How the biggest names in wearables are dealing with stress

The features, apps and exercises designed to keep you calm
How wearables are dealing with stress

Wearable technology designed to keep an eye on your stress levels, help you stay calm or teach you how to meditate isn’t new. Companies like Muse with its meditating headband, Spire and its devices that want to calm your breathing and Bellabeat with its wellness trackers were among the first to realise the potential of looking beyond tracking just the physical.

However, big tech brands are also beginning to pay closer attention to mindfulness tracking, adding more of these types of features to their smartwatches and fitness trackers, like Fitbit’s guided breathing sessions or Samsung’s recent collaboration with the meditation app Calm.

Essential reading: Best sleep trackers and monitors to buy

So what are the major players offering those who are more interested in de-stressing than tracking their treadmill runs? We take a look at what Apple, Samsung and the rest are up to right now.

Apple

How the biggest names in wearables are dealing with stress

If you own an Apple Watch, your route to de-stressing lies within the Breathe app. The Watch app requires you to breathe in and out while following patterns on the watch face.

Read this: How to use Apple Watch Breathe app

When you use the Breathe app, your Apple Watch monitors your heart rate variability (HRV) and logs it in the Apple Health app on your iPhone so you can keep track of these sessions over time and see whether the Breathe app is helping you.

The Apple Watch Series 4 didn’t make any big changes to Breathe, but does add it as a watch face. This means you don’t need to find the app to get a few minutes of calm, you can just raise your wrist and follow the visualisation.

Fitbit

How the biggest names in wearables are dealing with stress

For a few years now, Fitbit devices that have an optical heart rate monitor, like the Fitbit Alta HR, Fitbit Versa, Fitbit Charge 3 and new Fitbit Inspire HR, have also had guided breathing sessions built in. These are simple guided breathing visualisations that are personalised to you and your heart rate, showing a circle expanding as you're prompted to breathe in and collapsing as you breathe out. The idea is to sync your breathing up with the circle, which provides haptic feedback when you get it right.

This feels like a small feature, and plenty of people might not even know it exists, but it’s still a great one to try. It often seems a bit ‘so what?’ compared to some of Fitbit’s other features, which means it’d be good to see a more joined-up approach in future and for Fitbit to recommend the feature if you’re feeling stressed. Unfortunately, continuous stress tracking is yet to arrive in the Fitbit ecosystem, but we hope it’s not too far away.

Garmin

How the biggest names in wearables are dealing with stress

Rather than providing stress-busting exercises, Garmin takes a more data-driven approach. The brand’s wearables that have a heart rate monitor are able to analyse your heart rate variability (HRV), thanks to tech from Firstbeat. Measuring your HRV when you’re active helps you to see when you’re in training zones. When you’re inactive, it can be used to determine your stress levels, which is why Garmin recommends you wear your tracker while you sleep.

Garmin serves up your stress level on a range from 0 to 100. 0 to 25 is a resting state, 26 to 50 is described as low stress, 51 to 75 is medium stress and 76 to 100 is high stress. Although there aren’t insights about what you can do with that score, it does help to be able to see at a quick glance how your body is reacting in real time.

You can also use Garmin Connect to chart all-day stress levels, as well as long-term trends, which doesn’t feel particularly intuitive (it’d be good to be served up this information and be told what actions to take) but it is a valuable option for those looking to get a better grasp of their stress levels, who are willing to put in the effort to look for patterns and stressors.

Google

How the biggest names in wearables are dealing with stress

Google has been making big improvements to its Google Fit health and fitness platform, including the ability to access new guided breathing features that are very similar to what Apple, Samsung and Fitbit offer from the wrist.

Available on all smartwatches running on Google's operating system, it can be found inside the Google Fit app. Breathing exercises take two minutes and you'll need remain still to complete the exercises.

The screen will prompt you when to inhale and exhale with an animated ring, helping to slow down your breathing to a more relaxed pace. When you're done, you'll get a summary of your breathing time and how many deep breaths you managed during that time. While Google isn't necessarily bringing anything groundbreaking in this space just yet, it's at least made a start and caught up with its competitors.

