Need to Know

Feeling Wired?

Summer 2017

There’s quite a buzz about Fidget Spinner, a pocket-size gadget that gets fingers flying so you can clear your mind of cares, and its totally square cousin, Fidget Cube, which lets anxious users click and slide their way to comfort.

Gadgets that help us relax and sleep have been around for years—white-noise machines, gradually brightening lightbulbs, and those foamy stress ball tchotchkes you pick up at trade shows, for example. What’s changed? Calming tools are now common in the public domain, says Debra Kissen, clinical director at the Light on Anxiety Treatment Center of Chicago.

“It’s natural to want to have something in your hands, but when we were kids, we were told not to fidget. So people held in those feelings,” says Kissen. “Now we have a socially acceptable way for kids and adults to channel those feelings, and that’s one reason we’re seeing them more.”

But what happens when you need more anxiety relief than a plastic contraption can provide? High-tech pieces promising peace often come with mixed reviews—but the combination of socially acceptable anxiety and increasingly sensitive sensors makes this an emerging market with plenty of products to try.

Take a Breath

The Spire (US$129.95) includes a river stone–looking wearable that clips onto your belt or bra, measuring your breathing and activity so you can track—and visualize—your stress level throughout the day. If things get a little out of control, the connected app will send you notifications and even some optional treatments, such as guided meditations to help you chill.

A Touch of Calm

When something makes you anxious, it fires up your limbic system, the part of your brain that activates your “fight, flight, or freeze” response. TouchPoints (US$240) may help you override that response with two little devices you put on your wrists or in your pockets—one on each side of your body—that send you tactile stimulation to manage your emotions, including a presetting for managing anger and improving performance.

Cued Up

Get anxious about reading social signals? Scientists at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Institute of Medical Engineering and Science are working on a wearable that can listen to speech and identify it as positive or negative with 83 percent accuracy. Next steps: tweaking the algorithm so it can identify more emotions and making it accurate enough to be useful as a social coach.

Don’t Sweat It

The Pip can solve two needs at once: the need for a tactile experience and the need for biofeedback. Designed to be held against your thumb, the Pip depends on a companion app to monitor your stress level via the electrical activity in your sweat glands. The app then gives you feedback—like a meter that shows your stress peaking too high or coming down to lower levels—so you can work to calm yourself.

Photography by Shutterstock