By Tiffanie Wen
“Gently close your eyes. Listen to the soundscape you’re now in. As you focus your awareness on different parts of your body, the soundscape will, like your mind, become quiet and serene. If you begin to let your mind wander or fret, the soundscape will become louder and noisier. If this happens, don’t worry – simply return your attention to the awareness of your body. Take one or two slow breaths…”
This is the script of a guided relaxation exercise in an app called Clarity. It is designed by Galvanic, the company behind the Pip, a small handheld device that is currently measuring my electrodermal activity – the conductance of a small electrical current across my skin – eight times per second as the soothing narrator instructs me to relax amid the sound of rain.
The device monitors my stress levels using skin conductance to gauge the arousal of my autonomic nervous system, which controls my heartbeat, breathing and other bodily functions. The Pip’s goal is to teach people to control my stress levels by reporting hidden signals from their body that they might otherwise not notice. You play games on an associated app, where the goal is to change these signals and bring your stress down.
It’s an example of a “biofeedback” device. While the Pip measures skin conductivity, other approaches in the same vein monitor things like brain wave activity, muscle tension, or what your heart is doing. The Inner Balance Transformation System, for example, is an app that promises to improve well-being and reduce anxiety by giving you a clearer picture of your heart rate over the course of the day. Biofeedback techniques have also been used to help train athletes.