Stress Monitoring Devices: What They Are, How They Work, and Best Options

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In an age where both our jobs and our home lives have become more demanding, stress has become a more serious problem than ever. In a study conducted in 2017, about 65% of Americans have reported suffering major physical effects due to stress. The most common physical consequence of stress has been neck pain, although a large group of responders has also experienced difficulty in sleeping, stressed-out eyes, and pain in their hands.

With this knowledge, stress monitoring has increasingly become a popular sub-branch of healthcare wearables. How do these stress monitoring devices work, and are they really effective? If you are interested in getting one, then you should check out our list below of the best stress monitoring devices available today.

What are stress monitoring devices, and how do they work?

Stress monitoring devices are typically wearable devices that measure a combination of vital signs. The data collected from these vital signs are then processed through an algorithm to come up with a standardized stress score.

The market for stress monitoring devices is still young, so manufacturers are still in the process of trying to one-up each other. This means that there are several different technologies and methods for how these devices assess a person’s stress level. There’s also the fact there is no official medically prescribed way to measure stress. At a minimum, these devices measure pulse rate and breathing rate, although there are brands that are much more complex.

Are stress monitoring devices really effective?

There have been a lot of studies on whether stress monitoring devices are really effective. Various devices have been tested under different scenarios, the results of which have been released in several scientific journals. However, the medical community still has not endorsed any stress monitoring method or technology. The overall message behind this lack of conclusive results is caveat emptor, or “let the buyer beware.”

Why is this such an ambiguous matter? The major hurdle to stress monitoring is that the vital signs that typically show up in stressful situations, such as an elevated heart rate and faster breathing, can also manifest when a person is excited or happy.

In the context of stress monitoring, changes in vital signs due to non-stressful situations are considered “noise.” Aside from excitation, there are also several other sources of noise – even walking or moving for a long period can be interpreted as a stressful situation. There really hasn’t been any consensus yet on how long a stress indicator must sustain for the situation to be considered stressful. In most cases, the context is just as important as the actual stress indicator readings.

There are also stress monitoring devices that will prompt you to do a stress relief exercise if it senses that your stress level is past some threshold value. This is, of course, a completely voluntary action. The stress relief exercises aren’t anything groundbreaking. In most cases, they are just deep breathing or meditative exercises. These exercises have been proven through the years to effectively relieve stress, so there’s little question that they can help you out in a stressful situation.

The top 5 best stress monitoring devices

The concept of stress is still poorly explored and defined, making monitoring it an even more complicated matter. However, there are several stress monitoring devices that have achieved commercial success and favorable reviews from their customers and some experts.

1. Spire

Spire

In terms of pedigree, the Spire Stone is certainly one of the most impressive stress monitoring gadgets. Designed by a team of scientists from Stanford and winner of the 2014 National Hewitt Design award, the Spire Stone breathing patterns, and body movements to assess your emotional and mental well-being. The sensor itself is a sleek, minimalist device with a metal clip that can attach to your belt or bra.

The Spire Stone pairs to your smartphone via Bluetooth. Through the app, the device will notify you if your breathing pattern indicates one of three conditions: tense, focus, or calm. If the device detects tension, it will give you a notification to do a relaxation exercise and to tackle your situation one breath at a time.

The Spire Stone can also detect the number of steps you take, and the calories burned per day. If you remain inactive for too long, the Spire Stone will send a notification to remind you to keep moving.

The Breathwave app is one of the best features of the Spire Stone. You can see a live visualization of your breathing, which the app represents as a line moving against a beautiful nature background. You can also use the app to check out daily and weekly reports, which displays how much time you spent in the various breathing modes. Through the app, you can also access various meditation exercises and audio tracks.

2. Thync Relax Pro

The Thync Relax Pro both looks and works like it’s technology from the future. The triangular sensor attaches to the back of your beck via sticky pads. At this position, it delivers electric stimulation therapy that is supposed to have stress-busting benefits. The Thync Relax Pro is a bit more discreet compared to the original Thnyc, which attaches to your temples.

The electrical neurostimulation runs on two modes: Deep Relax and Deep Sleep. Deep Relax is meant to relieve stress and anxiety, while Deep Sleep puts you in a more relaxed mood to get ready for bedtime. In either case, the Thnyc Relax Pro stimulates the nerves at the base of your beck and taps into the pathways of the brain that control stress. You can raise and lower the intensity of the electric pulses, although we find that you can get desensitized to it after some frequent use. Based on your current stress level, the Thync Relax Pro can also recommend how often you should be using either of the two relaxation modes.

Ultimately, the question is: does it work? While all evidence are anecdotal, so they might not apply in all cases, the responses have generally been favorable. The Deep Sleep protocol has allowed users to go to sleep faster, and many have reported waking up feeling more relaxed. More people prefer the Deep Relax protocol, though, especially after particularly long and stressful days.

