Complete Guide to Fitbit Sense Stress Management features

Key features of Fitbit Sense

The new Fitbit Sense is being heralded as one of the best health focussed smartwatches out there because of the new features that Fitbit has incorporated into this model. Tracking your Stress using your Fitbit Sense Stress score feature and then taking appropriate actions to manage it is very useful in managing your overall stress levels.

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In this article, we will look at some of the details around the Stress Management assessment and scoring functions of the Fitbit Sense.

How does Fitbit detect and monitor stress?

With the Sense, Fitbit has doubled down on what it does best: track your health.  FitBit Sense is equipped with a Biosensor core. In other words, this smartwatch has been equipped with the latest Fitbit sensor technology to measure your heart rate, blood oxygen saturation levels, Heart rate variability, skin temperature and electrodermal activity.Fitbit Sense Biocore sensor with EDA

Electrodermal activity is the core component behind Stress detection. This is unique to Fitbit Sense as the watch uses the new EDA scan app to detect electrodermal activity and then calculate stress. This is also known as the Galvanic skin response sensor and measures small changes in the conductance of your skin surface.

Fitbit’s propriety algorithms calculate your Stress score based on the assessment of your electrodermal activity AND other measures such as your heart rate variability.

Research has shown that Heart rate variability increases during relaxing and recovering activities and decreases during stress. Accordingly, HRV is typically higher when the heart is beating slowly and decreases as the heart beats more quickly. 

While other wearable platforms such as Garmin produce a Stress score based primarily on Heart rate variability, the Fitbit Sense is able to take advantage of the built-in EDA sensor and the new PurePulse 2.0 continuous heart rate monitoring to co-relate the electrodermal activity and HRV in order to more accurately provide you with a Stress Score.

Other cheaper wearables out there primarily leverage HRV using the optical heart sensor. 

Given that heart rate and HRV have a generally inverse relationship, these sensors simply examine your heart rate data and establish if you are in a Stressful condition.

The best of the breed sensor for detecting stress are the ones that can measure the cortisol levels in your sweat and draw inferences but that technology is yet to be commercially marketed by the leading wearable manufacturers.

Existing Research on Electro Dermal Activity and Emotional State

There is a long list of research establishing the connection between our emotional states and GSR (Galvanic skin response) activity, suggesting that our sweat glands go into overdrive mode when we experience certain emotions.(1). This is particularly true for emotions around ‘anger’ and  ‘happiness’. 

In one study, the researchers used both happy and sad music on participants while a range of measurements such as GSR and heart rate were collected. They found a significant increase of GSR activity in terms of SCR (skin conductance response) in the happy music condition, as compared to the sad music condition.(3).

How to use Fitbit Sense’s Stress Management feature?

There are two specific functions when it comes to understanding your stress levels using your Fitbit Sense. The first of these is powered via the EDA Scan app on your Fitbit Sense. This is more along the lines of guided meditation. When you tap on the EDA scan app, you are required to sit still for more than two minutes and relax, while the system collects information and stores them in the Mindfulness Tile. 

Once this whole ‘Calm your mind and just breath” prompts have finished, the Sense displays a graph of EDA responses that are difficult to interpret on their own.

Truth be told, the quick scan feature for stress was kind of disappointing. We were hoping for a feature where you placed your hand on the watch sensor and it took an instantaneous reading of your EDA activity and popped out a score, much like how the ECG function works.

Stress Management Score Missing on Fitbit Sense?

We have seen several new Fitbit Sense users complain that they cannot locate their stress scores. The stress management score seems to be missing from their Fitbit app.

Please note that this is normal. It usually takes 4 to 5 days for the Fitbit sense system to record all your activity and evaluate the base metrics in order to generate a Stress score. 

If you bought the Fitbit Sense recently and are simply seeing a zero score for stress management, it is normal. Give it a few days and then it will start showing your daily stress scores on the Today tab.Fitbit Sense Stress management score missing

Fitbit recommends wearing the Sense for a full day before it can show you your stress score but we have found that for some users it takes more than two to three days.

Also, note that the Stress Score is only available to you if you are using the heart rate function. This is on by default on your Fitbit Sense and Versa 3. If you are not seeing a sleep score, make sure that your heart rate tracking function is working. 

