A little bit of stress can be good for us. Performance stress or stress in the face of perceived threats lead to action, sometimes even life-saving, by increasing the heart rate and breathing, tensing muscles, and improving blood flow to the brain. Our immune systems improve under moderate stress, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Too much stress or chronic stress, however, breaks down the immune system and can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorder, and other illnesses.
Lief Therapeutics developed a wearable device to detect and alert users to the first signs of stress by measuring heart rate variability (HRV) and breathing. The system includes exercises that train users to control the stress response through breathing. The 6 mm thick Lief patch is worn under clothing and detects HRV via two small electrocardiography (ECG) sensors. According to the manufacturer, a high HRV is a biomarker of a calm, focused state, with your heart speeding up on each inhale and slowing with each exhale. A low HRV indicates a natural stress response. When the Lief detects a lowering HRV it signals two haptic engines on the patch that vibrate, the intensity dependent on the HRV level. The smartphone app that works with the Lief patch keeps a record of HRV, heart rate, and breathing. The Lief’s battery lasts up to a week before recharging and onboard memory saves the data until transfer to the associated smartphone via Bluetooth.
Currently in a Kickstarter campaign that has exceeded its goal by 30 percent with more than a month to go, the Lief smart patch kit is expected to ship in June 2017. The eventual list price will be $299 but preorders are available in the campaign for $179. Some people travel to the Himalayas to study with monks to learn breathing and breath control. Others work with local professionals. The ability to control stress can make life more pleasant and productive, and it could possibly lengthen or even save your life.