Apptitude: Relaxation is just a few breaths away

  • By Elizabeth Chang The Washington Post
  • Monday, January 12, 2015 4:50pm
  • Life

One of my proud parent moments occurred a decade ago, when my older daughter, who had learned a breathing technique to help her calm down, taught it to her fifth-grade classmates. As yogis have known for thousands of years, deep breathing can help reduce anxiety while improving focus and energy.

Sounds simple, right? But the truth is that many people don’t know how to do deep breathing (also called diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing). So it’s a good thing that, besides all the mindful meditation apps out there, there’s an app that teaches this technique.

It’s called Breathe2Relax, and it comes from, of all places, the Department of Defense — which explains the militaristic (but sometimes creepy-looking) avatar in its demonstration video.

The National Center for Telehealth &Technology, T2 for short, works with Veterans Affairs to develop research-backed, technologically based treatments for mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The mobile applications feature “simple tools and techniques that clinicians are already using that already have a long literature of support,” according to psychologist Julie Kinn, who helps lead the effort.

Creating apps to help improve service members’ mental health makes sense, Kinn says. First, employing a technology that service members are already carrying around and can use easily and privately helps overcome the greatest barriers to obtaining psychological treatment: access and stigma. Plus, it’s cost-effective. One app can reach hundreds of thousands of people, military and civilian. Breathe2Relax has been downloaded more than 500,000 times; like most of the 25 apps from T2, it is available in both iOS and Android versions.

From the home screen, users can watch a video teaching the basics of deep breathing. Then they can set up the app to conduct the exercises; selecting preferences, which include how many seconds each inhale and exhale should be, and visual and audio settings, is easy. And there’s a section to learn more about the biology of stress and how deep-breathing helps.

Breathe2Relax is not the only hit from T2; the Mood Tracker has been downloaded closed to 200,000 times. And development continues: One of T2’s latest projects is an app that will use proven treatments to reduce nightmares, such as imagery rehearsal, prolonged exposure and cognitive processing therapies.

Let’s just hope it features a different avatar.

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