A pre-pandemic survey by CignaTTK Health Care Insurance showed that 89 percent of respondents in India are stressed (compared to the global average of 86 percent) due to work and financial issues. The figure is even higher among millennials (95 percent). The survey also discovered that one in eight people have serious trouble dealing with stress, with millennials suffering more than other groups. It confirms what we already know. Stress is endemic in corporate India and many Indians are now turning to wearable tech to help them cope.
Stress is everywhere
Last year, researchers from the US Army and Booz Allen Hamilton announced that they’re asking soldiers to wear smart rings and watches with the goal of helping them handle stress better. The hope was that this would make the soldiers more efficient in training, combat, and in life; 1,500 soldiers have taken part with wearables that track everything from heart rate, body temperature and other physiological data and measure how soldiers respond to stress and physical activity. More studies are planned and it’s likely that wearable devices could become part of the uniform.
How wearables track stress
Almost all smartwatches and activity bands use heart rate variability (HRV). In simple terms, this is the interval between two heartbeats. This is different from heart rate (or beats per minute, BPM). A higher HRV is a good sign while a lower HRV is usually an indication of fatigue and stress. Sometimes smartwatches can’t tell the difference between excitement and stress. Both distressing and exciting events can trigger this nervous-system response. For instance, if you’re not moving but your heart rate is high, your watch could still register a high stress level. Brands like Garmin and Fitbit also focus on stress tracking with relation to workouts and fitness routines.
A ring for stress measurement
Finnish company Moodmetric offers a ‘group measurement’ option that tracks stress levels and stress management of teams or large organisations. The company developed a ring using EDA sensors to keep tabs on stress levels at the workplace. The ring records stress continuously for approximately 12 hours. The data can then be synced with its smartphone app via Bluetooth. Employees are introduced to the fundamentals of stress management and how to make use of the data they receive from the Moodmetric smart ring.
EDA sensors in stress measurement
The Fitbit Sense became one of the first widely available smartwatches to measure your body’s response to stress with a multi-path sensor. The Sense detects tiny electrical changes called electrodermal activity (EDA). When we are stressed, our blood vessels dilate and induce a subtle but measurable 0.1 to 0.2°C increase in the skin temperature. Fitbit then also rolled out this feature to its Fitbit Charge 5 fitness band.
Best wearables for stress tracking
Fitbit Sense: Aside from its EDA sensors, Fitbit also uses heart rate variability (HRV) to arrive at its stress scores. Fitbit users can see a daily Stress Management Score in the Fitbit app ranging from 1 to 100 - where a higher number means you’re showing fewer physical signs of stress.
Fitbit reserves some features for its Fitbit Premium members (free for six months with the Sense and then Rs 999/year). This includes a detailed breakdown of the three metrics that form the score: responsiveness, exertion balance and sleep patterns.
Finally, Fitbit adds what is calls ‘Reflections’. Users can log in how they’re feeling – from Very Calm to Very Stressed - to gain awareness of their emotional well-being and how it changes. These ‘Reflections’ and Stress Management Scores give a picture of how well they’re handling stress. (Rs 20,300)
Garmin Instinct Solar 2: is geared for rugged, outdoorsy lifestyles and is built to military standard 810 for thermal and shock resistance. Garmin claims the solar variants of the Instinct 2 can run indefinitely in smartwatch and battery saver watch mode. When using the stress level feature, the watch uses heart rate data to determine the interval between each heartbeat. Some watches will prompt you when it detects a high level of stress, offering you the option to reduce it through a breathing exercise. Garmin devices provide a stress level number between 0 and 100. While 0-25 denotes a resting state, 76-100 is an indicator of high stress (Rs 46,990)
Apple Watch Series 7: Apple’s mindfulness App is one of the most misunderstood apps out there. If you’ve wondered why your Apple Watch reminds you to Breathe every now and then, the answers lie in the Mindfulness App. Put simply, the app urges you to set aside a few minutes each day to focus, centre and connect as you breathe. Apple also offers guided mediations as a next step. You can also track your heart rate during mindfulness sessions. (Rs 41,900 onwards)
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4: Samsung’s current flagship is driven by a newer, faster chip and also incorporates a new BioActive Sensor. Aside from tracking BMI data and snoring patterns with insights from the US National Sleep Foundation, it also provides advanced stress tracking (Rs 23,999 onwards)
As someone who keeps evaluating wearables, I will add a caveat that the data is meant to be directional at a high level and just like ECG trackers, not surgical or absolutely precise. It’s a handy indicator and often provides a timely intervention, but don’t stress about it till you get a medical opinion.