Stressed out? Try one of these wearables for stress detection and management

Stress Monitoring wearables

We live in uncertain and stressful times. Imagine if you were automatically reminded via a tap on your wrist to take a timeout and breathe and stay calm based on elevated levels of 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 on 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 as well as some that you don’t!

Related reading

In a hurry? in a hurry graphic

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.

  1. Whoop Strap. This wearable focuses on your recovery, so you hit each day ready to take on the world.
  2. Samsung Galaxy Watch or Galaxy Fit. Use these wearables and connect to Samsung’s Health app for easy-to-understand stress tracking.
  3. Garmin smartwatches and trackers with heart rate monitoring. Garmin uses FirstBeat analytics to measure your heart rate variability throughout the day to track stress.
  4. 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.
  5. Empatica 4. This band doesn’t have a screen, but it packs a punch when it comes to stress detection with its EDA and PPG sensors, measuring both 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 been in existence for some time now on a wearable.

Smart health watch was one of those devices and several armbands that found some fans in the early 2010s. smartscan watch from 2010 with heartbeat

The sensors on these devices, even ten years back, did a decent job in 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. 

Your 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 in between each heartbeat.

  • A decrease in variability between beats equals higher stress levels.
  • An increase in variability indicates less stress. Stress Detection using wearables

This is by far 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.

Related reading:

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 high WHOOP recovery score

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 each day.

Samsung Galaxy Watch and Samsung’s Health app Samsung Health app Stress indicator

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. Samsung Health app stress trends

And if you’re stressed out, practice some breathing exercises right in the app with a tap on the Breathing Exercises button. Breathing exercises in Samsung Health app

Garmin measures stress on its smartwatches and trackers

Garmin’s range of products such as the Vivoactive 4, Vivosmart 4, Fenix 6, and some Forerunner series support all-day stress tracking features.Garmin Watches with Stress Monitoring feature

Garmin’s products take advantage of the sophisticated algorithms offered by FirstBeat, that measure HRV throughout the day and classify stress levels into low, medium, or high stress.

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 sleep apnea and stress watch

Withings Scanwatch

Withings Scanwatch takes sleep tracking features from basic measurements to actual detection of sleep apnea.

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

Other sensors that aid stress monitoring includes sweat sensors that monitor cortisol levels and other chemical changes in sweat or skin surface changes (Electrodermal activity).

There are already wearables that can monitor changes in sweat chemistry.

A good example of an available wearable that does this today is the Empatica E4 and the upcoming next-generation EmbracePlus.

The Empatica and EmbracePlus feature new stress sensing technology coming soon to all types and brands of wearables!

Stress detection with E4 wearable

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.

Related reading:

Want something that doesn’t go around your wrist? Try a stress detection gadget!

The PIP

Another device that measures stress via examining skin conditions is the PIP. Stress Monitoring with 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 not only how to recognize stress but to 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 it 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 found a fan following in recent years. Muse Stress management wearable

Its finely calibrated sensors – 2 on the forehead, 2 behind the ears, plus 3 reference sensors – detect and measure the activity of your brain (EEG) and help you relax, and provide you with very effective meditation training.

MUSE 2: The Brain Sensing Headband - Meditation Tracker Multi Sensor Headset Device - Responsive Sound Feedback for Brain Wave, Heart, Body & Breath Activity
  • MUSE IS YOUR PERSONAL MEDITATION ASSISTANT: Stop guessing if you’re doing it right. Muse 2 makes...
  • FIND CALM & STAY FOCUSED: Research has shown that meditation with Muse helps relieve stress, improve...

Muse also offers a brain-sensing headband (Muse S). This has built-in sensors that help you with meditation and mindfulness and track your heart, breathing, and sleep.

Folks who have insomnia and other sleep problems say that Muse S helps them get to sleep and experience a better night’s sleep.

MUSE S: The Brain Sensing Headband - Overnight Sleep Tracker & Meditation Headset Device - Multi Sensor Monitor with Responsive Sound Feedback Guidance from Brain Wave, Heart, Body & Breath Activity
  • YOUR PERSONAL MEDITATION & SLEEP ASSISTANT: Improve your meditation practice and sleep hygiene with...
  • MINDFUL MORNINGS & RESTFUL NIGHTS: Imagine starting your day with unwavering focus and ending with...

Other brain-sensing headband options

Speaking of brain-sensing headbands that provide neurofeedback and meditation, and mindfulness, many users also like the sleek Flowtime device.

Flowtime headband stress reduction

It’s cheaper than Muse and offers guided meditation at less than $200, monitors breathing and heart rate.

The device comes with a companion app that comes with scientifically validated lessons and more.

Sale
Flowtime: Biosensing Meditation Headband - Meditation Tracker - Heart Rate and Brainwave Sensors to Measure Breath, HRV, Pressure, Focus and Calm States
  • VISUALIZE YOUR MEDITATION PERFORMANCE. Supported by the biosensing technology, see how your brain...
  • SCIENTIFICALLY VALIDATED LESSONS of various topics in the app help you gain the basic techniques and...

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.

Stress tracker from Spire health

The Spire Stone health wearable tracks not only your stress level but also your activity levels, sleep monitoring, calm vs. tensed periods, and more.

Spire’s technology is backed by 7 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 really 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.

Spire Stone: Stress Management and Activity Tracker for iOS & Android
  • Stress Control: Spire's patented respiration sensor measures your breathing patterns all-day to help...
  • When You Need It: If your breathing becomes tense or erratic, a gentle notification gives you...

The Spire Stone is still available at Amazon or eBay, and similar retailers.  

Dedicated Mental Health-related wearables and platforms

  • 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. The basic model costs $160. Touchpoints also sell Buzzies for young patients who suffer from anxiety attacks. You can check out the Buzzies package at Amazon.
  • 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.

Wrap up

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.

References:

Last update on 2021-10-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

I am a technologist with years of experience with Apple and wearOS products and have a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. In my day job, I advise fortune 500 companies with their digital transformation strategies and also consult with numerous digital health startups in an advisory capacity. I'm VERY interested in exploring the digital health&fitness-tech evolution and keep a close eye on patents, FDA approvals, strategic partnerships and developments happening in the wearables and digital health sector. When I'm not writing or presenting, I run with my Apple Watch or Fossil Gen 5 LTE and keep a close eye on my HRV and other recovery metrics.

4 COMMENTS

  1. There is a great app for iOS “Stress Radar” that helps to understand yourself and manage your stress. It uses heart data from Apple Health and calculates your stress level based on the metrics like HRV SDNN, PNN25, PNN50, SDRR, etc. All these calculations are done by ML Model that you can train and make it personal. “Stress Radar” requires Apple Watch to work with. I like this app – it gives great insight and helps to understand yourself better. Download and try!

    • Hi PD,

      You are correct. However, there is an available inventory and you can still purchase the Spire Stone at Amazon and other retailers. Since the Spire Stone was clinically tested at Stanford and showed excellent results, we still include it as an option.

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