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How Tech Can Help Track Stress Levels

05/13/2021

First, it was step trackers. Then, it was heart rate monitors. Now, stress monitoring is the latest evolution of wearable technology in the world of health and wellness and you can conveniently track it all on your phone.

Having a bad day? Your fitness tracker can now recognize that. Feeling ecstatic about personal news? Your fitness tracker can identify that, too. We’ll explore what makes this possible and how companies have tapped into new and existing technology to track stress levels. 

The importance of monitoring your stress

Stress tends to have a negative connotation, but that’s not always the case. Yes, stress occurs when you’re under a deadline or you find yourself in a pressure-packed situation. But your body also becomes stressed or strained when exercising or to help alert you of a situation, such as swerving to avoid an animal in the road.

These reactions are part of your body’s fight-or-flight mechanism. In certain situations, various hormones, such as cortisol, send a message to your brain to increase your muscle activity and heart rate to deal with threats or activities. 

Throughout the day, your hormones fluctuate depending on your mood, stress levels and physical activity. This is normal. However, chronic stress from a job or lifestyle puts pressure on your blood vessels and produces excess glucose in your bloodstreams, which can lead to cardiovascular health complications down the road.

To meet the need of monitoring stress levels, many companies have implemented technology into fitness trackers and watches to give you a general idea of your stress levels. By knowing your stress levels and what triggers certain emotions, you can then create a plan to help reduce stressors or learn how to manage them more effectively.

How stress trackers work

During a busy day at work or when you’re chasing the kids or grandchildren around, it may be difficult to be mindful of stressors. Luckily, stress produces several tell-tale signs, notably sweaty palms and a rapid increase in heart rate. Stress trackers then use these physical changes to chart your emotional state.

Most stress trackers are worn on your wrist, but there are other options. Some products act as brain-sensing headbands, while others use the same technology using eyeglasses. There are even rings and jewelry with built-in tracking devices to monitor your heart rate and sleep cycles.

Measuring heart rate variability

In the past, fitness trackers measured only average heartbeats per minute. While it’s true your average beats per minute will skyrocket under stress, heart rate variability (HRV) is a more accurate indicator of stress. HRV is the variation in the length of time between each heartbeat. 

A higher variability means you’re calm and under less stress, while a low variability between beats means you’re experiencing more stress. The same rule applies to heartbeats from a health standpoint. A high HRV means you’re in good shape, while a low HRV means you’re either out of shape, fatigued or dehydrated.

Measuring electrodermal activity

Within the past year or two, some trackers now use electrodermal activity (EDA) to measure stress levels. EDA refers to the changes in electrical activity of the skin when you produce sweat. You may also see EDA referenced as a galvanic skin response (GSR). 

To measure this, trackers can pick up the conductance of your skin. More sweat gland activity leads to a higher electrical conductance. Your hands have many sweat glands, making a wrist tracker ideal to measure EDA.

This technology isn’t new, but the way it’s implemented is. Law enforcement officials used GSR in the 20th century as a component of lie detector machines.

Wearable Technology for Tracking Stress

Fitness trackers with stress monitors

Fitbit, Apple Watch and Garmin used to dominate the fitness tracker marketplace, but now there are several other companies who have entered the space. The following fitness trackers have built-in stress monitoring capabilities. 

Amazon Halo

This no-frills tracker comes without a screen and tracks your wellness, instead of focusing on your fitness. Using voice listening technology, Halo picks up on the pitch, intensity, rhythm and tempo of your voice, then categorizes each with an appropriate label to determine your mood throughout the day. For example, if it senses an increase in your pitch and intensity during an exciting time, it would categorize your state as elated or happy.

Apple Watch 6

The latest edition of the Apple Watch measures your blood oxygen levels and has an ECG app to record an electrocardiogram. The results give insight into the electrical pulses that make up your heart rate. Measuring blood oxygen levels can be useful for people who have anxiety, as shallow breathing can indicate a panic attack. The watch also has the Breathe app installed to help you focus on breathing during stressful situations. 

Bellabeat Leaf Urban Stress Tracker

You may confuse this with a piece of jewelry, which was done by design. It has no screen, but everything transfers to an app where you can view your stress levels, sleep patterns and activities. You can wear it as a bracelet, necklace or clip.

Emvio

This tracker uses HRV to show stress levels on a fixed scale from one to 10. A green reading indicates stress levels from one to three, meaning you’re relaxed and in a state of low stress. Yellow indicates moderate stress levels in the four to seven range. Anything above a seven indicates high stress levels and vibrates with a red color. If you reach the red level, the tracker will offer advice on things to do to lower your stress levels.

Fitbit Sense

Fitbit’s latest technology uses sweat data from a built-in EDA sensor to determine stress levels. It also monitors your sleep and physical activity and combines it with your stress levels to produce a stress score. The higher the number, the more stressed you are.

Garmin Vivoactive and Vivomove

Using Firstbeat technology, Garmin’s watches track HRV to map out your stress levels. Your watch vibrates when you reach high stress levels and sends you a notification to participate in something relaxing, such as a breathing exercise. The watch categorizes your stress levels as calm, balanced or stressed throughout the day.

Muse Brain Sensing Headband

The Muse uses electroencephalogram sensors to measure brain activity and notifies you when stress levels increase. This type of stress tracker is more for people who use mediation as a form of relaxation.

Whoop

This fitness tracker monitors your heart rate to determine how much strain you put on your body, both mentally and physically. Whoop scores your strain on a 21-point scale in four categories: light strain (0-9), moderate strain (10-13), high strain (14-17) and overreaching (18-21). Many athletes use Whoop to track their stress levels during performance. For example, a golfer preparing for a shot can measure how stressed they were leading up to their swing.

 

To find more healthy tips about managing stress, you can read more on from our INTEGRIS Health blog. If you or a loved one is struggling with stress, anxiety, depression or any other disorder, please contact INTEGRIS Mental Health.

 

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