Use of a Mobile Biofeedback App to Provide Health Coaching for Stress Self-management: Pilot Quasi-Experiment. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: Mental health is an increasing concern among vulnerable populations, including college students and veterans. OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to determine if mobile health technology combined with health coaching can better enable a user to self-manage their mental health. METHODS: This study evaluated the mobile app "Biofeedback" that provided health coaching on stress self-management for college student veterans' mental health concerns. Twenty-four college student veterans were recruited from a large public university in Texas during the spring 2020 semester, impacted by COVID-19. Ten participants were assigned to the intervention group where they used the mobile Biofeedback app on their smartphones and smartwatches, and 14 were assigned to the control group without the app; assignment was based on mobile phone compatibility. Both groups participated in one initial lab session where they learned a deep-breathing exercise technique. The intervention group was then asked to use the mobile Biofeedback app during their daily lives and a smartwatch, and the control group was asked to perform the breathing exercises on their own. Both groups filled out Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD-7) self-assessments at 2-week intervals. At the end of the semester, both groups were given an exit interview to provide user experience and perceived benefits of health coaching via the mobile biofeedback app. RESULTS: The deep-breathing exercise in the initial lab session reduced stress in both groups. Over the course of the study, the app recorded 565 coached breathing exercises with a significant decrease (approximately 3 beats per minute) in participants' heart rate during the 6-minute time period immediately after conducting the breathing exercises (Spearman rank correlation coefficient -0.61, P<.001; S=9,816,176). There was no significant difference between the two groups for PHQ-9 and GAD-7 scores over the course of the semester. Exit interview responses indicated that participants perceived that the mobile Biofeedback app improved their health and helped them address stress challenges. All participants reported that the intervention helped them manage their stress better and expressed that health coaching via a mobile device would improve their overall health. CONCLUSIONS: Participants reported a positive perception of the app for their mental health self-management during a stressful semester. Future work should examine long-term effects of the app with a larger sample size balanced between male and female participants, randomized participant allocation, real-time detection of mental health symptoms, and additional features of the app.

published proceedings

  • JMIR Form Res

altmetric score

  • 1.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Son, C., Hegde, S., Markert, C., Zahed, K., & Sasangohar, F.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Son, Changwon||Hegde, Sudeep||Markert, Carl||Zahed, Karim||Sasangohar, Farzan

publication date

  • April 2023