Does your Apple Watch keep reminding you to breathe? You’re not alone. People all over the world are interrupted by the Apple Watch reminding them to breathe every day — even if they’re already breathing. So what gives?
Does the Apple Watch detect stress?
One of the most common misconceptions about Breathe alerts is that they are related to stress. The idea is that the Apple Watch detects when you need to take advice from Taylor Swift and calm down.
How would that work exactly? The confusion is around heart rate detection. The Apple Watch measures your current heart rate every few minutes (and more frequently when logging workouts). It also logs this data to create a trend line for your average heart rate.
But the Apple Watch doesn’t assume that a sudden change in heart rate is related to stress. It can use that data to provide helpful heart health information!
It would be a cool feature though if the Apple Watch really could distinguish uninvited stress from intentional exercise or other real life scenarios that cause your heart rate to increase.
Full disclosure: I did not tell my mom it was a coincidence the first time she told me her Apple Watch reminded her to breathe after a stressful meeting. Her enthusiasm was too much. I don’t think she reads my work.
But I’m already breathing
Okay, but what if you’re already breathing? I totally understand. I do that too. Just not as far as the Apple Watch is concerned.
It has sensors that detect when you’re working out, and it can even detect a sudden fall and call emergency services if you’re unresponsive. Apple Watch doesn’t measure how long you can hold your breath however — at least not yet.
What is Breathe?
So maybe the Apple Watch does want you to calm down, just not only when you’re flustered.
Apple includes an app called Breathe that introduces Apple Watch users to guided meditation. An animating flower gently grows and shrinks over the course of several seconds. The app instructs you to take a deep breath and hold it when the flow increases, then exhale when the flower shrinks.
Frankly, it’s mesmerizing. Just talking about it is calming. There are even Apple Watch faces dedicated to the app and its visuals — not to mention this 10 hour YouTube video of the animation that’s been viewed almost 15,000 times.
Breathe is customizable too so each session doesn’t have to be the same. You can set the number of breaths per minute to adjust how long each deep breath should be, the duration of the session before you begin, and whether or not the app remembers your last session length.
At the end of the meditation session, the Breathe app will display your current heart rate too. Ideally, it’s lower than when you started, but that’s not the main goal of the app.
Using the Breathe app doesn’t just help you collect your thoughts and focus on what’s important to you. The Apple Health app on the iPhone can log data from meditation sessions with a metric called Mindful Minutes.
This helps you realize insights like whether or not guided meditation helps you sleep, eat healthier, or remember to exercise.
Remember to breathe
Meditation, great, but what about those nagging alerts? You can turn down the number of meditation reminders you receive or disable Breathe notifications altogether.
Open the Watch app on your iPhone, tap Breathe from the My Watch tab, then tap Breathe Reminders.
If you like the idea of guided meditation but Breathe reminders are stressing you out, you can receive just one reminder per day. If you already logged a session, you won’t receive an alert that day.
Breathe reminders also wait for moments when no movement or exercise is detected so it doesn’t catch you at a bad time, although your mileage may vary.
You can also disable or have notifications sent to Notification Center (swipe down from the watch face to access) by swiping left and tapping the “…” button from the alert.
Want to go nuclear on Breathe? Take a deep breath, press the Digital Crown on your Apple Watch, then press and hold on the green flower icon for the Breathe app (or swipe left if you’re in list view) to remove the Breathe app. You can always add it back from the App Store on Apple Watch.
If you’re still reading this or you’ve scrolled to the bottom of this story, you’ve discovered my motivation for writing this piece in the first place.
I love learning how people use the Apple Watch so I’m constantly searching for ways regular people experience it. This search, specifically on Twitter, has pointed to one meme over and over again, and Apple’s Breathe app on the Apple Watch is at the center of it.
Checking an Apple Watch alert for a new message, and hopelessly realizing it’s just a Breathe reminder.
Just search Twitter for “apple watch vibrates breathe” to see what I mean. There are probably earlier instances of this based on when the Breathe app was introduced, but my quick search goes back to this March 2017 tweet that fits the criteria:
when my Apple Watch vibrates it makes me think I have a text but when I check it it's telling me to breathe WHAT A LET DOWN
— Maddie (@maddielroberts) March 8, 2017
Then in June 2017:
When my Apple Watch vibrates and I think I got a text….but really it's just telling me to breathe 😒
— adri (@adrianauribe_) June 3, 2017
Lots of people turn to Twitter to publicly declare that they will not breathe in defiance of their Apple Watch, but further inspection usually reveals additional tweets that suggest they actually continued to breathe.
Whenever my Apple Watch vibrates to remind me to breathe, my immediate reaction is "I will NOT."
— Ashley Mateo (@ashleymateo) June 30, 2017
Okay, those are just fun. But seriously, a lot of people are being misled by Breathe alerts on the Apple Watch.
Remember those original tweets from 2017? There was one per month for a while, then they fizzled out. Seems normal.
Fast forward to, say, 2020, and there have been nearly 20 tweets with the same message already. We’re not even a week into the new year, people.
There is something off about the current round of tweets though. In the trues sense of a modern meme, these tweets don’t appear to be wholly original and organic.
I’m not saying foreign bots or an international propaganda scheme is at play here, but most of these tweets are copied and pasted with the same format — right down to the same four-letter-word-that-starts-with-an-s explicit reaction. I won’t embed the bad words in case my mom actually does read my work, but again, see for yourself.
Last year alone, there were too many tweets to count that fit the search criteria. It’s possible people are uniquely experiencing the same disappointment individually, or maybe the meme is really a somewhat meta quest for likes and retweets.
All I know is something changed between 2017 and 2020 — probably the booming popularity of the Apple Watch — and something that was tweeted a handful of times per year is now a daily meme.
Finding the deeper meaning of all of this will require more meditation. For now, remember to breathe, people.
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