Essays on Technology and Culture

Why I’m Making Time to Breathe with Apple Watch

WatchOS 3’s reveal at WWDC might be the most successful OS announcement in Apple’s recent history. Of all the new features, UI changes, and overall improvements, only one got any groans: the Breathe app. In fairness, anything introduced with a quote by Deepak Chopra is worthy of skepticism at best. On the other hand, the science around deep breathing is legit. Enough so that promoting it with the nonsensical woo of Mr. Chopra isn’t going to undo it.

But, of course, the name and the presentation left so many chuckling and snarking “Oh, so the Watch is going to remind you to breathe now?” Six weeks after the release of watchOS 3, Breathe still is the butt of occasional jokes and snark from tech wags on Twitter. Well, let them snark all they want. I’m a believer. Here’s why.

Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. Well, re-diagnosed. I wad diagnosed with ADD as a child, but my parents opted not to medicate me. This was the early 90s, when ADD was just becoming a thing, and there were a lot of questions and concerns. The whole thing faded into the background as I struggled with my temper, my moods, with anxiety—and my ability to focus. After taking matters into my hands as an adult and getting diagnosed, I have been taking 10 milligrams of Adderall, every day (except Sundays) for the last two months. It’s been life changing.

While the image of ADD in adults and children is either that of the daydreamer or the hyperactive thrill-seeker, ADD can also include a number of symptoms, including mood swings and anxiety. I have both, though anxiety is probably the more prevalent of the two. The Adderall keeps both in check, but anxiety still creeps in around the edges. This happens when I’m on my medication, and even more when I’m not. This is why I love the Breathe app.

Every three hours or so, I get a gentle tap on the wrist, reminding me to take a minute and do a deep breathing exercise. I might not be able to get to it right away—lately it’s been bugging me in the middle of my dinner—but I usually take the opportunity. It feels good to take my brain off whatever it’s chosen to chew on, center myself with my body, and just breathe. When I’m done, I feel a little calmer, a little more relaxed, and a little more in control. It’s incredible, and I’ve made it a point to try to get four “Mindful Minutes” in with the app every day. I track it with Streaks, so I have a record. I’m on an eleven day streak right as I write this.

Whether you have anxiety, or just want a proven way to be centered for a bit, deep breathing is a huge help. No, you don’t need an Apple Watch to do it, of course. I first learned about the general technique from a video Mara Wilson made for Project UROK. It was just hard to make time for it in my life, especially during an anxiety attack. What the Apple Watch and the Breathe app do is give me the first push towards making this a habit. That is powerful stuff that gets sold short when people brush off the app with dumb jokes. Instead of snarking, or turning off the notifications, why not give it a try. You can afford a minute or two to sit at your desk and breathe. I think you’ll be surprised.