Wearable Tech World Feature Article
May 22, 2013

'Bliss' Wearable Device Helps Wearers Control Stress

While wearable technology is just coming into its own, most of the applications we have seen thus far are related to health and fitness. We’ve seen wearable heart monitors, fitness applications that monitor the number of steps you take each day and devices that even track your sleep patterns.

It was inevitable that we would see wearable devices that train us to be less stressed.

Stress is a killer – we know that. Studies have found that a chemical called Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is more prevalent in the blood of highly stressed people (for example, people caring for relatives with dementia) compared to non-stressed control subjects. High IL-6 levels have been associated with increased risk for several diseases, including heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, type-2 diabetes and certain cancers.

So what if we could wear a device that would help us realize when we are stressed and take steps to become calm? (Count to 10, take deep breaths, imagine quiet mountain streams, etc.)

Researchers from UC San Diego are currently testing a system, known as “Bliss,” that includes a wearable heart monitor coupled with an Android wristwatch that produces a soft, gentle buzz when the wearer is relaxed, plus an Android app for a tablet. The system’s software was developed by the Qualcomm Institute’s Ramesh Rao.

"The buzz makes you mindful of when you're feeling relaxed, and you want to experience more of that," said Rao. "You can also find out how other people are feeling by wearing the watch when they have the heart monitor on. This could be very useful for doing things like checking how a person with autism is feeling.”

Rao notes that the heart rate is an excellent way to gauge stress.

"There are things that I can do to disguise my feelings. But the heart reveals everything," he says. While there are other reasons why a person’s heart rate could be elevated – exercise or excitement, for example – when a person’s heart rate is slow and steady, it generally indicates a state of relaxation.

The device falls under the general umbrella of biofeedback, a way of gaining greater awareness of the body’s physiologic functions and understanding ways to induce a slowing of heart rate and a reduction of stress and anxiety.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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