One characteristic of the Thync Relax Pro that is considered a turn-off is the subscription pricing scheme. On top of the cost of the device, you have to pay between $300 to $500 for every year of subscription. This can be a hard sell for anyone, and can only be offset if the Thync Relax Pro can exhibit foolproof effectiveness.

3. Bellabeat Leaf Urban

Bellabeat Leaf Urban

The first thing you’ll notice with the Bellabeat Leaf Urban is its design: it’s smaller and lighter than all the other Bellabeat predecessors, and the leaf-shaped clip just looks great. It’s more commonly worn as a clip on your clothes, but it’s also possible to repurpose it as a bracelet or necklace. In any case, the Leaf Urban is discreet and fashionable to integrate into your everyday wear. It’s also pretty tough and water-resistant to boot.

The Leaf Urban has been billed as an all-around activity tracker. It measures your steps taken, distance walked (or ran), and the time you’ve spent actively moving. Through the companion Bellabeat app, you can also manually input exercises you’ve done to keep track of the calories that you’ve burned.

One thing you need to know before you get the Leaf Urban is that it was designed for women. This design choice manifests hugely in the built-in stress tracking and prediction feature. Instead of collecting data on breathing patterns, the Leaf Urban takes your sleeping habits, how much time you spend exercising, how often you do the app’s breathing exercises, and where you are in your menstrual cycle to predict how much stress you’re going to be experiencing.

While the device doesn’t offer real-time stress monitoring, the stress prediction tool is still useful in anticipating if the next coming days will be extra challenging. It’s also useful in identifying lifestyle changes you can make that can reduce your overall stress levels.

4. Pip

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The Pip has been one of the oldest stress tracking devices in the market. The technology does feel a little aged, but it’s still a handy and reliable tool. It’s not a wearable device. Instead, you press up your thumb against a sensor that detects electrodermal activity. By developing an awareness of your stress levels and the factors that contribute to it, the Pip aims to help you make sustainable lifestyle and behavioral changes that can improve your overall well-being.

The nickel-sized sensor of the Pip works by measuring the flow of current applied to the skin. This is a byproduct of the state of the sympathetic nervous system which responds to stress by elevating heart rate, increasing blood pressure, and perspiration. Perspiration plays a big part in how the Pip works, as it’s the layer of sweat on our skin that affects how resistant it is to an applied current.

Using the measured electrodermal activity, the Pip can detect if you are in a relaxed state, a stressed state, or somewhere in the middle. Should the sensor detect that you are stressed, then you can activate any of several relaxation and breathing exercises on the companion mobile app. These apps use a variety of audio and visual aids to help you relax, with some options even allowing you to play games.

Of course, all your stress stats can be tracked and review through the app. By viewing your stress patterns, you can gain insight into what activities induce stress in your life and what helps you alleviate your stress. The long-term goal is for you to take a more pro-active goal in reducing stress, even without the help of the Pip.

5. Muse

Muse

We know that meditation works in easing stress, but have you ever been curious to see how your brain reacts when you meditate? That’s something you can do with the Muse, a real-time brain activity tracker. The Muse is a headband equipped with seven electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors that measure brain activity real-time.

The Muse was not designed to be used in the middle of a stressful day. Instead, it’s something you put on at the end of the day to help you relax. It works hand in hand with its companion mobile app, which uses the readings of the Muse to guide you through a relaxation exercise. Through breathing exercises and soothing sounds, the real-time feedback from the Muse sensors lets the app know exactly what relaxation method you need.

After your exercise is done, the Muse logs the results of your session and syncs it to your profile. You can review your data, set goals, and monitor the changes in your stress level over time. Backed by years of research, the Muse will ensure that you get a rewarding meditation session every time. It can also be very gratifying to see the results of your meditation presented as numbers and graphs, eliminating any guesswork on how effective meditation is.

Final thoughts

It’s quite refreshing that modern society has started to recognize that there’s more to our health than just physical well-being. Along with an increasing awareness of mental health, we have also taken strides in recognizing stress as a significant health hazard and in coming up with ways to combat it.

Stress monitoring devices are a step in the right direction in this aspect. While the concept of stress has still not agreed on by the medical community, device manufacturers have managed to come up with several impressive methods to measure stress levels.

As with anything, knowing is half the battle. With knowledge of how much stress we’re under, we can take more active roles in managing it. We can identify the factors or triggers that increase our stress and avoid them. Should they be unavoidable, we can always turn to the tried and true methods of meditation and slow, deep breathing exercises. Stress monitoring isn’t rocket science, but it doesn’t have to be.