The good news is that unlike older Fitbit devices, you cannot turn off heart rate tracking on the new Sense or Versa 3. If your HR tracking is not working, then it could mean that the sensor is defective and you have to reach out to Fitbit support and request a replacement device.

How to access the Stress Score on Fitbit Sense

The second of the Stress Management feature is embedded within the Fitbit app. 

This is where you can locate your stress management score and see how your body responds to stress based on your heart rate, sleep, and activity level data.Fitbit Sense Stress management scores

Start by tapping on the Today tab. Next, tap on the Stress Management Score Tile. This is where you will find the daily stress score. When you swipe up on this screen, you will see a history of your Stress scores.

When you open the Fitbit Premium app on your mobile device, your stress management score is available along with some insights right after the details of your activity / steps metrics. New Sense owners can use the Fitbit Premium for free for a year after which it requires a monthly subscription.

Understanding your Fitbit Sense Stress Scores

The Stress scores range varies from 1 through 100. According to Fitbit a higher number indicates that you have lower stress. 

In other words,

  • A high score indicates that your body is showing fewer signs of physical stress, so you may consider taking on a new project or exercising.
  • A low score indicates that your body may be showing signs of stress, so you may want to take a break—go to bed early or meditate.

The scoring function uses more than ten different factors to calculate the aggregate stress score. These factors are distinctly divided into three major categories.

  • Responsiveness: heart-rate data and electrodermal activity (EDA),
  • Exertion balance: impact of physical activity on your stress level.
  • Sleep patterns: effect of sleep duration and quality on your stress level.

How to improve the Stress Management score on Fitbit?

Try and reduce stress in your daily life! Easier said than done, here are some pointers that can actually help you better manage your stress and improve the score.

  • Intelligent Training. Don’t overdo it and push too hard for too many days without giving your body an opportunity to recover. Exercise consistently. As we pointed out earlier, higher HRV means lower Stress. One can get higher HRV using some amount of Sprint training ir interval training. Try it out and see how it feels.
  • Steady Healthy Diet.
  • Quality Sleep. It’s not just the amount of sleep you get that matters, but also the quality and consistency of your sleep. Going to bed and waking up at similar times each day is beneficial.
  • Auto-Regulation. In general, trying to get your body on a consistent schedule (in particular with sleep and eating) is helpful. Your body does things more efficiently when it knows what’s coming.
  • Hydration. The better hydrated you are, the easier it is for your blood to circulate and deliver oxygen and nutrients to your body. Aiming to drink close to one ounce of water per pound of body weight each day is a good goal.
  • Avoid Alcohol. One night of drinking may negatively affect your HRV for up to five days and indirectly impact your Stress score.
  • Practice Resonant Breathing at least twice a day. You can leverage the guided meditations that are available to you via the Fitbit Premium app.

The Fitbit app has tools to help you manage stress, including mood logging to reflect on how you feel, and content related to mindfulness, sleep, activity, and nutrition. Check these features out and see if you can get a better handle on your stress.

In Summary, the Fitbit Sense is definitely a cutting edge smartwatch focussed on delivering a comprehensive toolset to help you lead a healthy lifestyle. 

Fitbit’s stress management functions via the new Sense take a unique multi-pronged approach to track stress by integrating common metrics like heart rate variability (HRV) and resting heart rate elevation, as well as EDA readings and heart rate readings taken during sleep. The one small caveat is that we are hoping that the next generation will incorporate a better EDA app design that is more intuitive.

We hope that you found this Fitbit Sense guide helpful. Please let us know if you have any questions. We would also love to learn about some of your favorite tips and tricks that you are using with your Fitbit Sense.

 

 

References:

[1] Alaoui-Ismaïli, O., Robin, O., Rada, H., Dittmar, A., Vernet-Maury, E. (1997). Basic emotions evoked by odorants: comparison between autonomic responses and self-evaluation. Physiology and Behavior 62, 713–720.

[2] Williams, L.A., Das, P., Liddell, B., Olivieri, G., Peduto, A., Brammer, M., Gordon, E., 2005. BOLD, sweat and fears: fMRI and skin conductance distinguish facial fear signals. NeuroReport 16, 49–52

[3]Khalfa, S., Roy, M., Rainville, P., Bella, S.D., Peretz, I., 2008. Role of tempo entrainment in psychophysiological differentiation of happy and sad music? International Journal of Psychophysiology 68 (1), 17–26

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