Stress is sometimes called the ‘Epidemic of the 21st century’. Over two-thirds of office visits to physicians are for stress related illnesses. Stress is also called the ‘silent killer’ as it contributes either directly or indirectly, to a host of medical conditions. The medical costs alone have been estimated in the United States at well over $1 billion dollars per year.
This is probably not the first article you read on increasing stress and stress levels in today’s society, and it certainly won’t be the last. Stress has always been an unavoidable reality of of life. It is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action.
This automatic response developed in our ancient ancestors as a way to protect them from predators and other threats. These days, you’re not very likely to face the threat of being eaten. But you do confront multiple challenges every day, such as meeting deadlines, paying bills, making the daily commute to your office that make your body react in a similar way.
The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger. It becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation.
This can lead to negative health implications such as headaches, fatigue, sleeping disorders, digestive problems, high blood pressure, heart diseases, aging and obesity. The longer the stress lasts, the worse it is for both your mind and body and the more difficult it is to recover. Research suggests that stress can also be linked to cancer, lung disease, fatal accidents, suicide, and cirrhosis of the liver.
In the world of wearable technology, tracking fitness activity is typically the main goal. However, a growing number of devices are trying to gauge our state of mind. Reducing your stress levels can not only make you feel better right now, but may also protect your health long-term.
This is our collection of some of the most interesting devices that claim to be able to keep you calm.
Fitbit has been doing really well this year, with both the earlier models of Alta and Blaze. For the average person who is after a solid 24/7 activity tracker Fitbit’s latest device, the Charge 2, checks all the boxes.
You will find a large OLED display, 24/7 heart rate monitoring (including resting heart rate), and the device will keeps tabs on steps, distance, floors, active minutes, calories and sleep. To help you stay active throughout the day, Charge 2 sends Reminders to move that encourage you to take 250 steps every hour.
There are some new features as well. One of these are Guided Breathing Sessions. This is a relaxing mindfulness experience that calms your body and mind through personalized deep-breathing sessions called “Relax”.
What you get is a choice between a 2 and 5 minute breathing session. Each session is powered by PurePulse and personalized by using your real-time heart rate to measure your heart rate variability (beat-to-beat changes in your heart rate), and determine a comfortable breathing rate for you. The screen displays biofeedback and animations that help you align each inhale and exhale with the guide.
The past has thought us, the second generation of an Apple product is always a big step up from the first one. While the Cupertino company didn’t deliver a significant design refresh this year, new components in Apple Watch Series 2 make it better, while software upgrades makes it smarter and more useful. You finally have a better reason to want an Apple Watch.
The new device features waterproofing, a faster processor, better battery life and integrated GPS. Owners of the first generation device will be happy to know that perhaps the biggest improvement of all is on the software side. WatchOS3 represents an important strategic shift and finally makes interacting with the device a more enjoyable experience.
In addition to reminding you to stand and walk throughout the day, watchOS 3 will also prompt users to take a minute to relax, focus and meditate with a new app called Breathe. This will guide you through a series of deep breaths, and remind you to take time to relax every day. You choose how long you want to breathe, then let the animation and gentle taps help you focus.
Thync asserts that it has created the first technology that gives you the power to change the way you feel. The Star Trek esque device, which looks similar to an an eye patch only for your forehead, connects up with an accompanying app that delivers waveforms to your brain.
Thync waveforms activate specific nerves on the head that signal the brain to shift to a state of calm or give you a boost of energy depending on which of the two you are after at any given moment. You do this by choosing a connecting strip based on whether you want to feel energised or calm.
Vibes were created from years of research, development and testing by Thync neuroscientists and engineers. The calm and energised modes work on two different parts of the nervous system – the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions that regulate the body for action or tranquility respectively. This essentially causes a feeling that can be equated to meditation or the invigoration of splashing cold water on your face – only more focused.
So how often do you use Thync? Well, once a day is probably a good start. One limiting factor are the replaceable strips: Thync officially recommends that you only use them once before replacing (a pack of five costs up for US$20). You can get around this by reusing strips until they start losing adhesiveness. Or you can take-up monthly subscription which is available at a discount.
This smart piece of jewellery is designed to track women’s health. Wear it as a necklace or bracelet with Leaf accessories or items you already own – or clip it to any clothing item as a stylish accent. You choose what fits your style best in any given occasion.
The Leaf learns about you and provides quality insights and improvements to your daily routine to help you feel your best. The wearable tracks your breathing, sleep, activity and monthly cycles through the LEAF app. Its sensors are hidden inside the wood housing, giving it a soft natural appeal. The LEAF doesn’t need to be charged. It is powered by a replaceable battery that lasts up to 6 months. It also has up to 14 days worth of memory, so you only need to sync it every couple of weeks.
The Leaf also advertises its stress tracking feature. This is not a 24/7 feature – rather it needs to be initiated manually, through the app. First place the Leaf as a clip on your waistband, slightly on the side, so that it can measure the abdominal movements while breathing. Then you select the desired breathing exercise in the app and try to perform the exercise as precise as you can to enhance the effects of the exercise.
Bellabeat has recently released its next generation tracker. Leaf Urban, as its called (Amazon), is designed to work with the Leaf app to track women’s activity and sleep, provide an overview about reproductive health, and now, with a brand new feature, helps predict and manage stress. The new stress-predicting feature analyzes different lifestyle habits to help you not only manage stress, but also prevent it by determining the triggers that cause it.
