On top of all the stresses that come with modern life like comparing yourself to others, money, work, and our personal relationships, some of us have the added problem of just being natural worriers. Ask anyone that knows me well and they’ll be able to tell you that if I don’t have a real problem to stress over, I will create one. I have worried myself sick over hypotheticals. In fact, even if I’ve gotten through something without incident, I stress over it in retrospect by imagining all the things that could have gone wrong. If worry was a hamster, my brain would be its wheel.
I like that technology allows me to be be constantly connected, but even I can’t deny it probably plays some part in this inability to switch off. Whether you go on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram there’s someone posting about something they’re doing or have done and for some reason I’ll take the achievements of perhaps five different people’s lives and ask myself why I haven’t managed them, forgetting that I’m only one person. We’re all guilty of this; we don’t give ourselves a minute to just sit and be blank, to disconnect.
As much as I know tech can cause this problem, I also think it could offer some solutions which is why I was excited to try the Be Stress Free app from Health eLiving Partnership, a company founded by a group of UK psychologists and psychiatrists. Be Stress Free aims to prevent and help manage stress by using a variety of clinically proven interactive activities that try to relax your mind and body and cultivate a positive mentality.
To get the most of the Be Stress Free app, it’s advised that you use it in a quiet peaceful environment with headphones. When you first log in, you find yourself looking at a colourfully animated desert island with a palm tree, a deck chair, a beach ball, a gently rocking row boat, and your very own floating robot assistant. Don’t worry, he’s here to help. When you start up the app you can immediately understand why it advises you use headphones because its background soundtrack is genuinely pleasant – the waves washing on the shore, seagulls flying distantly overhead, calming unobtrusive instrumentals – it creates a natural, unforced sense of calm.
From the app’s first screen, you can branch off into four different interactive relaxation activities which include calm breathing, meditation, deep muscle relaxation, and self-hypnosis. All of these techniques are professionally tried and tested ways of keeping stress under control and before you start an activity you can read about what it involves and why it works with links to studies. The app even admits that not all techniques will work on everyone; self-hypnosis is a technique that takes some practice and still has limited efficacy. According to the app the main problem with self-hypnosis is that it’s “way overhyped” in terms of the breadth of things it can be used to help with. When it comes to anxiety, though, it has been proven to help.
The app says one of its greatest strengths is that you can use it on the go and fit it into your life which is backed up by the fact that you can select the amount of time you want to do each activity for. For example, when it comes to relaxing breathing exercises, there’s only so long I can have my attention drawn to the patterns of my own inhaling and exhaling before I feel myself growing irritated and overly aware of my limited lung capacity so 5 minutes in this activity is more than enough for me, whereas someone else might find 15 minutes is necessary. I found my favourite exercise was deep muscle relaxation. Often I find my stress manifests itself in tightened muscles, hunched shoulders, and a deep frown all of which becomes painful after a long day and just adds to more stress. Taking the time out after work each day to consciously relax my muscles actually made it feel like I was washing everything away.
Swiping along from the first screen takes you towards slightly more interactive activities that are more like distraction therapy techniques. One of my favourites was the zen garden where essentially all you do is build your own zen garden, adding water features, shells and sand castles as you please and raking the sand into pleasant patterns. There’s also a message in a bottle feature which allows you to send encouraging messages to others using the app and the app’s creators have plans to add 4 more distraction techniques over time.
Another useful feature is the mood meter which allows you to enter how your feeling on a scale as well as specific emotions such as “low” or “anxious” and recommends an activity routine in the app for you to try. I quite liked this because although I’m not sure how accurate its recommendations are I found it nice to be told which exercises would help me, rather than try everything in a repetitive cycle. I imagine the feeling that you’re being prescribed something helpful has some kind of placebo effect on top of any genuine help the techniques provide. Besides this, the mood meter was actually helpful in helping me think properly about what I was feeling rather than just succumbing to general negativity. I often find it difficult to pin down the exact nature of my emotions and unpack them and using this feature forces me to do this at least slightly.
The techniques are balanced quite well between the physical and the mental and though I didn’t find the app was able to switch me off entirely, it did effectively physically relax me. It’s definitely nice to have something to turn to when negative thoughts pile up because although I wouldn’t say the app has made me adopt a more positive mindset in the long-term and I don’t think it could really effectively replace talking to a real-life professional it does work for some short-term relief and would perhaps be a good supplementary resource.
Be Stress Free is available to download for iOS and Android. Although the app itself is free to download, it works on a subscription basis which can be purchased for one month, three months or a year. For one month it’s a payment of £4.99, for 3 months it’s a payment £3.33 each month and for a year it’s £1.99 each month.