We live in uncertain and stressful times. Imagine if you were automatically reminded via a tap on your wrist to take a timeout, breathe, and stay calm based on elevated stress signals in your body. Wouldn’t that be great!
Apps such as Apple’s Mindfulness (Breathe) for the Apple Watch and Calm help manage some day-to-day stress. Research shows that Diaphragmatic breathing (mindful breathing) can go a long way in helping manage stress.
These apps, however, do not trigger automatically based on stress levels in your body but rather at predetermined intervals. The idea here is to prevent stress by regularly using these breathing reminders.
This article looks at how today’s wearables help us proactively manage stress, including devices you wear on your wrist and some that you don’t!
- 1 In a hurry?
- 2 Can a smartwatch, fitness tracker, or other wearable detect stress?
- 3 How watches and other wearables aid in stress detection today
- 4 Smartwatches, wristbands, and trackers that help you know your stress levels
- 5 Want something that doesn’t go around your wrist? Try a stress-detection gadget!
- 6 Something special, if you can find it
- 7 Wrap up
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- Change the Breathe app session time on your Apple Watch and improve mindfulness
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- Stanford develops a new wearable sensor to detect stress hormones
- 7 of the best apps to reduce stress and anxiety this year
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In a hurry?
For those that want our recommendations without getting all the details, here are our top 5 stress-busting wearables that integrate with your iPhone or Android phone.
- Whoop Strap. This wearable focuses on your recovery, so you hit each day ready to take on the world.
- Samsung Galaxy Watch or Galaxy Fit. Use these wearables and connect to Samsung’s Health app for easy-to-understand stress tracking.
- Garmin smartwatches and trackers with heart rate monitoring. To track stress, Garmin uses FirstBeat analytics to measure your heart rate variability throughout the day.
- Withings Scanwatch. This watch takes health and sleep tracking to a new level and includes a medical-grade ECG and oximeter for SpO2. It can even track sleep apnea, a first on a smartwatch.
- Empatica 4. This band doesn’t have a screen, but it packs a punch for stress detection with its EDA and PPG sensors, measuring your sympathetic nervous system activity and heart rate.
Can a smartwatch, fitness tracker, or other wearable detect stress?
Most wearables with heart rate sensors can help in detecting stress levels.
Although we today associate heart rate sensors with ubiquitous devices such as Apple Watch, Whoop, or Fitbit, these sensors have existed for some time now on a wearable.
Smart health watch was one of those devices, and several armbands found some fans in the early 2010s.
Even ten years back, the sensors on these devices did a decent job detecting your heart rate but lacked the CPU processing power to enhance the value proposition.
They just couldn’t run sophisticated algorithms to co-relate changes in heartbeat data.
Things have come a long way since 2010…
How watches and other wearables aid in stress detection today
Smartwatches with the latest Qualcomm chipsets OR Apple’s proprietary chipset in its Watch can run sophisticated machine learning algorithms to enhance the value proposition centered on heart rate data captured via the optical sensors on these smartwatches.
Even your basic $50 smartwatch from Amazon now sports a Nordic 52832 CPU communicating with a Si1142 heart rate sensor along with KX023-1025 and can do some sophisticated calculations.
Heart rate variability (HRV) is a critical measurement for your wearable to identify stress.
According to some studies, monitoring HRV (Heart Rate Variability) detects stress and yields up to 90% accuracy.
Devices today use heart rate data to determine the interval between each heartbeat.
The body’s autonomic nervous system regulates the variable length of time between each heartbeat.
- A decrease in variability between beats equals higher stress levels.
- An increase in variability indicates less stress.
This is the most popular way of detecting stress today via an on-wrist wearable.
Other methods of detecting stress are using sensors to track sweat chemistry, identify cortisol levels, monitor skin temperature, and other electrodermal activity.
- Turn your smartwatch into a biochemical monitoring system with a unique adhesive.
- Stanford develops a new wearable sensor to detect stress hormones.
In the next section, we look at some popular wearables and their offerings in stress management.
Smartwatches, wristbands, and trackers that help you know your stress levels
The Whoop Strap
When you examine WHOOP’s Recovery metric, you see that it uses Heart Rate Variability (HRV), Resting Heart Rate (RHR), sleep, and respiratory rate to determine your recovery state after your body underwent stressful physical endurance training.
WHOOP then calibrates these metrics to your baseline, so your recovery is personalized daily.
Samsung Galaxy Watch and Samsung’s Health app
Use a Samsung phone that includes a heart rate sensor or connect your Samsung watch or tracker with a heart rate sensor and measure your stress using the companion Samsung Health app.
The app uses heart rate sensor data and oxygen saturation (SpO2) levels from your paired Samsung Galaxy Watch to predict stress levels.
The app shows your latest data AND trends in your data, letting you know if stress is rising or starting to fall.
And if you’re stressed out, practice some breathing exercises right in the app with a tap on the Breathing Exercises button.
Garmin measures stress on its smartwatches and trackers
Garmin’s range of products, such as the Vivoactive 4, Vivosmart 5, Fenix 7, and some Forerunner series, support all-day stress tracking features.
Garmin’s products take advantage of the sophisticated algorithms offered by FirstBeat, which measure HRV throughout the day and classify stress levels into low, medium, or high.
