ask me a question about the health and well-being services available to you as a student?
Feel free to comment below, abuse me on Twitter (@Dr_Furber), contact me on Skype (search for ‘eMental Health Project Officer Gareth’), or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org)