The Pip: Can This Little Device Decrease Your Stress?
Pip, an Irish company, has created a product of the same name, to help people handle their stress, or at least be aware of it. According to the American Psychological Association, short-term stress can trigger heart and stomach problems, while long-term stress may lead to fatigue, heart disease, and depression. Professor Ian Robertson, the Chair of Pip’s Scientific Board and a Professor of Psychology at Trinity College in Dublin, says that the Pip allows users to “externalize internal [levels of stress]…and also [gives] the ability through biofeedback to control it and reduce it.”
The body responds to stress by activating the sympathetic nervous system, which increases sweating. As glands in the skin secrete more sweat, the body’s electrodermal activity (EDA) increases, and conversely, EDA decreases when the body activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which decreases sweating. To measure stress, the Pip biosensor checks electrodermal activity by detecting changes in a user’s fingertips.
The Pip looks like an avocado half. Stress levels are measured by holding the unit between the thumb and index finger; the device applies a small current on the skin at a rate of 8 times per second. The EDA data obtained by the wireless Pip unit can be sent via Bluetooth to multiple apps. iOS and Android users have access to four different apps, each with different stress management goals:
- Clarity adjusts sound volumes based EDA feedback during sessions
- The Loom changes a displayed landscape based on EDA feedback during sessions
- Relax and Race guides users through an artificially induced stressful situation. One game lets the user race a dragon through mountainous terrain – the more relaxed you are, the faster your dragon moves.
- Stress Tracker encourages users to lower their stress levels without external cues
After each session, the user is given a “Pip Score,” which is a percentage based on the session type, length, and events. A greater drop in EDA (and theoretically stress) results in a higher Pip Score. Scores, session types, and durations are logged each day. For new users, the Company recommends starting with a five-minute session each day for seven days.
According to Pip, “After completing an app relaxation session, your data will be uploaded to My Pip, our HIPAA compliant cloud platform,” and confirms that all user health information is protected and confidentially handled.
The product seems geared towards people who are interested in practicing meditation and relaxation techniques. While the device should be used over a few weeks or more to see results, the Company hopes that people can eventually manage their stress (and therefore improve their health) without using the device. Perhaps because of this, a leasing option of the device plus a subscription fee for the apps might be better to convert tentative consumers than an outright purchase, which at $179 is more expensive than most consumer wearables.
While the Pip may not be a one-size-fits-all device — stress is caused by different factors, and simply “relaxing” may only provide temporary relief. Hopefully, users will realize that the product is not a panacea for stress but rather provides insight into how it can affect behavior and health.