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.
Why reduce stress?
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. The instinct is still there.
The best stress busting wearables
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 4 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 4 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. There’s even built-in GPS.
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The Apple Watch is hands-down the best smartwatch you can buy today. The latest iteration sports an always-on edge-to-edge retina display. Raise your wrist or tap takes it to full glory, lower your wrist and it will dim.
In terms of health and fitness, the device is able to identify falls, it sends high/low heart rate alerts, monitors for atrial fibrillation and there is the much talked about ECG sensor. You, of course, get all the great features of the predecessor versions including GPS, all day heart rate and more. But there’s still no native app for sleep tracking. This is because battery life has not improved very much.
In addition to reminding you to stand and walk throughout the day, the Apple Watch can help you destress. It will 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.
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This popular range of jewelry is designed to track women’s health. The three iterations include Leaf Chakra, Nature and Urban. You can wear them as a necklace or bracelet with Leaf accessories or items you already own – or clip to any clothing item as a stylish accent. Just choose what fits your style best in any given occasion.
The trackers learn about you and provide quality insights and improvements to your daily routine to help you feel your best. This includes info on breathing, sleep, activity and monthly cycles through the smartphone app. The sensors are hidden inside the wood housing, providing a soft natural appeal.
The wearables also have some great stress tracking features. To initiate, simply clip to your waistband, slightly on the side so that the abdominal movements while breathing can be measured. Then select the desired breathing exercise in the app and try to perform the exercise as precise as you can.
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.
There’s also Muse 2 which slaps on a heart rate monitor, as well as an accelerometer and gyroscope to monitor body movement and breath in addition to your brain. In our review we found the sensors worked well and the app did a good job in quantifying our progress over time.
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.
The latest iteration in Garmin’s Vivosmart series comes with a blood oxygen sensor and the device keeps tabs on your body’s energy reserves. Apart from that you get pretty much everything you need for 24/7 activity tracking.
The oxygen sensor allows Vivosmart 4 to gauge your oxygen saturation levels at night. This can potentially be used to identify sleep conditions such as apnea, although Garmin will not diagnose these. You can also check your oxygen levels on demand during the day. Body Battery uses a combination of stress, heart rate variability (HRV), sleep and activity data to let you know when to push hard, when to rest.
As part of that 24/7 monitoring, when users are not on the move the device measures heart-rate variability which it uses to calculate and measure stress levels. To make you worry-free, you get relaxing mindfulness experiences through deep-breathing sessions. A longer timeline of stress levels is accessible on the smartphone app.
Garmin has started integrating its stress monitoring 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 and 4. The high-end Fenix 6 and latest crop of Forerunner watches will also help keep you calm.
Versa is Fitbit’s second smartwatch. The latest generation comes with a better screen, longer battery life, more powerful processor and some other extras such as Amazon Alexa support.
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 AMOLED 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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