Can a smartwatch or wearable device help you manage the stress in your life and reach the path of the zen?
We live in a stressful world. Nobody will disagree. We all know this feeling of sweaty hands before talking in front of an audience or meeting a new important customer. However, stress is not always bad and is mostly a physiological reaction when confronted with the unknown.
Chronic stress is different. According to the American Heart American, Chronic stress can lead to severe health problems such as heart attacks and even decrease the lifespan by up to five years.
Today, fitness trackers, smartwatches, and other types of wearable devices are opening the doors to tracking emotions.
One in five Americans wears some form of a wearable device. Are smartwatches with stress tracker the new magic tool to analyze and manage our lives more effectively and limit chronic stress’s health consequences? Let’s check!
What is stress and how do wearable devices measure it?
To understand how to measure stress, it is important to understand how our body reacts to it and the physiological parameters that allow electronic devices to quantify it.
Hormones mostly mediate stress. So when faced with the unknown, a massive flow of Adrenaline will rush into our veins.
Adrenaline and cortisol are the main hormones of stress and will prepare our bodies for a fight. The heart rate and blood pressure will increase while our pupils will dilate. Our muscles will receive an inflow of blood, and even our metabolism will maximize glucose levels.
Fitness trackers are really good at measuring heart rate. Up to recently, stress monitoring was limited to measuring the heart rate’s sudden elevation. Focusing only on the heart rate variations is not sufficient to reliably define the level of stress.
Recently other stress indicators were developed to refine the measurements. Most smartwatches makers introduced the Heart Rate Variability (HRV) as an indicator of stress. Fitbit Sense went one step further and added a dedicated sensor devoted to quantifying stress: the Electro Dermal Activity (EDA) sensor.
When stressed, the vessels will dilate and induce a subtle but measurable 0.1 to 0.2°C increase in the skin temperature. Somehow, few smartwatches offer the possibility to detect such a small temperature shift reliably.
What are the differences between Heart Rate Variability and Electro Dermal Activity?
Wearables rely on different technologies to assess the level of stress. By combining data from different physiological indicators, smartwatches have the ability to recognize what mental state you are in.
The heart Rate Variability as a behavioral indicator
Measuring stress in real-time is the grail for any health and smartwatch maker.
The Heart Rate variability relates to the time between two heartbeats. The interesting point about the HRV is that we do not control it as the Autonomic Nervous System controls it. A low HRV is an early sign of depression and can even be used to predict heart diseases. Hence, HRV can be used to detect the level of stress.
Numerous relaxations and breathing apps focus on increasing HRV. The bottom line is that HRV is not purely related to stress, but it is a good metric to assess the mental and behavioral states.
Electrodermal Activity as a physiological indicator
Electrodermal Activity (EDA), also known as Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), is easy to understand. In a nutshell, it will detect sweaty hands. As for the HRV, the Autonomic Nervous System controls sweat production and can not be tricked voluntarily.
The more sweaty the hands and the more conductive the skin will be. Fitbit is the first company to integrate such sensors in their flagship smartwatch, the Fitbit Sense.
EDA has been used for years in clinical settings for measuring the level of stress. The ProComp Infiniti, Biopac MP150, Shimmer 3 GSR+, and Empatica E4 are examples of sensors used by medical professionals and researchers to study stress.
Best smartwatches to detecting stress
Most of the premium smartwatches now offer ways to detect and cope with stress. Choosing the right one depends mostly on the budget and the other functions offered.
The Fitbit Sense is undoubtedly the smartwatch that offers the most data when dealing with stress. Fitbit’s flagship can record the heart rate, electrocardiogram (ECG), HRV, and temperature, but the company is the first to have included a dedicated EDA sensor.
Recording your level of stress is easy. Just launch the stress scan in the app. and place your hand over the watch for two minutes.
One of our regrets is that it is impossible to continuously record the stress level due to the need to close the circuit by holding the watch. The same goes for the temperature, which is only recorded during the sleep tracking mode.
To make the most of Fitbit Sense’s health and wellness superpowers, you will somehow have to subscribe to Fitbit’s Premium subscription. The Premium Membership will cost you $9.99/mo and $79.99 for the annual membership, saving over thirty percent. Fitbit Premium will not only put a fitness coach in your pocket but also provide advanced insights and content to help you relax, sleep well, and tips to manage stress. Fitbit currently offers a 90-day free trial.
