New Wearables Track Emotions

By Temma Ehrenfeld  @temmaehrenfeld
November 28, 2016

Find out exactly how office meetings register on body stress measures. 

Self-awareness. We’ve heard for centuries that it is the basis of self-discipline, essential for changing your reactions or behavior. Maybe you tend to binge when you’re anxious but don’t realize what’s happening until after the fifth cookie. Maybe you get angry at office meetings and your colleagues pick it up in your tone. Would it help if you could read a data stream recording your physical responses? 

A small group of companies are betting yes, promising wearable devices and apparel that give you data from your body as you go through life, alerting you to responses you might otherwise miss. Every breath you take, every move you make — they’ll be watching you. 


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A wristband, for example, could record that your skin has gotten warmer — often a sign of unpleasant emotions, according to the manufacturer of Feel, a band with four sensors. 

The new products build on the success of fitness wearables, and like those devices, can be used to help you meet your goals. While you’re working out, for example, you might wear a tank with a built-in sensor for sweat. A design appears once you’re sweating and becomes more visible as you sweat more, giving you an immediate reward and encouragement to push yourself. 

But the new wearables aren’t just for physical fitness or the gym. To increase your awareness of your emotions, you’ll need to wear them in a variety of situations and perhaps continuously. You’ll also need to examine the results regularly or pay attention to alerts. 

Spire, which you can clip to your belt or bra, focuses on breathing, building on research from Stanford University’s Calming Technology Lab. A live feed on an phone app called Breathwave displays breathing patterns, alerting you when your breathing speeds up (you’ll need to keep the app open on your phone). The device notes patterns that are consistent with a developing asthma attack, sleep apnea, and other situations. You can set daily goals for “Calm,” “Focus,” or “Activity,” with the app, which will send you alerts when you’re not meeting your goals, inviting you to practice breathing differently. You’ll see green bands on your phone calendar for periods of calm, red bands for tension, and blue for focus. Like most fitness wearables, Spire also counts your steps and estimates how many calories you’ve burned. 

Alongside the sensor for skin temperature, Feel has three other sensors that together measure your pulse, sweating, and movement and send the data to your phone via Bluetooth, where you’ll see graphs. When you’re really stressed the bracelet vibrates. Your phone will show a message inviting you to do a short breathing exercise. This bracelet even includes a GPS monitor — now you can track just how stressed out you get when you pass your ex-husband’s favorite restaurant

ZENTA, a bracelet due out in spring 2017 from London-based Vinaya, tracks physical activity, sleep quality, breathing patterns, stress levels, emotion states, and overall mood. 

How you handle all this information is up to you. The hope is that you’ll get to know yourself better. Let’s say that you note spikes in stress after particular office meetings. You might decide to do more preparation for the next meeting. Or you might jigger your schedule so that you can hit the gym afterward. Your wearable could tell you which strategy is most effective. 

You might also opt to have lunch with a colleague before or after the meeting. Don’t dismiss socializing as a waste of company time. When employees at Bank of America customer service centers began wearing a device recording stress signals created by a company called Humanyze, the data revealed that the staff felt less stressed during conversations with each other. As an experiment, the company gave one group a joint lunch break, while the rest continued with a staggered schedule that allowed for less interaction. Among the people with a joint lunch break, turnover dropped by 28 percent and employees completed their customer calls more quickly — a win for everyone. Your wearable could tell you whether a sociable lunch relaxes you more than online shopping (we’re betting yes). 

According to tech insiders, future wearables may be able to read how efficiently you are burning fat (through acetone in your breath), whether you’re in danger of glaucoma (through pressure sensors in a contac lens), and more information about your health status from your sweat. 

The genius behind all these devices may not be in their precision — but the fact that they track at all. As dieters know, tracking your food intake tends to make you eat less. Tracking your stress levels is likely to make you more mindful of stress.  


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November 28, 2016

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN