Evaluating the Usefulness of Stress Trackers

Stress level monitor via shutterstock

There are new products introduced to the marketplace that aim to assist with healthy living. One of the latest claims to help by measuring stress.

Stress trackers are devices engineered to monitor the body's physiological responses. Most devices are linked to your phone via bluetooth, from which you receive notifications alerting to (1) a current stressor, (2) trends in your stress level over the course of the day, and (3) suggestions of coping mechanisms, like breathing exercises.

Critics have questioned not only the science behind these devices, but also the need for them. Some argue that most people are aware of when they sense stress. Perhaps instead their ability to cope is what's lacking. These devices measure a host of physiological responses, including breathing patterns, temperature, heart rate and changes in skin perspiration. While it's an accurate premise that the body responds to stress by alterations in these parameters, however it may not be true to believe that stress is the only reason.

The body's autonomic nervous system (ANS) is responsible for regulating the function of internal organs and some muscles within the body. The ANS functions involuntarily and reflexively, for example in the famous "fight or flight" response. When the sympathetic nervous system, a component of the ANS, is called into action, there is a resultant change in the size of blood vessels, increase in heart rate, greater force of contraction with each heartbeat, increased oxygen delivery and release of hormones.

These responses take place during times of stress. But they also occur when exercising or in anticipation of an exciting event. Essentially, the bodily responses that the stress trackers monitor are not exclusive to stress.

For some, however, stress-monitoring technology can be the difference between life and death. Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy can occur during or immediately after a seizure, and while the exact cause remains unknown, theories have highlighted that the breathing difficulty and abnormal heart rate that can occur during a seizure, may be related to the cause. For those, this technology could help.