iPad app helps you keep your stress at bay

Although the app itself it is a bit unpolished, the breathing exercises it led me through took me from "strangle someone" to "serene" in mere seconds.
Written by Denise Amrich, Contributor

When I was a kid, my mom always told me that an apple a day would keep the doctor away. I didn't understand it at the time, because I really liked visiting the doctor for check-ups.

My family practice doctors were all funny guys with good jokes. There were lots of smiles, and attention, and compliments, and lollipops from the nice nurses. Who would want to keep the doctor away?

As a grownup, I now understand how important it is to take an active role in creating good health. My current doctor is a great guy, and it's always nice to see him on my scheduled well-visit.

However, I really hate getting sick. Taking time out of my busy schedule to drag myself to the doctor's office when I have to deal with unexpected illness is low on my list of desired activities.

So, I've been wondering...could my Apple iPad help me keep sick days at bay? What a concept! Thanks, Mom!

Stress contributes to illness

I decided to start out by looking for iPad apps that could help relieve stress. Why stress? Because stress is a major factor in causing, or worsening, lots of diseases.

Stress is a nearly universal problem in modern life.

Reducing stress is often a suggestion we hear from our health care providers, in terms of improving the prognosis for many conditions which afflict us. We can't always control the sources of our stress -- but we can try to process it out of our systems as best we can.

Breathing exercises can help reduce stress. Lots of experts -- from doctors, to psychiatrists, from gurus to fitness experts -- recommend relaxation-inducing, stress-busting, grounding-and-centering breathing.

Breathing is a part of anger management -- count to 10 and take a breath! Breathing is a part of meditation, and may be one of the keys to its popularity.

I really believe we all deeply long to take a nice, long, deep breath.

Heck, sometimes when I see smokers puffing away, I suspect that maybe one of the reasons they're smoking is that it lets them take a break to expand their lungs -- even if it is counterproductive to inhale smoke! In all seriousness, though, if you are quitting smoking (and props to you if you are, you're beating an addiction) taking some non-smoking "breathing breaks" might really help replace those smoking breaks in your new, healthier life.

As nurses, we make sure our patients on bed rest are regularly encouraged to "TCDB". That's an acronym for Turn (change positions in bed, turn from side to side), Cough (in a controlled manner, to clear out any secretions), and Deep Breathe (to promote gas exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide). This prevents respiratory complications caused by immobility.

All the emphasis on deep breathing in the medical setting serves to remind me of the emphasis on deep breathing in another wellness-oriented setting. I smile when I reflect fondly back upon my yoga teacher training. I marveled at my instructor's statement that working with mindfulness and control of the breath was tantamount to working directly with life-force energy.

Let's face it, one of the main things breathing has going for it, as a stress reduction technique, is that it's free! It requires no special equipment, yet the techniques for working with it are myriad. Bringing consciousness to the breath can hold endless fascination, and provide a path to peace.

There's an app for that

That having been said, we geeks love our tech toys. Sometimes an app on our most beloved gadget can provide a great excuse to open the doors to health.

To that end, I found a great new free iPhone/iPad app called Breathe2Relax. It was just released on March 22. I downloaded it from the App Store, and launched it within a minute.

The app's "Learn" section includes video information on the body's response to stress, some reading you can do about the biology of stress, and an interactive activity describing the way the different systems of the body react to stressful stimuli.

The "Watch" section gives information about diaphragmatic ("belly") breathing, and has a video animation demonstrating how to practice it. I had to mess with the app a little to get the Biology of Breathing video to play right. It started out playing behind the menu, but I pressed "Read" and then "Back" a couple of times, and found that I could then watch the video.

The "Practice" section starts with a tracker to rate your current stress level. Next, a reassuring female voice talks you through a short breathing exercise while showing lovely graphics from nature.

There's a bar you can watch on the left hand side of the screen that fills and empties, helping you focus your inhales and exhales. Or you can just close your eyes and follow the verbal instructions.

You can change the duration of your breathing cycles by tapping the "Shorten" or "Lengthen" buttons on the lower right hand side. You can pause the exercise momentarily if you need to take a sip of water.

The practice took less than five minutes. I enjoyed the pictures, and I did feel less stressed and pressured afterward -- even though I'm on an article deadline.

There is also a "Guide" section which provides an overview of the functions of the app, and a "Track" section that lets you track the results of your before and after stress ratings, as well as take some notes on your session.

I must confess that I didn't mess with the tracking section too much because I had some trouble with the date scroller at the bottom of the page, which was starting to stress me out again. At that point, I realized I didn't really need to see the tracking data. After all...I already knew the breathing had made me feel better!

In conclusion, although the app itself it is a bit unpolished, the breathing exercises it led me through took me from "strangle someone" to "serene" in mere seconds. So I give it an A for effort. I can definitely see myself taking a five minute breathing break from time to time with this nice free app.

If you need to bring a smile to your face and some air into your lungs, you should definitely check out the National Center for Telehealth & Technology's free Breathe2Relax app on Apple's App Store.

TalkBack below to discuss this app and your breathing practice.

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