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Struggling With Stress? There's an App For That

May. 29, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
By MICHAEL PECK   |   Comments
The Stress Resilience Training System uses games and videos to teach stress reduction techniques.
The Stress Resilience Training System uses games and videos to teach stress reduction techniques. (Perceptronics Solutions)
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A new stress management iPad app is meant to teach users not just how to cope with stress caused by factors from war, such as PTSD, but also how use it to increase mental resilience.

Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research, it is being developed by California-based Perceptronics Solutions and is currently being tested by the Naval Center for Combat and Operational Stress Control.

The Stress Resilience Training System uses games and videos to teach stress reduction techniques. The app consists of four sections: an overview of stress and resilience; techniques for handling stress and building resilience; games that allow users to practice these techniques; and a review section that tracks their progress.

Users clip a heart monitor to their earlobe as they play the games, which get progressively harder. When their heart rate becomes irregular, denoting stress, the app will guide users toward relaxation techniques. The game-based portion of SRTS uses multiple levels, beginning with a series of videos that show peaceful progression, such as plants growing. If the user’s heart rate doesn’t steady, the videos will slow and then reverse. This is followed by a series of slides that show anger management and display values such as loyalty. The speed of the slides also depends on the user’s heart rate.

Then comes an asteroid shooter game: If the user’s heart rate stays regular, he gets more missiles and the game controls are more responsive. Finally, there is a race car game where a regular heart rate rewards the user with a more powerful vehicle and a better ability to avoid obstacles.

“We’re applying some basic principles gleaned from the science of learning to help us understand better how to deliver the right types of stress resilience training,” said Cmdr. Joseph Cohn, the researcher in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department who came up with the idea.

The key is to achieve a regular, or coherent, heart rate.

“The app measures HRV [heart rate variability] coherence by putting a number on the strength and regularity of the time-variation in heart rate,” said Gershon Weltman, SRTS principal investigator at Perceptronics. “A strong and regular variation is good and gives a high number near 100, a weak and/or irregular variation is bad and gives a number near zero.”

Weltman said using an app avoids a major problem with military stress, namely the stigma of admitting weakness or seeking therapy. A mobile device, such as an iPad, confers the advantage of privacy, though Weltman said the app is even more effective if it is accompanied by a mentor for the user. “It helps to have someone to talk with.”

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