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 Breathe on the Apple Watch and Calm app help manage some of the 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.

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Wearables can help you take a moment to de-stress

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.Apple Watch Breathe

These apps give guidance and encouragement to help you relax by focusing on breathing through a series of deep and long breaths in and out.

Once activated, your devices are automatically placed into a temporary ‘Do-not-disturb’ mode for a few minutes to give you that magical ‘ME’ time. mindful breathing with Calm app

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, along with 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, stress can be primarily detected by monitoring HRV (Heart Rate Variability) and can yield 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 that can track sweat chemistry to identify cortisol levels, monitor skin temperature, and monitor other electrodermal activity.

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In the next section, we look at some of the popular wearables and their offerings in 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 (HRV), Resting Heart Rate (RHR), sleep, and respiratory rate to determine your recovery state after your body underwent stressful endurance physical training.

WHOOP then calibrates these metrics to your baseline, so your recovery is personalized each day.

recovery metric for WHOOP

Samsung Health app stress detection feature

Another example of current Stress Measurement is seen in Samsung’s Health app.

Samsung Gear Stress monitoringThe app uses the heart rate sensor data and oxygen saturation (SpO2) levels to predict stress levels. 

Garmin measures stress on its smartwatches and trackers

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 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 enters the market with its Scanwatch

Withings, the upcoming 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. 

New stress sensing technology that’s coming soon to wearables

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.Stress detection with E4 wearable

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.

Related reading:

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. 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. 

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.

And there are even devices that track brain activity and identify stress

Beyond on-wrist wearables, other sophisticated neurotrackers available today that can 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 as well as 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 SLEEP & MEDITATION ASSISTANT: Improve your sleep routine and meditation practice 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 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.

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...

Looking for something small and unobtrusive to help with stress?

And then there’s the small-sized, but expensive wearable called the Spire Stone from SpireHealth.

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 available at the Apple store or Amazon, or you can order it directly from Spire Health.

Dedicated Mental Health-related wearables and platforms

  • Abilify MyCite, developed by Otsuka America Pharmaceutical and Proteus Digital Health, is used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and 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. 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.
  • Awake Labs, based in Toronto, Ontario, has developed and tested 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.

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.


Last update on 2021-04-14 / 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.


  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!


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