I’ll admit it: I can be a very stressed out person from time to time. Just don’t try to interrupt me when I’m on deadline, or running late, or when I’m getting ready in the morning, or right when I come home from work…
So, I decided to try out the Spire, a wearable stress-tracking device that supposedly uses your breath to help monitor how tense, focused, or calm you are.
The logic is simple: When you’re stressed, your heart rate tends to picks up, so taking deep breaths can often be a good way to get that heart rate to slow down.
Here’s what I learned from wearing the Spire for a week:
My Spire arrived in the mail last Friday. The box came with the device, its charging dock, and instructions about how to get it set up.
The device picks up its charge by a sleek pad, which hooks up to your computer using a USB port. The device holds its charge for about 3 days, and since I chose not to wear the device overnight, it was easy to make sure it stayed charged throughout the day.
The device is pretty small, and clips underneath your shirt or onto your pants. I opted to put it under my shirt to make sure it was accurately tracking my breath, which took some getting used to.
The Spire device matches with an iOS app (sorry, Android users, it's only available on iPhones for now).
The app tracks your breathing, so as I set up my device, I got to test out how my breath looked. The line moves up when you exhale and down when you inhale. Neema Moraveji, Spire's CEO, told Business Insider that he felt there was a need for an app focused on what he called 'state of mind.'
The app tracks your breathing for three things: focus, calmness, and activity. To count as 'calm' time, I had to clock in roughly 14 breaths a minute. 'Focus' time counted as whenever I took about 17 breaths per minute. Moraveji said they used 'focus' time to distinguish between times you may be breathing less to concentrate even though you're not necessarily anxious.
Here were the results of my first (partial) day: A good mix of calm, activity, and focus. In addition to breathing, the app tracks steps and calories burned.
As a compulsive app closer, I had a hard time leaving the app open to communicate with the device and with Bluetooth. Luckily, the Spire stores 6 hours of movement in the device's memory while away from your phone, so when I went out for a run, it could still keep track of my activity.
Some studies suggest that specific relaxation techniques, like taking deeper breaths or meditating, can be an easy, active way to help relieve stress. Many of these studies have been small or low quality, though; it's tough to say for sure that simply breathing more deeply will make you feel more calm. And when it comes to the physical aspect of stress (i.e. muscle strain), deep breaths have been shown to help reduce tension.
The Spire is really good at letting you know when you're not breathing deeply. The app's push notifications can either buzz your phone or the device.
One thing I found startling was the device's vibrations, which remind you to take a deep breath, for example, or take a walk. You can turn some of them on or off. I set mine up to buzz after 20 minutes without a deep breath, 60 minutes of inactivity, and 2 minutes of tension.
The app had a lot going on, which was fun to explore. Feeling a little frazzled? The app has a section with preloaded programs that guide you through meditations and get you back on track.
Weirdly, either I don't carry my stress in my breathing, or the app didn't have the chance to pick up on when I was stressed or not. The only times it told me I was tense was when I was on the subway, which could be accurate. But there could be other factors at play, like train's vibrations getting in the way.
An aspect of the app that I found both annoying and (begrudgingly) helpful was the notification to get up and move every once in a while. Since I work in an office, I don't get up very often, so the reminder was helpful in terms of getting me on my feet more.
Over the week, I most consistently hit my goal of feeling calm, which was calculated in streaks of consistent breath rates per minute. Moraveji said he chose to monitor breathing because it's something that can be easily controlled in everyday life. 'The notifications are reminding you to take a deep breath, not reminding you to do something you can't do right now. You can always take a deep breath.'
Even though the Spire didn't give me a great read on when I'm most stressed, I'd continue using it. Wearing the device and being conscious of my breathing did seem to help me keep from feeling stressed out. Plus, I loved that the device could clip on out of sight, and getting to play around with the data was pretty addicting.
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