Is Stress Relief the Next Big Thing in Wearables?

The first generation of wearables counted steps. The next one could calm your mind.

By on July 14, 2015

We're now past the first generation of wearable tech, most of which was designed to play a role in basic health monitoring. From measuring steps, miles, and calories, to heart rate and sleep tracking, generation one of wearable tech was all about health and physical fitness. A new trend in wearables is looking to build on those features while putting the focus on one of the most important health measures in our lives: stress. These wearables aim to alert the wearer when their stress levels reach unhealthy levels, and even go beyond mere tracking to help bring the tension down. That ambitious goal will require a lot more intelligence than a simple pulse rate monitor or step counter, however.

"Whether it’s the next big thing or not, it's coming," says Rob Enderle, principal analyst with The Enderle Group and gadget expert. "We're using these things to monitor our stress and moods and blood sugar if we can get them to work. So it's not a stretch that they will monitor our mental state. That's where we're going with these things."

To do that, these wearables will need a little help from their friends. First up: a back-end to process the information. Right now, many wearables just collect data, like pulse and blood pressure, but Enderle believes that the next generation will look at the figures and provide suggestions. "You don't just want the stats, you want to know the context of your health and what to do about it," he says. "Eventually it will be advice as to what you can do to improve your health and stats."

The second piece is the software. There are already plenty of apps on iOS and Android that offer guided relaxation or meditation techniques. It's not unthinkable to imagine tying them to stress monitoring devices. "You need both: something to wear and apps to make it useful. If it doesn't have the apps, what do you do?" asks Enderle.

The number of wearable devices for stress is growing rapidly. Here are a few of the most promising products in the category:

The Muse headband: Muse is a wireless headband that uses EEG techniques to monitor your thoughts and alert you when you lose focus. The Muse headband promises to provide a mindful meditation and warn you when you stray outside the lines.

WellBe: WellBe is a wearable device for your wrist that monitors your heart rate via a patent-pending algorithm. It claims to determine your average levels of stress and calmness based on time, location and the people you come into contact with.

Zensorium Being: Another wrist device, it does the usual monitoring, like steps taken, heart rate and REM sleep tracking, but also lets you track your mood when combined with an accompanying iOS or Android app. It eventually looks for patterns, such as being stressed, excited or calm at particular points of the day.

Spire: Most anti-stress devices focus on pulse. Spire focuses on your breathing, because when you get tense, you stop breathing, or you breathe rapidly. The software for iPhone warns you when one of these scenarios is happening, and guides you through deep breathing exercises to calm you down.

Thync: Potentially the most amazing of these new wearables, you strap this device designed by a Harvard neuroscientist to your forehead and choose “Calm” or “Energy” from the iPhone app. Then you slowly turn up the power, and the device claims to help you reach the mental state of your choice. Thync is still in the development stage, but seemed to wow the audience at the January Consumer Electronics Show.

These wearables and more signal that the next wearable revolution could be able helping to make us calmer, happier, less anxious and more focused. And if they actually work, they could make a huge difference in our lives.

Tags: stress reduction, managing stress, wearable tech, mHealth