The Breathe2Relax app is centered around the basic concept that breathing into the belly—diaphragmatic breathing—provides deeper relaxation than does breathing into the chest. Designed for use by individuals with PTSD and TBI, the app helps with mood stabilization, anger control, and anxiety management. It is a portable stress management tool with breathing exercises documented to decrease the body’s “fight-or-flight” stress response.
Although you can jump right into the guided breathing exercises, you may find a richer experience by exploring the setup menu of the app before beginning. (TIP: Skip the Personalize button and go straight to Setup.) Setting up the app to your personal preferences will reduce the chances of growing agitated when you begin the breathing exercises.
Almost every element you encounter while using the app can be modified: scenery (eg, mountain meadows or the cosmos), background music (mostly instrumental and earth sounds, plus a choice for no music at all), inhale and exhale lengths set to tenths of a second, whether a breathing metronome and visual prompts will display during the exercise, and whether a voice will prompt breathing instructions. Additional modifications include how many cycles of inhalations/exhalations will be provided, whether you want to track your stress levels (these can be graphed later and tracked over time), and, importantly, whether you want this data to be saved and transmitted to T2 for survey data (there is a choice to remain anonymous) or to disenroll from the study and delete all stored information.
Once all of your preferences are set, they will remain saved in the app until you change them. If you already know how to breathe diaphragmatically, click “Breathe” to begin a breathing session. If you are uncertain or need a refresher, click “Show Me How” to watch a 2-minute instructional video. As noted during this instruction, “Be patient. Although breathing sounds like it should be easy to do, diaphragmatic breathing takes practice.” It is recommended that this practice be done every day for maximum benefit, and it is okay to practice when you’re already feeling relaxed.
When you are ready to work through the breathing session, begin by rating your stress level. If you want to skip this step, go ahead and hit “Skip.” If you never want to enter this information when you enter the breathing session portion of the app, click the box that reads “Do Not Show Again” or return to the Setup menu and select “OFF” under Stress Tracking Information. However, by taking just a moment to note stress levels before (and after), you will see over time how you are performing and whether or not this is a beneficial exercise for you. Oftentimes, we don’t accurately perceive our own emotions and reactions, so graphing this output can help limit personal bias.
If you are following the breathing metronome, you will see it rise and fall with each breath until the session is complete. You will then be prompted to record your ending stress level and can click “Finish” to return to the home screen.
The benefit of tracking stress levels during breathing sessions is revealed in a simple line graph. A thin line is produced using starting stress levels and a thick line is produced using ending stress levels. Sometimes the breathing session will result in a dramatic shift in stress level reduction, sometimes an insignificant reduction, and sometimes it may seemingly increase stress levels. If the latter happens, it is possible you were unable to focus on the exercise enough to properly engage in diaphragmatic breathing, or maybe one of the app settings has agitated you and it’s time to update your settings in the Setup menu.
Read about or watch information on stress by selecting 1 of 3 topics. “Biology of Stress” covers what happens in the body during stress, the consequences of stress on the body, how breathing can help control the stress response, and the resilience of the mind and body after handling a stressful episode. “Diaphragmatic Breathing” explains what the diaphragm is, the difference in oxygen levels supplied to the body during chest breathing and diaphragmatic breathing, and how to determine what kind of a breather you are. Access the Body Scanner under “Effects of Stress on the Body” to learn about the effects of stress on 10 different areas of the body.