University of California, Irvine has published the results of a randomized study in JMIR Serious Games, “Biofeedback via a Smartphone App on Stress Recovery,” which found that users of the Happify mobile app’s Breather activity showed efficacy in physiological aspects of stress recovery through Salivary Alpha-Amylase (sAA) reduction, an enzyme elicited by the sympathetic nervous system, and commonly used as a biomarker for elevated stress in the body’s “fight or flight” system.
Happify’s Breather activity trains users through gamified biofeedback to adjust and regulate their heart rate variability (HRV), calming the body’s nervous system. Compared with participants in the other conditions, users of Happify’s Breather activity recovered 10% more effectively from stress.
“The preliminary evidence we’ve found through this experimental trial demonstrates the effectiveness of Happify as a stress-reducing mobile health app when participants used its Breather activity,” said the study’s author, John F Hunter, PhD of UC Irvine’s Department of Psychological Science. “Breather is a sophisticated intervention that combines sensors, evidence-based science and user experience to drive outcomes, and studies such as this demonstrate that gamified biofeedback apps may lead to better health by helping us better cope with stress.”
The purpose of this research was to investigate the physiological and psychological effects of using a smartphone app for heart rate variability biofeedback (HRVB) training following a stressful experience. The efficacy of the gamified Breather component of the Happify mobile health app was examined in a randomized study setting.
In this study, participants underwent a laboratory stressor and were randomly assigned to recover in one of three ways: with no phone present, with a phone present, with the HRBV game (Happify’s “Breather” activity). Those in the no phone condition had no access to their phone. Those in the phone present condition had their phone but did not use it. Those in the HRVB game condition used the serious game Breather on the Happify app. Stress recovery was assessed via repeated measures of Salivary Alpha-Amylase, cortisol, and self-reported acute stress (on a 1-100 scale).
Leading up to the UC Irvine research, Happify’s iPhone-based Breather activity was validated to accurately capture heart rate changes associated with performing paced breathing in an earlier study conducted by Washington University in Saint Louis’ School of Medicine. Results obtained through Breather during the study were consistent with results using the gold standard of heart rate measurement, the Holter recorder, supporting the feasibility of using Happify’s Breather activity to accurately track heart rate changes.
Mobile apps that deliver evidence-based techniques for stress reduction, such as HRVB training, hold promise as convenient, accessible, and effective stress-reducing tools but very few have demonstrated that they can influence health-related physiological stress parameters. The “Biofeedback via a Smartphone App on Stress Recovery” randomized trial continues to reinforce the effectiveness of Happify as a stress-reducing mobile health app in this context.
The Happify Health platform is backed by a growing body of evidence to deliver on its goal to enhance mental health and improve people’s lives, from peer-reviewed studies to personal testimonials. The company validates its effectiveness through published peer-reviewed research with Happify Labs, which provides scientists and researchers with access to a real-world, digital environment that lets them test the effectiveness of interventions. Current collaborators include Northwestern University, the University of Pennsylvania, University of California Irvine, University of Michigan, University of Pittsburgh, and others.
About Happify Health:
Happify Health, a leader in digital therapeutic solutions focused on mental health and its impact on other diseases, delivers safe, effective digital tools that empower users to improve their mental and physical health and live life more fully. Happify Health’s clinically-validated platform provides global access to the most comprehensive, evidence-based intervention catalog that is available from science, resulting in better health outcomes and decreased health care costs for organizations. For more information go to happifyhealth.com.
About The Department of Psychological Science at UC Irvine:
The Department of Psychological Science (PS) at UCI offers exciting and innovative programs of study at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Our 31 faculty members are prominent scholars whose specialties include developmental, social, personality, health, psychology and law, biological, clinical, cultural, community, environmental, and ecological psychology. The faculty are united by an overarching interest in understanding the origins of human behavior as it develops across the life course and in diverse sociocultural contexts. The faculty also share a strong commitment to interdisciplinary scholarship and to research that has the potential for application to important societal problems.