App Highlight: Flowy, a Game that Helps You Breathe

flowy - a game that helps combat panic attacks and anxietyCoping with panic disorders and anxiety often involves relearning how to breathe. Panic can cause hyperventilation and physiological symptoms that are helped by calm, steady breathing — but calm, steady breathing can be particularly hard to achieve when you’re panicking.

While it isn’t a replacement for professional mental health care, Flowy is a game intended to combat panic attacks. It uses breathing retraining methods to help players slow their breathing and breathe with the diaphragm instead of the chest muscles — both helpful for combating panic attacks, and both supported by a recent meta-analysis of psychological treatments of panic disorders.

Flowy is also pretty fun.

You take control of a cute, colorful boat that travels forward under its own power — you just need to swipe it left or right to dodge obstacles and collect coins. While you’re doing that, a friendly cloud breathes in and out to keep the boat going, conveniently modelling deep, slow breaths while it does.

If it sounds distracting, it is, but that’s part of the point. Crucially, the game doesn’t throw anything at you while you should be focusing on breathing in, but while you’re breathing out there’s enough going on to keep you from paying too much attention to your own anxiety.

A few other features round out Flowy’s usefulness: high-score tracking, to keep you coming back to practice the exercises; a weekly questionnaire to help you track your anxiety; and a practice mode, for when you want to focus on your breathing.

On its own, it won’t keep any endless-runner aficionados entertained for long. As a tool for anxiety management, however, it seems to be promising. Flowy’s creators at Playlab London ran a randomized control trial that showed that the group using the app experienced increased quality of life and decreased anxiety. As they point out, it isn’t intended as a replacement for psychological advice, therapy or medication — but if you want to have a little fun while working on your breathing, it may be worth a look.

Flowy is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.
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