We live in uncertain and stressful times. Imagine if you were automatically reminded via a tap on your wrist to take a timeout and just breathe and stay calm based on elevated levels of stress signals in your body. Wouldn’t that be great!
Apps such as Breathe on the Apple Watch and Calm app go a long way to help manage some of the day to day stress. Research shows that Diaphragmatic 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 more at predetermined regular intervals. The idea here is to prevent stress via regularly using these breathing reminders.
- 1 Can a smartwatch, fitness tracker, or other wearable detect stress?
- 2 How watches and other wearables aid in stress detection today
- 3 Smartwatches, wristbands, and trackers that help you know your stress levels
- 4 Want something that doesn’t go around your wrist? Try a stress detection gadget!
- 5 Dedicated Mental Health-related wearables and platforms
- 6 Wrap up
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The leap to automatic detection of elevated stress levels via a wearable sensor followed by an instant auto-launch of a meditation or breathing app that puts your devices into ‘Do-not-disturb’ for a few minutes to give you that magical ‘ME’ time is not that distant.
And if I’m in charge of the app workflow, it should also auto-order your favorite Starbucks cuppa to be delivered : )
OR – Only order if you complete the 1 minute breathe exercise or calm app session so that it’s structured more as an incentive for reinforcing positive behavior.
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 so was several armbands that found some fans in the early 2010s.
The sensors on these devices, even ten years back did a decent job in spitting out your heart rate but lacked the CPU processing power to enhance the value proposition. They 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 are capable of running 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.
Stress can be primarily detected with monitoring HRV (Heart Rate Variability) and can yield 90% accuracy according to some studies.
Devices today use heart rate data to determine the interval between each heartbeat. The variable length of time in between each heartbeat is regulated by the body’s autonomic nervous system.
The less variability between beats equals higher stress levels, whereas the increase in variability indicates less stress.
This is by far the most popular way of detecting stress today via an on-wrist wearable.
Other methods of detecting stress are by using sensors that can track sweat chemistry to identify Cortisol levels, monitor skin temperature, and monitor other electrodermal activity.
In the next section, we look at some of the popular wearables and their offerings in the area of Stress management.
Smartwatches, wristbands, and trackers that help you know your stress levels
When you examine WHOOP’s Recovery metric, you see that it uses heart rate variability, resting heart rate, and sleep to determine your recovery state after your body underwent a stressful endurance physical training.
Another example of current Stress Measurement is seen in Samsung’s Health app.
The app uses the heart rate sensor data along with Oxygen saturation levels to predict stress levels.
Garmin’s range of products such as the Vivoactive 4, Vivosmart 4, Fenix 6 and some of the Forerunner series support all-day stress tracking features.
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 value of the sophisticated algorithms, it was a no brainer for Garmin to acquire FirstBeat in order to position itself in the expanding consumer health analytics market.
Withings upcoming Scanwatch takes sleep tracking feature from basic measurements to actual detection of sleep apnea.
Although there is no direct relationship of day to day stress and sleep apnea, studies have shown that some folks with PTSD suffer from Sleep Apnea. Almost 70% of patients suffering from PTSD are at high risk of sleep apnea.
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.
The E4 has a built-in GSR sensor that helps track EDA (Electrodermal Activity) and an infrared thermopile that can monitor 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 in better stress detection.
Want something that doesn’t go around your wrist? Try a stress detection gadget!
Another device that measures stress via 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 not only how to recognize stress but to know a life without it.
Voice pattern analysis, pupil diameter changes, and facial expression changes are known to be other indicators that can help with monitoring stress levels.
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 you inputs.
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.
Beyond on-wrist wearables, there are other sophisticated neurotrackers available today that can help with tracking 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 in order to release stress.
Muse is another popular guided meditation gadget that has found a fan following in recent years.
Muse’s 7 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 as well as provide you with very effective meditation training.
They also offer a brain-sensing headband (Muse S). This has built-in sensors that help you with meditation and mindfulness and also track your heart, breathing, and sleep.
You can explore Muse’s various product offerings at Amazon.
Speaking of brain-sensing headbands, that provide neurofeedback and help with meditation and mindfulness, many users also like the sleek Flowtime device.
It’s cheaper than Muse and at less than $200 offers guided meditation, monitors breathing, and heart rate.
The device comes with a companion app that comes with scientifically validated lessons and more.
Looking for something small and unobtrusive?
And then there’s the small-sized but expensive wearable from SpireHealth.
A study conducted at Stanford University showed a significant reduction of stress and anxiety in users who were using the Spire tracker.
The Spire health wearable not only tracks 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. These tags are available at the Apple store or Amazon or you can order it directly from Spire Health.
- Abilify MyCite, developed by Otsuka America Pharmaceutical and Proteus Digital Health, is used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and as an adjunct for depression in adults.
- A tactile bilateral alternating stimulation system, TouchPoints (formerly Buzzies) is a pair of wireless devices worn on wrists or in pockets. Helps manage anxiety in people wearing it. The basic model costs $160. Touchpoints also sells Buzzies for young patients who suffer from anxiety attacks. You can check out the Buzzies package at Amazon.
- Awake Labs, based in Toronto, Ontario, has developed and is testing an app on a Samsung smartwatch to allow facility-based caregivers to track the emotional states of adults 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 in which we can 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 well-being
- Influence of Mental Stress on Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability
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