In terms of stressful years, 2020 certainly took the crown. But even outside of a global pandemic, stress in our daily lives is something that affects us all, both mentally and physically.
That’s why stress tracking is at the heart of the new Fitbit Sense health smartwatch. The Fitbit Sense puts the invisible signs of stress in clear focus, helping you to manage underlying causes.
We’ve all been in stressful situations at one time or another, but stress can seriously affect our health – mentally and physically
It’s not just the feeling of being overwhelmed – stress is physical, too. The symptoms from your body’s flight or flight response to stress can be serious and diverse.
Read our explainer on how the Fitbit Sense uses the latest in wearable sensors to track stress, and helps you overcome it with expertly created mindfulness content.
How does the Fitbit Sense track stress?
The Fitbit Sense tackles stress in a number of ways.
Firstly, is the stress score. This is calculated automatically for Fitbit Sense users, and is measured out of 100.
The higher the number the better – just like the Fitbit Sleep Score. A high score means your body is showing few signs of physical stress. However, a low score means your body is under strain, so you could benefit from some self care – be it an early night or some meditation.
“The stress score focuses on the physical manifestations of stress, and also the physical elements which contribute to your ability to handle stress,” said Dr Conor Heneghan, Director of Research Algorithms at Fitbit.
The stress score is broken down into three main metrics: responsiveness, exertion balance and sleep patterns.
Responsiveness is derived from heart rate variability, which studies the time between heartbeats – and looks to check the state of your nervous system and whether there are manifestations of stress.
“In general you got these two opposing forces you got what’s called a parasympathetic system which is trying to slow you down”, said Dr Conor Heneghan. “And you’ve got the sympathetic, which is going to fight or flight – which is basically get you know jazzed up to do things.
“A human being should have a little bit of both going on, but one manifestation of stress is you get a higher sympathetic tone than you really should,” he explained.
Exertion balance and sleep
Exertion balance looks at your physical activity, and checking that you’re not overworking your body, or too sedentary.
And sleep patterns take your sleep data into account. When we’re stressed we’re more likely to experience wakeful periods.
“Sufficient sleep is an important part of being resilient to stress,” said Dr Heneghan. “But if we observe your sleep has some unusual patterns, then that’s a sign of stress.”
Fitbit Premium subscribers will be able to see a breakdown of all these three elements, and daily recommendations to raise the number. Users of the free version will see the single stress score.
The Fitbit Sense doesn’t just rely on its myriad of biometric sensors to measure stress – it also looks for feedback on how you’re feeling.
At any point, you can log feelings of stress in the app, which will be shown next to your stress score.
This can help you make sense of the scores and data, tracking your feelings across the month. This can be a useful visualization of improvements in your mood over time.
But when it comes to tackling stress, the Fitbit ecosystem and Fitbit Sense work hand-in-hand.
Dealing with stress
Detecting stress is only part of the problem – and that’s where the Fitbit Sense has another trick up its sleeve.
It packs in a dedicated electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor – the first of its kind on a smartwatch – which is designed to detect the signs of stress from the secretion of sweat from our palms.
However, it works differently to the heart rate sensor that builds your stress score. The EDA sensor is used in conjunction with the EDA Scan app, which you’ll find on the Fitbit Sense smartwatch.
The EDA scan app enables you to take a spot stress reading during a mindfulness session – and it measures your body’s response.
You cover the Fitbit Sense with your hand for the duration of the 2 minute session, and the Fitbit Sense will measure your heart rate before and after, and how many stress responses were detected.
There’s a two-minute session pre-loaded on your Fitbit Sense smartwatch, which is a perfect quick stress buster, which is easy to perform at your desk, or at any point during the day.
However, you can head to the Fitbit app to find a range of guided sessions that incorporate the EDA sensor.
There’s evidence that online mindfulness sessions can have a positive effect on stressful feelings. That’s why the Fitbit app is bustling with mindfulness content for you to explore.
The Discover session of the Fitbit app has scores of guided sessions, meditations, breathing exercises, sleep sessions and relaxing soundscapes.
And many of these are compatible with the EDA sensor on the Fitbit Sense.
When you choose a compatible session, you simply keep your palm over the Fitbit Sense while you complete it. It will then read and log EDA responses within the Fitbit app in a summary after the session.
There are also plenty of meditations and relaxing soundscapes to listen to that don’t use the EDA sensor. Just connect up a pair of headphones and take some time out when you need it. Try it every day, and see what the effect is on your stress score over the coming weeks.
Discover the smartwatch for health
The Fitbit Sense is out now. In addition to stress tracking it also boasts heart rate tracking, ECG, blood oxygen tracking for advanced sleep monitoring, a skin temperature sensor and GPS – making it the most advanced health smartwatch on the market.
It retails for $329.99 and is available on Fitbit.com.