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New iPhone apps aim to lower stress

Like the kind that results from an iPhone that won't sync properly! One app teaches you the art of stress-free breathing; the other helps you overhaul your whole life.

It may look a little strange, but Pranayama does a great job guiding you through stress-reducing breathing exercises.

The holidays can be a stressful time. So can the weeks that follow. And Mondays, Mondays are always tough. The Swine Flu won't go away. Who's ready for financiapocalypse 2010? Glenn Beck says the country's ruined. Locusts! Ahhhhhhhh!!!

Whew, I need to relax. Easier said than done, right? Enter Pranayama and Stress Free with Deepak Chopra, two new iPhone apps designed to help you trade stressed-out for chilled-out.

Pranayama performs one basic function: guided breathing. According to the developer, research shows that 15 daily minutes of slow, deep breathing can improve overall health and even treat ailments like depression and insomnia.

To get started, you choose a "skill" level, breathing pattern (inhale/exhale or inhale/retain/exhale), and timing option (how long each step should last). Then, just tap Play. You'll hear a musical tone that corresponds with inhaling, then a different one for exhaling.

This audio-guided method lets you focus on your breathing without having to count or look at the screen (which, for the sake of learning, features an animated torso showing how to use your abdomen properly).

It's a simple, straightforward app, with lots of good built-in instructions and information. The $4.99 price tag may seem a hair steep, but it's a bargain if you get results.

Stress Free with Deepak Chopra is like an interactive self-help book.

Stress Free with Deepak Chopra is more of a soup-to-nuts self-help program, complete with activities, music therapy, nutrition advice, and videos of the mental-health guru himself.

It's designed to play out over the course of six weeks (though you can go at your own pace), with each week spent on the various stages of six "keys" to a stress-free life.

Along the way you'll get a daily e-mail showing your progress in the program and a recommended exercise. So this isn't just an app you turn to when you're feeling stressed; rather, it's a systematic self-help book made interactive.

And it offers some impressive features that no book could match. For example, in one activity you're encouraged to commune with nature--and the tap of a button displays nearby parks in Google Maps.

(Neat idea, bad implementation: the search missed most of the actual parks in my area, but instead found neighborhoods and developments with the word "park" in their name.)

Overall, there's a lot to like about this thorough, inventive app, and I can see where it will appeal to some users. However, I found it a little too touchy-feely, and something about Chopra himself rubs me the wrong way.

Will you like Stress Free? It'll cost you $8.99 to find out.