The best tech to track your stress levels

Wearable technology can help boost fitness, optimise sleep and dissect our diets. Now it’s also being used to help monitor and ease stress.

Wearable technology is nothing new to Australians.

One in five of us use smart watches and activity tracker wristbands to reap the benefits of an average of 1850 additional steps a day.

But with 15 per cent of Australians now experiencing high levels of stress, a new generation of devices is telling us to do the opposite: relax.

So, can wearable technology help us achieve better mental health outcomes?

How does wearable technology help lower stress?

Psychologist Dr Marny Lishman says while our bodies are constantly giving us signs when we are stressed, for the most part, we don’t listen.

“Wearable stress trackers give us more awareness around what is actually going on so we can see patterns around what we are doing and the effect it is having on us,” Dr Lishman says.

Currently, most stress trackers measure heart rate for beats per minute and heart rate variability, or the amount of time between each heartbeat.

Other technologies being adopted include voice analysis, and electrodermal activity – the technology used by modern lie detectors to measure changes in the electrical activity of skin when you sweat.

How accurate is wearable technology for tracking stress?

The accuracy of wearable fitness trackers to measure steps and heart rates has come under a lot of scrutiny.

Studies show step counts are generally highly accurate, while heart rate and calories burned are reasonably accurate.

Swinburne University of Technology’s Dr Junhua Xiao says while wearables show potential as an effective tool to track and manage stress, more clinical trials are required.

“Stress symptoms are often accompanied by the change of a series of physiological parameters such as heart rate, blood pressure, breath rate and temperature, which could be tracked using portable digital devices,” Dr Xiao says.

“To what extent these devices can precisely measure stress-related symptoms and effectively assist stress management is still largely unclear.”

Wearable technology for stress

Apple Watch Series 7: Measures your blood oxygen levels and has an electrocardiogram (ECG) app, and Breathe app to help you focus during stressful situations.

Fitbit Sense: One of the first models to track stress through electrodermal activity, the Fitbit Sense provides a daily stress score, tracks your blood oxygen and breathing rate, and HRV for signs of stress, fatigue, and even illness.

Garmin Vivosmart: Comes with a blood oxygen sensor, Body Battery, which uses a combination of stress, heart rate variability (HRV), sleep and activity data, and deep-breathing sessions for mindfulness.

Muse: Passively detects changes in your brain using seven EEG sensors along your scalp.

Flowtime: This biosensing meditation headband provides real-time information on heart rate, HRV, relaxation and pressure levels, and brainwaves.

Bellabeat Leaf Chakra/Nature/Urban: This range of jewellery provides insights on breathing, sleep, activity and monthly cycles through the smartphone app.

What to do if you’re stressed

Dr Lishman says stress is a fact of life and can motivate us to stay focused and increase our performance.

“It’s chronic, or lingering stress that can have an impact on us in the long run,” she says.

“So, noticing when we are too stressed and then doing something about the stressor itself is extremely important.

“Depending on the stressor, this can involve managing our cognitions, learning to communicate and set boundaries, socialising as an outlet, physical activity, meditation or even getting help from a psychologist.”

For more tips on how to manage stress tune into House of Wellness TV on Channel 7, Fridays 2pm and Sundays 12 noon.

Written by Dimity Barber.