Given the sophisticated algorithms’ value, it was a no-brainer for Garmin to acquire FirstBeat to position itself in the expanding consumer health analytics market.
Withings Scanwatch takes sleep tracking features from basic measurements to actual sleep apnea detection.
Although there is no direct relationship between day-to-day stress and sleep apnea, studies have shown that some folks with PTSD suffer from Sleep Apnea. Almost 70% of patients who have PTSD are at high risk of sleep apnea.
Empatica’s E4 wristband
There are already wearables that can monitor changes in sweat chemistry.
The Empatica and EmbracePlus feature new stress-sensing technology coming soon for all types and brands of wearables!
The E4 has a built-in GSR sensor that helps track EDA (Electrodermal Activity) and an infrared thermopile that monitors your body temperature.
Acute stress can sometimes cause a drop in body temperature, so correlating the temperature data with HRV and other electrodermal activity can help better detect stress.
Want something that doesn’t go around your wrist? Try a stress-detection gadget!
Another device that measures stress by examining skin conditions is the PIP.
The PIP teaches you how to manage your stress better.
It allows you to see your stress levels, connecting your emotions with engaging apps, teaching you how to recognize stress and know a life without it.
Voice pattern analysis, pupil diameter changes, and facial expression changes are other indicators that can help monitor stress levels.
Beyond Verbal’s tool
With elevated stress, your voice qualities can change!
A voice sample fed into a machine learning algorithm could sample your voice changes, compare them with baseline measures, and provide input.
Beyond Verbal (VocalisHealth) offers an AI-based platform that looks at vocal biomarkers to detect and monitor health status.
Not yet available on a wearable, but the platform has baseline capabilities and offers those using their Vocalis API that can be used on any mobile device.
There are even devices that track brain activity and identify stress
Beyond on-wrist wearables, other sophisticated neurotrackers are available today to help track brain activity and provide neurofeedback.
An example of such a wearable is the Resperate, an FDA-cleared device available for $99.
Positioned as a nondrug Hypertension treatment device, it provides a platform to help you breathe effectively to release stress.
Muse is another popular guided meditation gadget that has recently found a fan following.
Its finely calibrated sensors – 2 on the forehead, two behind the ears, plus three reference sensors – detect and measure your brain’s activity (EEG), help you relax, and provide you with very practical meditation training.
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Muse also offers a brain-sensing headband (Muse 2). This has built-in sensors that help you with meditation and mindfulness and track your heart, breathing, and sleep.
Folks with insomnia and other sleep problems say Muse 2 helps them get to sleep and experience a better night’s sleep.
Other brain-sensing headband options
Speaking of brain-sensing headbands that provide neurofeedback, meditation, and mindfulness, many users also like the sleek Flowtime device.
It’s cheaper than Muse, offers guided meditation at less than $200, and monitors breathing and heart rate.
The device comes with a companion app with scientifically validated lessons and more.
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Something special, if you can find it
Looking for something small and unobtrusive to help with stress? There’s the small-sized, but expensive wearable called the Spire Stone from SpireHealth.
Unfortunately, this product is no longer made (discontinued in late 2019), but you can still find it for sale on Amazon, eBay, and other retailers.
Unlike smartwatches and trackers, you clip the Spire Stone on your pant’s waistband (or on a bra strap), and most people don’t even notice it’s there.
A study conducted at Stanford University showed a significant reduction of stress and anxiety in users using the Spire tracker.
The Spire Stone health wearable tracks your stress and activity levels, sleep monitoring, calm vs. tense periods, and more.
Spire’s technology is backed by seven years of research from Stanford University.
Their comprehensive, clinical-grade sensors continuously monitor respiration, pulse rate, activity, and sleep.
The Spire Stone is a device that helps people understand what triggers their stress.
It does this by measuring your breathing patterns all day and notifying you of any sudden change. And if your breathing is suddenly rapid or erratic, the Spire Stone sends a notification with guidance on how to address that stress.
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The Spire Stone is still available at Amazon or eBay, and similar retailers.
- Abilify MyCite, developed by Otsuka America Pharmaceutical and Proteus Digital Health, treats schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and adjunct depression in adults.
- A tactile bilateral alternating stimulation system, TouchPoints (formerly Buzzies) is a pair of wireless devices worn on wrists or in pockets. It helps manage anxiety in people wearing it. Touchpoints also sell Buzzies for young patients who suffer from anxiety attacks. The basic model costs $160. You can check out the Buzzies from the TouchPoint store..
- Based in Toronto, Ontario, Awake Labs has developed and tested an app on a Samsung smartwatch to allow facility-based caregivers to track adults’ emotional states with intellectual and developmental disabilities and respond.
In summary, the power of wearable to measure heartbeat data has come a long way from its initial days.
Over the last ten years, advances in computing power and wearable sensors have opened up new ways to measure our stress levels and manage them better.
Nope, there still isn’t an app that can auto-order your Starbucks delivery based on your stress levels, but I’m sure, given the transformative changes in this space, this should be available on your favorite smartwatch very soon.
- Continuous Stress Detection using wearable sensors in Real Life, Algorithmic Programming contest study
- Heart Rate Variability: A new way to track the well-being
- Influence of Mental Stress on Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability
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