Samsung

How the biggest names in wearables are dealing with stress

Samsung started to explore mindfulness tracking when it introduced guided breathing features to the Galaxy Watch. For its latest smartwatch the Galaxy Watch Active, it teamed up with up with mindfulness and meditation app Calm to take things further. The integration lets you pause and play Calm’s meditation sessions, which can be launched from the Mindfulness section inside the Samsung Health app.

What’s even more useful is that, after meditating, you can see a breakdown of your stress levels on the watch. To start a session, head to the Samsung Health app and go to the Discover tab. Once you've started a session, a notification will appear on your watch telling you that your stress will be monitored during the session.

Samsung Health has had some Calm integrations in the past, but this latest collaboration could help to remove the friction to meditate – rather than having to get out your phone, it’s now on your wrist. It’s a small difference but could be key for people hoping to turn meditation into a daily habit.

Withings

How the biggest names in wearables are dealing with stress

Currently, there aren’t any stress-tracking or breathing features built in to Withings wearables. Its hybrids like the Steel Sport HR are very much fitness-focused devices.

If you are looking for a mindfulness fix, the Health Mate app does provide users with access to meditation sessions, courtesy of Petit BamBou, the leading meditation app in France.

The best of the rest

How the biggest names in wearables are dealing with stress

Of course it’s not just the big brands that have been investing in stress tracking, nor the accompanying breathing exercises and interventions to reduce stress.

The Muse (pictured above) first launched in 2015 and offered wannabe meditators a way to calm their minds, focus and learn to meditate by reading brain waves and movements. The Muse 2, launched in 2018, offered an upgrade on the original headband, adding in heart rate monitoring and breath-tracking too, enabling you to monitor and respond to how your body feels in real time.

How the biggest names in wearables are dealing with stress

Also launched in 2015, the Spire Stone is one of our favourite stress tracking products because it’s all about calming your breathing. The Stone can identify stressed and calm breathing patterns, then offers guided breathing exercises to get you back to neutral. Since then, Spire has also brought us the Spire Health Tag, which offers similar insights to the Stone, but can be ‘tagged’ to your clothes.

There are a number of other devices that don’t necessarily track stress but attempt to put all the data they collect about you to good use, giving you a better idea of your general wellbeing. We like the Bellabeat range of devices, which offer up stress tracking features that are based on assessing where you are in your menstrual cycle, how much sleep you got and how active you’ve been.

The Oura Ring is focused on sleep tracking and what it calls readiness, which is essentially how well-rested and active you’re going to be at any given time. Although the focus here isn’t on stress, in my experience with the Oura I tend to view a higher readiness score as a calmer mind, which makes sense given that sleep plays such an important role in our general wellbeing.

Which is the best option for stress tracking?

If stress is a big problem for you, it could be worth investing in a device that puts tracking your stress, and helping you to keep calm, front and centre, such as the Spire Stone or the Muse 2.

For everyone else, your best bet is to pick a fitness tracker that offers the kind of stress and calming features that best suit you. For example, the Fitbit smartwatches and Apple Watch are great for breathing exercises, whereas Garmin’s heart rate tracking makes its stress monitoring features top of the game.

We expect these stress-tracking and mindfulness features to be even better once tech companies start doing more useful things with the data, such as recommending tailored breathing exercises when you seem stressed, or turning on a continuous stress tracking feature if you haven’t had enough sleep and might be prone to feeling agitated throughout the day.

And that’s the main reason we’re excited about brands like Samsung, Apple and Fitbit adding meditation, breathing sessions and stress tracking to their offerings. Not only does it mean these features will be at your fingertips when you need them, but you’ll also be able to use the other types of data your fitness tracker collects to better identify what might be causing stress. That way you’ll be able to build a bigger picture about the environments, times of day and other factors that could impact on how stressed you feel – helping you to fix the problem from the source.


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