This is probably not the first article you read on increasing stress levels in today’s society, and it certainly won’t be the last. An unavoidable reality of life, stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat by releasing a flood of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action.
Sometimes called the ‘Epidemic of the 21st century’, stress can be positive, keeping you 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.
Over two-thirds of visits to physicians are from stress related illnesses. The medical costs alone have been estimated in the United States at well over $1 billion dollars per year.
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This automatic response developed in our ancient ancestors as a way to protect from predators and other threats. Luckily, these days you’re not very likely to be eaten by a wild animal. But you do confront multiple challenges every day such as meeting deadlines, paying bills, and making the daily commute to your office – that may prompt your body to react in a similar way.
In the world of wearable technology, tracking fitness activity is typically the main goal. However, a growing number of devices are trying to gauge your 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.
It’s a tiny gray stone, satisfying to hold, zen-like and paired with a beautiful cork charging plate. Attach it to your bra or belt and get ready to discover a new path to calm.
Created by a team of scientists at Stanford and winner of the 2014 National Hewitt Design Award, the Spire Stone is a personal breathing sensor. Unlike exercise-oriented fitness gadgets, it tracks respiration patterns and body movements to provide advice geared to emotional and cognitive well-being.
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. With enough juice for almost a week Spire is rugged enough to survive the washing machine if you forget to take it off your clothes.
You wear it on your belt or bra, where it can measure your breathing. The smartphone 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 for too long.
The most popular fitness tracker in the world, Fitbit’s flagship device doesn’t just count your steps and calories. There is also something called Guided Breathing Sessions. This is a relaxing mindfulness experience that calms your body and mind.
What you get is a choice between a 2 and 5 minute session. 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), the Charge 2 determines a comfortable breathing rate for you. It then slowly guides you into a relaxing state. The screen displays biofeedback and animations that help you align each inhale and exhale with the guide.
Outside of that, the Charge 2 checks all the boxes for the average person who is after a solid activity tracker. You will find a large OLED display, 24/7 heart rate monitoring (including resting heart rate), and the device will keeps tabs on all your activity.
The Apple Watch Series 3 delivers solid improvements over its predecessor including LTE compatibility, a faster processor/wireless chip and a barometric altimeter.
Built into the display, there is now cellular connectivity. The watch uses the same number as your smartphone. Although users still need a SIM, the Series 3 features a small electronic SIM card.
In terms of fitness, there is a new barometric altimeter sensor. This means the watch is finally able to count floors climbed and estimate your altitude. You, of course, get all the great features of the predecessor versions including GPS, all day heart rate and more
Other changes are to do with the heart rate sensor. You are now able to see your current heart rate just by raising your wrist, there is the addition of a “recovering heart rate”, the watch will alert you when it detects an abnormal spike in your readings and you’ll get your resting heart rate in the morning.
In addition to reminding you to stand and walk throughout the day, watchOS4 will also prompt you to take a minute to relax, focus and meditate with an 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.
Using Thync once a day is a good start. One limiting factor are the replaceable strips: Thync officially recommends that you only use them once before replacing. 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 popular 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.
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 smartphone app. Its sensors are hidden inside the wood housing, giving it a soft natural appeal.
The gizmo also has some great stress tracking features. To initiate, place the little gadget as a clip on your waistband, slightly on the side, so that it can measure the abdominal movements while breathing. Then select the desired breathing exercise in the app and try to perform the exercise as precise as you can.
Bellabeat has recently released a second generation device. Leaf Urban (view on Amazon), incorporates everything good about the predecessor device, throws in a new design, and adds a new feature that analyzes your lifestyle habits and identifies triggers that cause you stress.
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.
This drop like device 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.
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Your 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 your 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.
Garmin Vivosmart 3 is a fully featured fitness tracker that takes across all the features of its predecessors (apart from GPS), and throws in a few more sophisticated fitness tracking tools such as VO2 max and fitness age, all day stress tracking, and the ability to count reps and sets in the gym.
Thanks to Garmin Elevate wrist heart rate technology, you still get 24/7 heart rate monitoring, and the wearable automatically tracks activity including steps, floors climbed, calories burned, intensity minutes, sleep and more. It also features smart notifications to keep you connected while on the go.
As part of that 24/7 monitoring, when users are not on the move the device will now measure heart-rate variability which it uses to calculate and measure stress levels. To make you worry-free, you will get relaxing mindfulness experiences through deep-breathing sessions. A longer timeline of stress levels is accessible on the smartphone app.
Garmin has started integrating this technology in its other fitness trackers and some sports watches. It has made its way into its smallest fitness band yet, the Vivosport and Vivoactive 3. The high-end Fenix 5 and Forerunner 935 smartwatches will also help keep you calm.
Embrace provides activity monitoring, sleep monitoring, stress management and seizure monitoring.
The device features some original sensors which set it apart from the crowd. This includes an accelerometer, gyroscope, temperature monitor and electrodermal activity sensor (sweat induced moisture sensor). The combination of these allows the unit to detect spikes in any activity, showing when a user is anxious, depressed, stressed or about to have an epileptic seizure.
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, Embrace will gently remind you with a vibration, that you need some time to recover. You can also set it to vibrate gently when your body’s stress level is too high, while the smartphone app will provide you with detail on how your body’s stress levels change throughout the day.
Versa is Fitbit’s second smartwatch. The device comes with most of the sensors you’ll find on Ionic, but with its rounded edges, polished look and more compact form factor, it looks much better.
When it comes to features, this is a timepiece that puts fitness first. It includes everything you would expect from a Fitbit device, along with capturing real-time stats on 20 different types of activities including swimming. And you’ll be able to keep tabs on all this in real-time on the gorgeous hi-res 300 by 300 pixel LCD touchscreen. Admittedly there is the lack of built-in GPS, but you are unlikely to notice this unless you are an avid runner. This also helps keep the price down.
Of course, Versa also has Fitbit’s Relax feature, the exercise that squashes stress. The tracker recommends a personalized breathing pattern to maintain a quieter state of mind. This can be effective in the morning as you prepare for the day, prior to an important mid-day meeting or function, or in the evening as you wind down before bed.
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