Why The Apple Watch Isn't Just A Smartwatch, It's A Stress-Reliever

13/10/2016 16:01

I've been spending a fair amount of time with the new Apple Watch Series 2, and while there are a number of things I've really enjoyed about it, Apple's smartwatch has always been my wearable of choice for a fairly unconventional reason.

It makes me less stressed. It's one of the few pieces of wearable technology that I've tried in my career that actively, and successfully helps me get through a bad day.

Here's why:

When the first Apple Watch went on sale in 2015 it contained a small, but important feature that was entirely unique.

It was called Stand and it's one of the three main measurable metrics that make up Apple's Activity App. Along with Move and Exercise it tracks the three essential activities that Apple believes make you a healthy person.

apple watch series 2

The Apple Watch's Activity rings show you progress in each of the three metrics.

While the last two made perfect sense, Stand seemed a little odd. It would pop up on your watch every now and then and suggest you stand and go for a walk.

With so many of us obsessed about calories, steps and just about every other metric under the sun measuring our ability to stand was a new one.

Standing is a lot more important than you might think. You see, a desk job might be one of the most dangerous professions in the world. A vast study by researchers from Loughborough University and the University of Leicester into working habits and their connection to your general health revealed some shocking results.

Using information from over 800,000 people the study gave one clear message, compared to people who sat the least during the day, workers who sat the most had a:

  • 112% increase in risk of diabetes
  • 147% increase in cardiovascular events
  • 90% increase in death caused by cardiovascular events
  • 49% increase in death from any cause

In fact, it's generally believed that a desk-based job can almost double your risk of having a heart attack.

apple watch tim cook

Tim Cook has been a strong advocate of Apple's role in making us healthier.

Suddenly it makes perfect sense for your smartwatch to be rewarding you just for standing up. It's also no surprise then that in launching the original Apple Watch Tim Cook called sitting the 'new cancer'.

So not only was I getting up from my desk more but I also found that when I got up, I'd actually go for a walk outside. It was only short, but it was enough to take me away from the work environment, clear my head and feel ready to tackle what was next when I got back.

When Apple unveiled watchOS 3 it was full of new features designed to make it easier for you to track your physical health. An improved user interface, reduced interaction time with the Watch and some cool new metrics including the ability to track a full swim using the new water-resistant Series 2.

What stood out the most however was Breathe, a small app that sat quietly on the Apple Watch's new home screen. It didn't seem like much, but like Stand, it was Apple's small and subtle way to combat a modern condition which has the very real potential to cause us harm: stress.

apple watch series 2

Breathe's small blue app icon appears on the home screen of the Apple Watch.

You see stress has always been a part of our lives but as technology has progressed and humanity has evolved our emotional burden has grown considerably.

We work longer hours (thanks to smartphones with work email), we're required to be more socially active (thanks WhatsApp) and thanks to social media the pressures on our self-worth and wellbeing have never been greater.

So with every single app and website demanding us to be at our very best every single moment of the day it's hardly surprising that our stress levels have increased. That's not just bad, it's dangerous. Studies this year found evidence that chronic stress can lead to depression, and even dementia.

apple watch series 2

A simple animation asks you to breathe in as the image gets larger.

Breathe isn't going to cure depression, nor is it claiming to solve every social problem you have.

What it does do though is give you a place to start. It's an exercise that cuts you off from the outside world and asks you to do one of the simplest tasks a human is capable of: breathe.

It might be a simple-looking app but it was born from an incredibly complex question which was how could a single exercise single-handedly remove all the stigma surrounding stress, managing stress and mental wellbeing.

Apple reportedly found that too many of the exercises available to them came with an ideology attached, whether it was yoga or meditation. All of these had baggage that could be perceived by someone as a barrier.

Instead they settled on an exercise that targets both your body and how you feel. Controlled breathing not only lowers your heart rate but it lets you unplug from the world around you and focus on performing a truly mindless task.

apple watch series 2

As it shrinks the Watch asks you to slowly exhale in time.

It's a small part of the Watch, but in the short few weeks I've been using the Watch and watchOS 3 I've found that Breathe has made the biggest impact. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: you want to get better at it, and so naturally your heart rate lowers and you start to feel less stressed.

As I said earlier, the Watch isn't going to cure you overnight, but the fact that it's trying to help your mental health straight out of the box is something that should be applauded.