Whoop has officially launched its Stress Monitor, and the fitness tracker can now offer real-time feedback on your levels.
Stress detection has been a fixture of wearables with varying degrees of success – with Fitbit notably going all-in, most notably with the cEDA sensor on the Sense 2.
The Whoop implementation is similar to Fitbit's – in that it’s designed to be a real-time monitor – to show when your body is showing signs of stress, so that you can take action.
The remedy offered by Whoop is, like most wearables, guided breathing. But it's chosen a specific type of guided breathing called ‘physiological sigh’.
Kristen Holmes, VP of Performance at Whoop explained to Wareable why the company has chosen this kind of breathwork:
“The reason why we have physiological sigh is because you can't mess it up. You just sigh for 10 to 15 times, and you’ve activated the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, you've calmed your system, and you're gonna feel those effects for many hours after that little breathing session," she said.
“This was research carried out by Dr. Andrew Huberman at Stanford. We wanted to build a taxonomy of breathwork protocols that we know are the most efficacious in helping reduce and create a state of relaxation.”
And she believes that the more complex banks of guided breathing we’ve seen in wearables platforms are noisier than they need to be – and that a single, short three-minute program is all that's needed.
"I think Fitbit...it's just all very noisy to me. What I want Whoop to do is reduce the noise, by pushing to our users the most efficacious modalities that are going to move the metrics that we track.”
Using the Whoop Stress Monitor
We’ve had access to the beta of the Whoop Stress Monitor for a few weeks now – and have got to experience the system in action.
It all happens on the Home tab of the Whoop app, which displays your real-time stress levels, like a broadband speed test for the body. You can also see your levels over the past four hours.
Whoop also offers a Daily Stress Summary push notification, which tells you how much time you spent at elevated stress over your daily average. This is a nice implementation, and if you get an alert that your stress levels are way higher than average, it can be a push to take action.
However, we haven’t established that link quite yet – to drop what we're doing and head to the app for a guided breathing session.
Users may miss real-time alerts, the kind we've seen in Fitbit’s implementation. However, we criticized this for being opaque in messaging and easy to miss. Fitbit also prompts you to tag moments of stress with a manual feedback on mood – which can often be difficult to recall these random triggers hours after the event.
We leveled that criticism regarding the usefulness of reporting stress from hours earlier in the day at Kristen Holmes, but she believes that any stress reduction action is useful whenever it’s done – not just in the heat of the moment.
“Imagine you have $1,000 on your credit card, and every time you get stressed like it takes money off. And every time you kind of do something relaxing, you add money to your kind of bank? It doesn’t matter when you do that, as long as you're doing that,” she explained.
How useful is Whoop’s Stress Monitor?
We usually caveat comments around stress tracking that if you’re someone that’s concerned about stress, this will feel more useful to you. But the testing period has come during a stressful time for us personally – so we were interested if it would prove useful.
But in its current implementation, the Stress Monitor hasn’t yet cut through for us, in the way Whoop sleep and recovery features have.
The physiological sigh programs, which are inauspiciously just named “guided breathing” and live at the bottom of the Stress Monitor page, feel like they need better labeling.
It was only after our chat with Kristen about their effectiveness, that we explored the programs, perhaps jaded by the guided breathing that’s available on every other wearable device.
We found them quite demanding – especially the Increase Alertness program – and they certainly have an effect. But they haven't become part of our routine yet – and maybe we need a bit more handholding, and to be cajoled into using them.
So while there’s plenty to like about Whoop’s approach to stress tracking – including the clarity of its data, its responsiveness, and its once-daily check-in with stress levels, but it doesn’t feel like new ground has been broken yet.
What we love about Whoop is the way it encourages good habits, and coaches you about what has positive and negative effects on your life. It’s early days, and we have high hopes it can make our relationship with stress just as actionable and accountable.
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