Breathing and Relaxing with the Department of Defense

by Bob Schwartz

The U.S. Department of Defense might seem an unlikely place to look for cutting edge technology to relieve stress and promote psychological well-being. That is exactly what you find at The National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2):

Our mission is to lead the development of telehealth and technology solutions for psychological health and traumatic brain injury to improve the lives of the Nation’s Warriors, Veterans, and their Families. T2 seeks to identify, treat, and minimize or eliminate the short and long-term adverse effects of TBI and mental health conditions associated with military service.

Out of this work, T2 has developed some remarkable mobile apps , aimed at military communities, but available and valuable for anyone. Two of these will be of particular interest to those who believe that simple breathing techniques are a primary key to psychological health.

Tactical Breather and Breate2Relax are simple yet sophisticated tools for an instant, easy-to-follow exercise of breathing for stress reduction and relaxation.

Tactical Breather is the much simpler of the two apps and techniques, involving just a four-count system of inhale, hold, exhale, hold. Along with the onscreen prompts and guiding voice, there is an introduction and tutorial.

Breathe2Relax is more comprehensive in terms of supporting text, videos, and UI, offering a host of options for the interface: beautiful background images (including photos from NASA and NOAA),  relaxing background music (with titles such as Ambient Evenings and Evosolutions), and more. The deep breathing exercise is simply inhale/exhale, and you can change the length of each breath (default is 7 seconds) and the number of cycles for the exercise (default is 16). Coolest of all is a floating body scan animation about the effects of stress, showing a virtual human with highlights about organs and systems that are compromised by stress—with all the flash and special effects you would expect from the Pentagon.

At some points, the apps reflect their military origins and mission. In Breathe2Relax, a Wellness Tip suggests that “Problems with drinking and drugs can be tough to work through on your own. Talk to a chaplain or health care professional.” On the one hand, this gives a non-military user—no matter how beneficial the app is for everyone—the feeling of intruding someplace where civilians don’t belong. But then again, using the apps may be a strangely good reminder of a price we ask our military members to pay. These and the other interesting apps from T2 are twenty-first century ways of making their situations a little better. That others of us get to share in the benefit is a bonus.