You've tried meditation, but going full lotus doesn't stop your sweating over cash flow. And pills dull your whip-crack wonder of a mind. Luckily, now you can manage stress just as you manage everything else: with gadgets. But should you?
Thync is the most radical new product that promises to put calm in your palm. Using Bluetooth, it delivers "vibes"--or "intelligent waveforms"--directly to the brain via thumb-drive-size patches that attach to your neck and forehead. It soothes or stirs, depending on whether you choose "Calm" or "Energy" from its app. The company says thousands of volunteers have tested the product, which goes on sale this year.
At January's Consumer Electronics Show, one subject looked nervous as Thync's patches went on. (Not surprisingly, he selected the calm setting.) But soon his shoulders sank and his head drooped. After about 20 minutes, he said he felt completely relaxed, though later he reported a headache and feeling like he'd overslept.
Thync, which has raised $13 million, uses the term "neurosignaling" to describe its use of electrical pulses to modulate brain activity. Co-founder Jamie Tyler envisions consumers using Thync instead of coffee or cocktails--a reassuringly familiar metaphor.
"People are really excited by this, and rightly so," says Roi Cohen Kadosh, a doctor in the department of experimental psychology at Oxford University. But he is concerned such devices might be used on people--stroke victims, say--for whom results might differ. He also knows of no studies that assess how such stimulation, over time, affects the brain. "The brain is a very complex system," says Kadosh. "We might stimulate areas involved with mood. I don't know if it will affect brain areas involved in other cognitive functions."
Tyler points to all those who have tried Thync, and insists his company would have never acquired funding if it hadn't been proven. But, counters Kadosh, "it's a big experiment. People should be aware of that."
Most companies address stress with more traditional biofeedback tools. Thync sends signals to the brain (think of it as push); other gadgets record brain or heart activity (think of them as pull) and offer exercises to help users chill out. The Melon Headband has sensors that track electrical pulses from the brain, and it comes with a relaxation app: Stay calm to stop a blue screen from turning red. PIP (see below) measures stress through your skin and offers relaxing apps as well.
Pplkpr (say "people keeper") helps you manage stress by dodging those who cause it. Wear its Fitbit-like wristband, scroll through your contacts, and learn who makes you tense, angry, or joyful. Over time, as Pplkpr gathers data on your responses, it can delete contact info for harshers of your mellow.
The appeal of Thync is obvious: You can dial down stress as easily as the volume on your tunes. Products relying on biofeedback and self-management require more from users, but their benefits may last longer. Relieve a founder's stress and she can function for a while. Teach her to manage stress and she can function for a lifetime. --Leigh Buchanan
The Touchpad That Read My Sweat for Stress
When I heard about the PIP biosensor, I had to try one out. But I made sure to pick an especially hectic week, when my to-do list was much longer than usual, to see if the device could calm me down and make me work smarter.
The PIP looks like a portable fingerprint reader: It's shaped like a teardrop and has a pad for a finger. That pad read my electrodermal activity--that is, the sweat I produce when I get nervous--while its Stress Tracker app showed me a real-time indicator of my anxiety, moving down when I was stressed and up when I relaxed. The PIP comes with app-based games that train you to relax. In one, calming down makes a winter scene thaw and trees blossom. In another, a dragonfly, somewhat counterintuitively, flies faster the more you chill out.
During my workdays, I stopped every three hours to take a quick reading with the PIP and use the Stress Tracker app. Each time I did, a sense of relaxation lasting about 10 minutes followed. I also found I had a bit more energy. But after a few days, I realized that the ritual was mostly what lowered my stress--stopping work, opening the app, placing my finger on the sensor, and focusing on something else--since I was making a point to stop and relax.
All the same, it worked. I felt less stressed, especially when juggling multiple tasks like email, research, and social media. At $179, the PIP is a bit pricey. But I plan to keep using it when things get hectic. --John Brandon