Can a “Stress Tracker” Enhance Your Health?

Your smartwatch knows a lot about you: It keeps tabs on the steps you take, your heart rate, your sleep schedule, and more. And now, many of these devices can also collect data related to your stress levels. But is that data reliable, and can it be used to enhance your overall health? Let’s dive in!

How Does My Device Measure Stress?

While various smartwatches have different functionalities, to understand how a watch can measure stress levels, we’ll look at what Garmin says about its stress-tracking watches: “When using the stress level feature, the watch uses heart rate data to determine the interval between each heartbeat. The variable length of time in between each heartbeat is regulated by the body’s autonomic nervous system. The less variability between beats equals higher stress levels, whereas the increase in variability indicates less stress.”

So, when your watch tells you to breathe, it is doing so based on this change in heart rate. On devices with stress-tracking features, you can often look at charts where that data is recorded.

Smart rings, such as the Oura, can give even more insight, as they measure your heart rate as well as your body’s temperature, another indication of stress levels. Paired with heart rate variance, these measurements lead to data points that might help you identify what activities, events, and scenarios cause your stress levels to rise and fall.

Analyzing Your Stress Data

To identify sources of stress and make changes, you first need to analyze the data. Learn how to read the reports and charts that your smart device delivers and familiarize yourself with what high and low stress looks like.

Understanding your life and surroundings will also be key! You may want to keep a journal to jot down notes when you feel stressed about what’s happening around you. Keep a timestamp of your notes to compare them with your stress data. Are there spikes during the times you noted? What was happening and who were you with during those times? You should also pay attention to spikes in your heart rate variability not associated with times you noted stressful feelings – as these can be caused by other extreme emotions or physical activity.

Taking Action on Stress Data

While stress and stressors are unique to each individual, a log might help identify sources of discomfort and empower you to make changes. Digging into your stress data should provide insight into what or who makes you feel stressed. Once you know the issue, you can take action to avoid such scenarios and set healthy boundaries where they are needed.

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