Trending: mental health wearables

This new tech helps athletes stay calm and train more effectively.

A new class of wearable technology aims to improve athletes' performance not by focusing on muscles, but rather on the mind. Combined with manually entered data (such as mood levels and meditation goals), mental health wearables measure key biophysical markers tied to your cognitive state including blood pressure, heart rate variability, breathing, and skin temperature, which can all indicate stress. “A lot of the data that we have about biophysical markers and mental health are things that we’ve been following for years,” says Scott Goldman, Ph.D., director of the Performance Psychology Center at the University of Michigan. “What’s new is that technology is now making them easier to track.” Once they have your data, wearables can offer behavioral interventions, such as breathing exercises or guided meditations.

"When we breathe shallowly, that's often a sign of anxiety," says Goldman, which can negatively affect performance. Tracking breathing patterns can help you lower your heart rate and improve in endurance sports, he adds. Learning to control your respiratory muscles with the help of these apps is another way to enhance training; for example, it could prevent you from feeling winded during a workout.

The very act of tracking your mental status can prove to be a valuable motivator for reaching better health, says Paul Abramson, MD, a San Francisco-based internist and founder of My Doctor Medical Group. “At the very fundamental level, this wearable technology can help you become more aware of your current emotional and physiological state,” says Goldman. "What you do with that information, just like how hard you push yourself in training, is up to you."

Here’s a look at some of the coolest new wearables in the space.

spire stone and spire health tag

Spire’s first product, Stone, continuously monitors breathing and can remind you to relax via alerts from a connected app. Spire Health Tag is billed as a washable wearable—a sticker you can place on the inside of your sports bra or underneath a t-shirt to monitor your workout. Like Stone, it monitors breathing and can also track heart rate, heart rate variability, and sleep quality.
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Coined “the world’s first emotion sensor,” this wristband uses physiological tracking (skin temperature and heart rate) to create an assessment of your mental state. Based on your mood, a connected app then provides real-time cognitive behavioral therapy coaching, which Feel claims can help you feel less anxious or more focused.
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whoop strap 2.0

This device tracks resting heart rate, sleep quality, and heart rate variability. It then calculates your personal exertion levels (factoring in gym sessions and your daily routine) to make sure you’re training optimally. Based on the information it’s gathered, you receive a nightly sleep recommendation, purporting to help ensure you’re training at your mental and physical best.
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leaf nature and leaf urban

In addition to sleep and activity tracking, Leaf turns breathing data into real-time advice for your meditation practice. Worn on your waistband, it syncs to an app that will run you through guided breathing or mediation exercises; it can give you a score on stillness and breathing so you can track your progress. You can also set weekly meditation goals in the app.
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This wrist wearable aims to give you insight into whether a challenging workout (or high-pressure meeting) is making you alert, calm, or stressed by lining up your heart rate data with items marked on your calendar. To help you destress next time a strenuous event pops up, Wellbe offers guided meditations in a companion app. In theory, stress management in this manner can “help athletes improve how they react to high-anxiety situations,” says Goldman.
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Using a sensor designed to track respiration rate (distinguishing between diaphragmatic and chest breathing), this wearable gives the user a score for each. Choose from a library of guided breathing exercises and receive text reminders to take deep breaths, which can help reduce stress and boost energy levels.
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