The WellBe is an elegant, light-weight bracelet and mobile app designed to support your emotional well-being. The bracelet monitors your heart rate and uses a sophisticated algorithm to determine your stress and calmness levels based on time, location and people you meet throughout your day.
You can view an overview of your stress triggers in the app, which also offers many programs geared towards helping you retain a calm state of being. These programs include 7, 14, and 21 days plans and include a variety of mindfulness exercises such as: meditation; focused breathing and guided imagination.
Crafted from cork, the WellBe bracelet is lightweight, durable, and soft against your skin. The company is preparing to start shipping to its Kickstarter backers any time now.
Spire measures your breathing patterns to give you insights into your state of mind. You wear it on your belt or bra, where it can measure your breathing. It then notifies you when your breathing reflects tension and helps you discover what makes you calm, focused, and active.
The device itself is beautifully designed. It looks like a river stone on one side with a metal clip on the back. The Qi wireless charger is a stunner as well. The gadget has enough juice for almost a week and it is rugged enough to survive the washing machine if you forget to take it off your clothes.
The Spire app is designed to coach you to a more calm and productive day; it notifies you when you’re breathing indicates tension, provides daily and weekly reports on your state of mind, and includes audio exercises to improve your breathing and ability to reach a calm state of mind.
Spire has the added bonus of tracking steps and calories burned. You can even set custom reminders to nudge you when you’ve been inactive.
Muse is a headset-style device that claims to be the first tool in the world that gives you real-time feedback on what’s happening in your brain when you meditate. The device passively detects changes in your brain from outside your head by using seven EEG sensors along your scalp.
While you meditate, the headband measures whether your mind is calm or active, and translates that data into sound that you can hear. When you’re calm, you’ll hear the sound of peaceful weather. If Muse senses your mind wandering, you’ll hear the weather sounds get stronger, gently guiding you back to calm. So Muse lets you hear your own mind as you meditate, helping you improve.
PIP is a biosensor which senses electrodermal activity (EDA), the electrical changes at the surface in the skin, to provide an indicator of stress response. This is communicated via Bluetooth technology to PIP’s iOS and Android Apps, which use audio and visual feedback to externalise your body’s changing stress levels.
Our levels of stress fluctuate continuously – significant changes happen in fractions of a second; and with the fluctuation, the electrical properties of our skin change. The skin at our fingertips acts as a particularly sensitive indicator. Pip contains two gold-plated sensors which the user grasps between the thumb and forefinger. The device detects the rise and fall of stress, and feeds data into an app at the rate of 8 times per second. There are a number of apps you can connect to – which provide a platform for stress-easing exercises.
Sona is a bracelet that helps users improve mind and body wellness through activity tracking. The device, which was developed by New York Startup Caeden, is different from standard activity trackers in that it measures activity in a more rounded way, and trains your body to deal better with stress. It does so using various built-in sensors, plus an in-app meditation program.
Sona comes with a sophisticated heart rate sensor that can track heart rate variability (HRV – which is the time lapse between two heartbeats), as opposed to the standard pulse rate. In a relaxed or restful state, your heart beats with different duration between beats. The device analyses this data to let you know when you feel stressed and the companion app walks you through a designed breathing exercise and meditation program called Resonance to help you slow down.
Prana is the first wearable which combines breath and posture tracking to help you make the most of your sitting time. Building on recent medical studies and ancient Yoga traditions, Prana supports the interconnection between good breathing and good posture for many healthy benefits including reduced stress, better focus, and less back pain.
Essential reading: Why Sitting is Slowly Killing You and What You Can do About it
This little disc, that clips to your waistband tracks the way both your diaphragm and chest move in and out while you breathe and the position of your body. When you sit, Prana analyzes your breath patterns and posture, providing you with a ‘quality of breathing score’ and then urgens you to make changes through a series of creating patterns, basic movements and simple games. You select a pattern which best fits your health goals, and Prana actively guides your breath. Prana can also send occasional push alert reminders to breathe or sit better. When you walk, Prana automatically switches to standing mode where it functions as a traditional step tracker.
Embrace provides activity monitoring, sleep monitoring, stress management and seizure monitoring.
The device, which looks like a fitness tracker, features some original sensors which set it apart from the crowd. This includes accelerometors, gyroscope, temperature monitor and electrodermal activity sensor (sweat induced moisture sensor). The combination of sensors allows the tracker to detect spikes in any activity, showing when a user is anxious, depressed, stressed or about to have an epileptic seizure. Embrace also has a smart, minimalist design made from polished metal and Italian leather.
Apart from detecting seizures, anyone can also use the wristbands to monitor stress levels. Sympathetic activation increases when you experience excitement or stress whether physical, emotional, or cognitive. It increases also with stressors – whether physical, emotional, or cognitive. The wearable measures increases in sympathetic activation by monitoring subtle electrical changes across the surface of the skin.
If you push yourself too much, the Embrace will gently remind you with a vibration, that you need some time to recover. For example, you can set it to vibrate gently when your body’s stress level is climbing, before it gets too high. And, you can use the Empatica Mate app to see how your body’s stress levels change during your daily activities.
Like this article? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and never miss out!