Wearable devices, including the Apple Watch, are now tracking one of the key indicators of stress: Heart rate variability, or more simply put, the variation between heartbeats.
It’s not an exact science, but generally speaking, people who have a higher heart rate variability tend to be more resilient to stress, are often in a state of calm and may also be in good health. Those with a low HRV are often in fight-or-flight mode.
Most people will experience a wide variety of HRV figures throughout the day, depending on how stressed they are.
Personally, I’ve long questioned whether scientifically tracking stress is possible. For many of us, the “Big Brother” effect of having a device nudge us during moments of tension is stressful in and of itself. Plus, there are different types of stress, some good for us and some bad, which might not be evident in a continuous stream of data on an app.
So I decided to put one of these new stress trackers to the test.
I wore a new smart patch about the size of my fist from a company called Lief Therapeutics during times of both high and low stress. The device is designed to be worn right over the heart, and is accompanied by an iPhone app that includes a virtual coach to help users get through a series of calming breathing exercises.
The scenarios I selected to test my stress levels included a run around San Francisco’s Ferry Building, a performance review with my editor and a deadline to publish some breaking deal news (this is about the most stressful thing imaginable in many a business reporters’ day).