By combining data from different sources, Fitbit Sense algorithms reliably detect stress.
Even without the presence of the new EDA sensor and for a lower price, the Fitbit Versa 3 is also a solid stress detection device and one to consider for day stress tracking.
Apple Watch Series 6
Apple introduced the Breathe App with watchOS 3. The goal was to help relax and follow the haptic cues to concentrate on breathing and relax. The App. can send reminders to the user every five hours to suggest a break and relax while concentrating on breathing.
The Apple Watch mainly relies on the analysis of the HRV to quantify the level of stress. In 2018, a team of Spanish scientists confirmed the Apple Watch’s ability to measure the HRV reliably and extract relevant information about the wearer’s mental state.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 introduced Samsung’s stress meter. Like the Apple Watch, the level of stress relies on heart rate sensors to calculate the Heart Rate Variability.
In less than 30 seconds, the Stress Tracker within Samsung Health app will assess the level of anxiety. Interestingly, contrary to the Fitbit Sense and its EDA sensor, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 measures stress continuously.
Following the test, the app will suggest guided breathing exercises to help you find peace of mind again and help you feel good.
Garmin Vivosmart 4
For less than $100, the Garmin Vicosmart 4 will also offer a continuous analysis of the stress levels based on the recordings of the Heart Rate Variability based on Firstbeat Technology.
The ‘Relax Reminder’ features can be activated in the Garmin Connect app and send a gentle reminder to practice a couple of deep breaths and relax when the watch detects excessive anxiety. For a smartwatch priced under $100, the Garmin Vivosmart is a great way to benefit from a modern, slick, and stress-compatible wearable.
Other wearables to manage stress
Some companies now offer solutions dedicated to improving breathing, to meditate and reduce the levels of stress.
Muse or the meditation headband
The Muse meditation headband was first introduced in 2014. The company introduced Muse 2 in 2018 and Muse S in January 2020. Contrary to smartwatches which can be worn at all times, these meditations headbands are in a different league when dealing with stress and brain fatigue.
The headbands are full of sensors to directly record the tiny electrical signals produced by the brain’s activities. Thus, it offers a true user-friendly 7 leads Electroencephalogram (EEG).
The associated app. offers more than 300 meditation sessions and allows to select the length of the meditation session. In addition, depending on the mental state (active, neutral, or calm), the app will select specific music or sounds to relax and act as a stress reliever.
By recording your brain activity and adapting the environment to enhance the meditation, the Muse offers a fully immersive experience to reduce stress and practice relaxation techniques.
The only drawback is that the Muse headbands do not come cheap: $249.99 for the oldest Muse 2 and $349.99 for the Muse S that also offers a Go to Sleep mode, which helps fall asleep. However, considering the technology behind it and the many benefits offered by Muse, these mediation wearables’ price is somehow reasonable.
Moodmetric or the stress measurement ring
The Finnish company Moodmetric is dedicated to measuring stress levels in professional environments. To this end, they developed a ring using EDA sensors. The ring records stress continuously for approximately 12 hours. The data are then be synchronized via Bluetooth with the smartphone app.
We regret that the ring is not waterproof and should be removed each time you wash your hands. However, for more than $200 per ring, we hope that the new version of this stress-dedicated ring will survive a shower or a hand wash.
Interestingly, the company also offers Group Measurement services. Companies will have access to a support group session where experts from Moodmetric will help interpret the data collected on their staff during a 2 weeks period. This is a great way for companies to understand better their team members’ behavioral health and how stress can impact an organization’s performance.
The idea of using the ring in the whole organization is excellent. It can certainly provide new ways for organizations to ensure peace of mind to their staff and ultimately improve the bottom line.
To wrap up
Nobody will object when we say that our life is stressful. That is why Smartwatches’ makers integrate more and more sensors and algorithms to enhance our mental well-being and encourage practice relaxation. With its new EDA sensor, Fitbit is leading the way. No doubt that the competitors will follow their path and that the coming months and years will see the emergence of applications devoted to reducing anxiety.
More than two thousand years ago, the Romans regarded the mind and the body as a whole. For them, Wellness and a healthy lifestyle start with a “healthy mind in a healthy body.” Likewise, smartwatches now offer numerous ways to measure and measure our current state of mind.
No doubt that the development of new sensors dedicated to measuring stress will continue.