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Review by expert Jason Moehringer, PsyD

Pros

  • Developer is a reputable mental health organization (The National Center for Telehealth and Technology)
  • Targeted to military veterans
  • Relaxation skill (diaphragmatic breathing) is simple and easy to learn
  • Information is presented in both video and text form
  • Includes an interactive “body scanner” that highlights the effects of stress on specific parts of the body
  • Many customizable features
  • Option to chart stress levels before and after guided relaxation exercise
  • Free to download and access does not require a subscription

Cons

  • App is not up to date
  • Activities are not interactive
  • Interface lacks visual appeal
  • App description is somewhat misleading (claims it can help with “mood stabilization, anger control, and anxiety management,” but does not address these issues)

Description

Breathe2Relax is multiplatform app for use with iOS version 4.3 and later and unspecified version of AndroidOS. The app was created by T2 (The National Center for Telehealth and Technology), which is a research and health technology development group within the Department of Defense in the United States. Breathe2Relax was created as a way to offer veterans a simple and easy-to-learn relaxation skill (diaphragmatic breathing) for use in controlling anxiety related to stress and trauma-related triggers. It first asks users to watch an introductory video that includes visual and auditory instructions on the technique of diaphragmatic breathing. Users can then complete a guided relaxation exercise that uses a visual timer and audio instructions to help users maintain even, deep breathing. Before and after the exercise, users have the additional option of rating their stress, which is recorded and graphed over time (users who elect to use this function can erase their results at a later time if desired). Breathe2Relax also contains several videos and articles that explain stress, its effects on the brain and body, and how diaphragmatic breathing can be used to relax. Furthermore, it has a “body scanner” that displays an interactive model of a male body allows users to learn about the effects of stress on a particular part of the body by clicking on it. Finally, the app presents daily wellness tips that cover a broad range of topics related to health and well-being.

Security/Privacy/Data Sharing

The current Apple version (1.3) was launched in September 2013, while the current Android version (unspecified) was updated in October 2015. Breathe2Relax does not contain a privacy policy and does not provide any information about what may or may not be done with information that is saved in the app. No disclosed information sharing or data gathering functions are included in the app, although this is difficult to determine without a formal privacy policy. Additionally, the lack of recent updates increases the possibility that the app may not be secure.

Ease of Use and User Experience

Breathe2Relax suffers from lack of visual appeal and low resolution on modern screens. It uses a dark, unpleasant color palette and there are some visibility issues on smaller screens. The relaxation exercise is not interactive, nor are any of the instructional materials. However, users can customize some important features, such as the length of inhales and exhales, as well as certain cosmetic items. The app functions reasonably well and is mostly reliable, but lags and crashes at times (mostly when using the secondary functions). Generally, users may find this app somewhat unappealing and difficult to use.

Scientific Basis

The educational materials and guided relaxation exercise found in Breathe2Relax are drawn from sound research and accurately represent the relevant scientific consensus. However, this app itself has not been studied in clinical trials or compared to other eMental Health programs. So, while the regular use of relaxation techniques has been shown to reduce stress in certain circumstances, it is unknown whether using Breath2Relax will have the same effect. Additionally, the app does not provide specific recommendations about how it should be used (e.g. twice per day, in the morning and before sleep).

Cost

The app is free to download and use, and no restrictions are placed on the user or any of the app’s features. No subscription is ever required.

Overall

Breathe2Relax offers a specific skill that can be used to relax and reduce stress. Its major strengths are its simplicity and the fact that it is made to be used by veterans. The educational materials are accurate, and information is presented in multiple formats (i.e. video, audio, and text). It also has some important customization options and other secondary features that might be useful to some users. However, the app suffers significantly from its unappealing design, visibility issues on smartphone-sized screens, and its lack of interactivity. It also has not been updated in a considerable period of time, raising concerns about its security. Overall, users need not avoid Breathe2Relax, but they should be mindful of the possible security issues and design limitations. It would most likely be helpful only alongside more traditional treatments, such as psychotherapy or counseling, or other apps that are more comprehensive.

Review date:  February 2016

More information and how to get Breathe2Relax