Checking In, an app for when you're stressed out

Too much stress can kill. According to the American Medical Association, stress is a factor in over 75% of sickness and the World Health Organization has stated that stress is America's number one health problem. We all experience some degree of stress and that's on the increase due to information overload, the increasing complexity of our lives and a litany of reasons too numerous to count. We all know this on some level, but what can be done about it?

One possible solution can be found in a very intriguing app called Check In: The 5 Tools of EBT [iTunes Link] $.99 US. EBT stands for Emotional Brain Training, a method that was developed over the last 30 years at the University of California, San Francisco, to act as an appetite suppressant for obese children. Eventually, in response to new discoveries in neuroscience (the study of the nervous system) EBT reached its present form. EBT is a brain-based emotional response training method that purports to teach people how to effectively process stress so that their stress level returns to one of well being.

The method involves 5 specific levels of stress ranging from 1: feeling great, to 5: totally stressed out. Once a level is determined you are given systematic and repetitious tools to raise your level. With enough practice transitory results can become longer lasting as you, in effect, rewire your brain to deal with stress in a positive manner.

When the app is first run, you'll see the screen at the top of this post. There are two major components of the app: one that determines your current brain state and another that helps you raise the brain state, eventually getting to 1.

Tapping on the Brain State Finder runs a video of Laurel Mellin, one of the developers of the method, who explains each brain state in a brief video and presents a series of multiple choice questions involving thinking, feeling, relationships, spirituality and behavior. When that's done, another video of Laurel runs telling you your current brain state, and explaining it fully. Whenever you get through a task, you'll get another video of Lauren (these can be turned off), which is uncannily specific to what you just did. It's not the like having a therapist in the room with you, but more like a coach who, amazingly enough, always seems to have your number both literally and figuratively. Since there is so much video, the app is quite large (weighing in at 106 MB).

The next step is tap on Get To One, which asks you to tap on the number you were given, plays a video summarizing your state and presents you with one of number of tools. In this case it's a number of sentences to finish. When done, you reevaluate your number and if it changed, you tap once again on Get To One which will take you through another tool.

There are added smaller options that don't contain videos. Sanctuary is a audible relaxation exercise that talks you through relaxing your body and offers you positive EBT oriented affirmations. This takes about 10 minutes. The voice is soothing and the narration is effective, but the recording quality is horrible. There is an annoying buzz permeating the soundtrack and the occasional sound of something banging into the microphone. You'll have to set your iPhone/iPod touch not to go to sleep since with the usual minute or two sleep setting, the app will not stay open, and the audio will stop; this reduces any positive effect of the exercise. This needs to be corrected quickly by either having the app stay open or just keeping the audio going.

There is a Progress option telling you how many times you checked in, and what your brain state averages out to be. Another button brings up an RSS feed of EBT news. The most interesting small option is called Grind In, which simply asks you to type in powerful message that you really want to take to heart. This is remembered and new messages can be added to the list. When you tap on the Grind In Now! button, you are asked to say the message out loud, then tap the Say It Again, button. To finish this task you need to repeat the phrase 10 times. This is a very simple, but quite effective way of taking on new beliefs through repetition.

This is a lot to get for a buck, but there is a reason that this app is so inexpensive. Although potentially useful by itself, it's an appetizer meant to get you interested enough in the method that you'll consider buying a series of 6 courses at $100 each. I see nothing wrong with that since what you are given is complete unto itself but limited. You soon realize that regardless of what you are asked, the video that comes up on a particular level is always the same. 5 levels with 5 videos talking about 5 tools are what you get. But you also get enough information and (although this isn't a game) play value to get a strong feeling of whether this is beneficial for you and whether you are interested in pursuing EBT further.

I would really recommend this app to anyone feeling the pangs of too much stress. For a dollar I don't think that anyone will get to brain state 1, but it's already lowered my personal stress level noticeably.

Here are two videos. The first is a tour of the app and the second, if you're interested, is an overview of EBT.

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