The best health tech for beating stress

From apps to wearables, we explore the technology promising to unburden the mind and tackle daily stress.

The best tech for beating stress.
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Our stress levels are on the rise. A 2018 survey showed 74 per cent of Brits had experienced stress that left them feeling unable to cope. Half of those people admitted feeling depressed as a result, and 37 per cent felt lonely. Almost half of the stressed Brits said they managed stress by eating unhealthy foods, and almost a third increased their alcohol intake.

Pressures to respond to messages instantly, concerns over body image, housing and debt worries are all contributing to a rise in stress rates, according to the Mental Health Foundation's 2018 study.

We’re all working harder and longer and there’s been an exponential rise in the time we spend glued to our screens, amid the unhealthy #HustleCulture. The big players in the smartphone ecosystem all acknowledge we’re using them too much and are clamouring to build digital health tools. Facebook’s own research has shown increased smartphone and social media can negatively impact our mental health.

Burnout is real. The World Health Organisation says so. So how do we cope? How do we find a better balance?

There are many technology-free stress management tools at our disposal. Better quantity and quality of sleep, regular exercise and regular breaks from our screens can contribute to lower stress levels. We can even make a difference through diet with certain foods shown to reduce stress hormones, as we explain here.

It can be as simple as taking a minute out of your day, with many people experiencing instant relief through simple breathing exercises. Try inhaling for 5 full seconds, holding for a second at the top of your inhale and then slowly exhaling for a full five seconds. Repeat for a minute.

But if these first steps don’t help bring down your adrenaline and cortisone levels, a number of technology based solutions are giving us a much needed hand. The tech that has ironically contributed to an increase in stress, may also be coming to the rescue.



How health tech can combat stress

Increasingly, neuroscience and the ability to read brain signals is making its way into affordable consumer technology devices.

Personalised meditation products can read brain activity in real time and offer visual or audio stimulation to match. Other solutions measure electrical activity in the skin, heart rate, breathing, movement, posture, while some use infrasonic waves to soothe the nerves associated with heightened stress. Heart rate, breathing and movement tracking tech has already found its way into wrist worn devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers, helping us try to find calm moments in our day.

Neuroscience and the ability to read brain signals is making its way into affordable consumer technology devices.

In the future, stress could be managed in virtual environments too. Recent research showed a 24 per cent reduction in pain within ten minutes for patients within areas of palliative care, distraction therapy and pain management. British Airways is currently offering virtual reality headsets to first class passengers flying between Heathrow and New York’s JFK airport, with a series of meditation exercises and sound therapy designed for those with a fear of flying.

As for the ‘right now’ here are our favourite stress busting gadgets.



The best health tech you can buy to combat stress

From health tags to pendants, here are the best technology buys to monitor your stress levels:

Muse 2

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Muse 2

This brainwave-sensing meditation headset gives you real-time feedback on the effectiveness of your mindfulness, encouraging you to practice greater focus during sessions. Multiple sensors track your breathing, heart-rate, blood oxygen, and can even help you correct your posture while meditating.

Worn on your forehead and tucked behind your ears, it’s light and comfortable and easy to set up. You simply choose the type of meditation practice and you’ll get a custom audioscape, which adjusts as your focus is tuned in, or begins to drift. BUY NOW

Sensate

Best health tech for stress 
Sensate

Sensate “provides on-the-spot profound relaxation in just 10 minutes – all the relaxation without the years of training.” That’s a bold claim, but the pebble-like device is earning rave reviews. After finding a quiet moment and pairing with the companion app, place Sensate on your chest while laying down. Once the session commences, the device uses near-infrasonic waves and a calming audio soundscape (delivered through headphones) to soothe the vagus nerve, which can be overstimulated in stressful situations.

It claims to work “without the effort or concentration,” so it’s hardly the purists choice for practitioners who’ve mastered the art, but stress reduction in ten minutes is nothing to be sniffed at. BUY NOW

Pip

Best health tech for stress reduction
Pip

The first step in managing your stress is becoming aware of it. This is where the Pip sensor and the innovative companion app comes in. This fingertip reader measures Electrodermal Activity (EDA) – changes in the skin’s ability to conduct an electric current – to detect variances in our fight-or-flight response. This data is then transmitted to a companion app in real time.

You’ll learn coping techniques to help you relax and will be rewarded for your progress on screen. For example, you may see a landscape grow in front of your eyes, as you become calmer. At the end of the session you’ll be presented with a wealth of data you can compare with your historical performance. BUY NOW

Spire Health Tags

Best health tech for stress
Spire health tags

These minimally-invasive tags are attached to the clothes you wear most often and provide real-time feedback on your stress levels, breathing rate and sleep performance. If the tag detects tension, you’ll receive a mobile notification telling you to take a deep breath or work through a calming breathing exercise within the companion app.

The app also leverages historical data to help you identify more stressful periods and their causes. Backed by seven years of clinical research out of Stanford University, the tags come in packs of eight. So you could affix one to each of your bras or boxer shorts and forget they’re there. BUY NOW

Bellabeat Leaf urban

Best health tech for stress reduction
Bella Leaf Urban

This multifaceted women's health-tracker is designed to be worn as a pendant, wristband or clip, and claims to predict stress before it hits. It identifies your susceptibility by taking into account sleep, monthly cycle, pregnancy, meditation habits and overall activity and encourages you to be proactive to negate the onset of stress before it hits.

The companion app can also guide you through a mediation session, while helping you keep tabs on your activity, sleep and reproductive health. The Leaf Urban itself It has a 6-month battery life and is water resistant, so you can wear it in the shower. BUY NOW

Saent

Best health tech for stress reduction
Saent

We’re expected to be productive while using a device that also offers access to all of our favourite distractions. That’s a cruel joke, but Saent claims to have the answer. When you really need to get something done, one tap of this desktop companion will begin a focus session that blocks access to all of the sites that kill your productivity, or encourage you to multitask. Once the focus session is over, you’re told to take a break, take a walk, or grab a refreshing beverage. This is more of a productivity tool than a stress reliever, but we’ve found the two often go hand-in-hand. BUY NOW




Smartwatches and stress reduction

A number of popular fitness-focused smartwatch devices are adding mental health features to the core experience, often focused around breathing exercises. The science shows regular diaphragmatic breathing sessions can have a long-term positive effect on stress levels, and the features are relatively easy to implement for the companies in question.

The Apple Watch, for example, has a dedicated app called Breathe. The visual app encourages you to deepen your breathing as the on-display shape expands and contracts. Haptic feedback mimics the feeling of breathing in and out and is designed to help maintain focus. The session data is synced back to the iPhone’s Health app, where you’ll be able to rack-up the ‘Mindfulness Minutes.’

A number of smartwatch devices are adding mental health features to the core experience.

Similarly, Fitbit offers a Relax app to develop personalised deep breathing exercises based upon your heart rate variability (HRV). If you’re following the guide closely, you’ll see sparkles appear on the compatible device’s display. All notifications are disabled during the exercise, so you won’t be distracted from your moment of zen.

On the sports watch side of things, Garmin offers an always-on Stress Level monitor that enables you to identify times of heightened mental duress. Meanwhile, the Polar Ignite watch offers Serene breathing exercises that encourage you to take just six deep breaths per minute (5 second inhale, 5 second exhale), while the Orthostatic test feature helps to measure your recovery and readiness for training, of which stress can be a major factor.



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