You’re committed to the idea of a life with less stress.
And your lifestyle is evidence of that: you try for regular exercise, a decent amount of sleep and good nutrition. Work-life balance is a goal, and a bit of meditation, yoga or similar, is on your agenda.
But as part of your stress mastery program, you’d welcome a quick and easy app.
And here it is: MyCalmBeat. This app will help you prepare for, and recover from stressful moments. You can also use it to train your body and improve your capacity to deal with stress. That is, it is useful for immediate stress relief and for building stress fitness.
It’s free, safe and reliable (and no, I’m not on their payroll).
Initially I dismissed it as too simple, but after I suggested it to a few people and got only positive feedback, I looked a little closer.
It stacks up for a number of reasons, and knowing these reasons will help you decide how you might want to use it.
A little science (optional, for those who are interested)
You know about your body’s stress reaction (fight, flight or freeze) – its role in survival, how it gets triggered and its pitfalls. Most of us would like to be triggered less often and we’d like to recover more quickly.
You may not know about heart rate variability (HRV). Van der Kolk, a trauma expert, explains that it’s a good measure of how well the autonomic nervous system is working, that is, how well arousal (including stress) is being regulated in your body.
Your autonomic nervous system is made up of two branches – the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PSN).
The sympathetic nervous system is likened to an accelerator. You inhale, adrenaline is pumped through the body, heart rate and blood pressure increase. You are energised and alert. (In a state of stress, these effects are heightened and sustained.) The SNS is associated with the fight, flight, freeze reaction.
The parasympathetic nervous system is likened to a brake. You exhale and the body slows and relaxes. The PNS is associated with ‘rest and digest’ mode.
HRV is a measure of the balance of the two branches. When they are in balance, Van der Kolk explains, they produce steady rhythmical fluctuations in heart rate. Poor HRV indicates a lack of fluctuation in response to breathing.
With poor HRV we are more susceptible to the negative effects of stress. He goes on to note research findings that people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have unusually low HRV, which makes sense given their sometimes extreme reactivity to minor stresses.
Incidentally, the concept and application of HRV have been around for many decades now, and have been used in assessing and treating patients with heart conditions, and also with monitoring training and recovery in elite athletes. But its use in relation to trauma and stress has been more recent.
The good news is that you can improve your HRV, and thus improve your stress reactivity. And you won’t be surprised that one way to do this is with Mindfulness, yoga and other similar body work practices and martial arts. Van der Kolk also points out that marathon runners have good HRV, but that pursuit won’t suit all of us.
Another way is to train with a tool like MyCalmBeat.
How it works and when to use it
Using MyCalmBeat is a form of biofeedback, for which Google offers a useful definition:
the use of electronic monitoring of a normally automatic bodily function in order to train someone to acquire voluntary control of that function.
If you think about it, this offers another way in.
Mindfulness and mediation are in effect training your mind to notice, observe, and eventually to not react, to thoughts, feelings and sensations. You are learning to bolster your resilience by sitting with whatever arises, including discomfort, even pain (emotional, psychological and/or physical).
Breathing offers a way in via the body instead of the mind.
Van der Kolk again:
Breathing is one of the few body functions under both conscious and autonomic control.
When you have a stress attack and your heart is pounding, with all the will in the world, you cannot directly slow your heart rate. But you can learn to calm your breathing which will in turn slow your heart rate.
You can learn to exert a good measure of control over your body and it’s reactions and recovery. You can bring more flexibility and balance to the autonomic system, producing steady rhythmical heart rate fluctuations, regulated with your breathing.
Biofeedback tools, including MyCalmBeat, can be used with a heart rate monitor, but you can use the app on your phone, without any additional equipment, to good effect.
- for stress relief and to reduce your stress levels – e.g. before a presentation (and afterwards if it didn’t go well), before you go to sleep or if you’re experiencing pain
- to calm yourself and focus under pressure – e.g. when you’ve been rushing, you’re distracted and need to calm yourself and concentrate on the task at hand
- to develop greater stress fitness and resilience so that can you improve how you deal with stress – use the app on a daily basis as a training tool
The app is very simple and user-friendly.
It provides an image of lungs inflating and deflating at the rate of six breaths per minute (the default setting). This is a basic calm rate of breathing that will be suitable for most people.
Are you stressed and breathing rapidly? Is your breathing rate elevated without you noticing that you’re a bit hyped and distracted? Check in with MyCalmBeat.
Are you able to slow your breathing with little effort, or do you need to take some time to achieve a calmer rate? See what you can do with the app.
You can adjust the rate of breaths per minute to suit you.
Ideally use the app once or twice when you are feeling perfectly calm. Try it if you feel good when you wake up in the morning. Wait for a non-stressful weekend morning if necessary. You can tweak the setting up or down by as many half breaths per minute as you need to get your own calm rate – you can then use this as your own default setting.
The makers of the app suggest using it for 10 minutes a day to get a good training effect. But even less is likely to be helpful. They suggest the more the better.
Give it try before an important meeting or after an argument and see how you go. Use it regularly for a while and see what you notice.
Why I recommend this stress-training app
This app really is a no-brainer.
There are many ways to tackle stress, to get relief, build fitness and achieve stress mastery. And you will ultimately need a number of strategies and techniques to achieve what you want. What suits you best will be different to others.
However, MyCalmBeat can easily feature in anyone’s dealing-with-stress arsenal.
Who doesn’t love an app? At arm’s reach, on your phone, anytime.
- It is easier to use at stressful moments than meditation unless you are an experienced practitioner
- It is body-based and we all need to improve our capacity to tune in to our bodies in order to master stress
- It isn’t cognitive and we all need to get better at getting out of our heads – our thoughts are more often a source of stress than a solution to it
- It’s tangible, simple and straight-forward – look at it and work at trying to sync your breathing with the graphic (much more effective than telling yourself to calm down and stop worrying)
- regular use will boost your Mindfulness
- It offers agency and a focal point – a sense of control, a way to channel your effort, and to focus your attention, are all effective ways to reduce stress
You may be thinking, “All I need is another app on my phone!” And I’m with you. But I’ll bet MyCalmBeat will be as good for your health and wellbeing, as most of the others are bad.
Check it out and let me know what you think.