The Stress Eraser. Only $299

Sometimes an example comes along that just captures everything you want to say, yet makes it all so horribly funny, sad and real at the same time.  Do culture, biology, the body, and technology all combine?  Look no further than the Stress Eraser, a gizmo with the slogan, “Finally, Stress Relief that Actually Works.”

Do we really need this?  The answer appears yes, at least according to Men’s Vogue.  Here’s the lead-in: “Last fall, the American Psychological Association released a major study that told us what we already knew—21st-century America is the most stressed-out place on Earth. A third of American adults are living with ‘extreme stress,’ and nearly half believe that their stress levels have increased in the past five years.” 

Michael Specter provides us that obligatory ethnographic moment: 

“Dad,” my daughter pleaded not long ago, in a ticket line at JFK, where I had just begun to light into a representative of the airline that had accidentally deleted our reservations. “Please don’t have an airport fit,” she begged. Needless to say, I had the fit, and then spent the flight absorbing the shame of knowing that, thanks to me, my daughter actually has a category in her brain labeled “Airport Fits.” The episode stressed me out so badly that I went to a yoga class. No luck: All it managed to induce was an odd combination of humiliation, boredom, and pain.

 But there is always hope in America, and Mr. Specter has found it: 

I’ve always had faith in gadgets, so, seeking relief in technology, I bought a gizmo called the StressEraser. Yes, it sounds like something a man with a bad toupee would hawk on cable television at four in the morning. Guess what, though? It erased my stress. The little biofeedback machine, which is about the size of a BlackBerry, has an infrared fingertip sensor that monitors the way you breathe by translating pulse beats into waves that you can watch roll across the StressEraser’s LCD. (Just typing those words makes me calmer.) The machine essentially decodes various nerve signals—it’s complicated, but there are stimulating nerves that increase your heart rate and lead to faster breathing patterns, and pacifying nerves that do the opposite. We want the opposite. To get there, you simply slip your finger into the slot and monitor your breathing patterns on the LCD, counting softly as you shed your stress. The waves are supposed to come in gentle arcs; at first mine looked more like a series of daggers. By sounding a little beep when it’s time to exhale, the StressEraser teaches you how to calm yourself.

 And nothing works better for the average American male than a little competitive reward (Stress the Video Game, I can see it now):

“You cannot fool the StressEraser—believe me, I’ve tried. If you worry about your mortgage, job, or weight, the machine will display a claustrophobic series of triangles packed tightly on top of one another. Now relax. Breathe. Concentrate on nothing. As soon as you ditch the bad vibes the triangles begin to space out—and so do you. Once you are breathing properly, the machine awards you a point. I try to rack up 100 points a day, which takes about 15 minutes, although one needn’t do it all at once.”

 My favorite reader’s comment on the article: 

“Breathe into a paper bag…they cost a couple of cents. The effect is the same – you watch your breathing moderate, your heart stops racing, and you don’t have one more expense to worry about. The drawback, of course, is that it doesn’t look as classy or high-tech as the Stress Eraser gadget.”

4 thoughts on “The Stress Eraser. Only $299

  1. Daniel, as I mentioned to you on the phone, this brought up memories of a company called “Heart Math.” I couldn’t believe it, but when I looked at their website, they had also developed one of these. The video plug is REALLY worth a look – it looks like something from a science fiction movie – http://www.myemwave.org/

    I am part of a psychoneuroimmunology group here at UCSF that hosts a series of seminars called “Mind & Biology,” and one of Heart Math’s head honchos came to speak. The highlight of the talk came when he explained that someone who had could achieve a high enough level of psychophysiological “coherence” (as evidenced by maximizing certain frequency components of the variability in heart rate) could actually PREDICT THE FUTURE. This clairvoyance was supposedly evidenced in these individuals through showing valence-specific anticipatory responses in skin conductance before a picture was displayed on the screen. These slides were from Peter Lang’s International Affective Picture System (IAPS). So, moments before the IAPS display, these high coherence folks displayed anticipatory skin conductance spikes before a negative image (like a severed head – yes, the IAPS is this gross). Do I believe the evidence? It seems all too easy for a minor timing error in the equipment recording the physiological response and the timing of stimulus presentation to create these patterns – in other words, folks with high coherence may have responded more quickly to the image, but I doubt they responded BEFORE it.

    In any case, this kind of stuff represents an emerging world of high technology self-help fringe psychophysiology, blended with magical thinking and pseudoscience! Heart Math even markets training programs to increase your coherence (other than the EmWave). Very “Bay Area,” this software-hardware hybrid displays pictures of bunnies and rainbows as your psychophysiological coherence increases. Weird, just plain…weird.

  2. My wife has been able to head off stress-induced migraines with a StressEraser. I’d compare it to practicing meditation where you have a biofeedback widget in place of an instructor; it’s more effective than a paper bag, but a meditation class might be cheaper.

  3. It’s now ten years after these mostly mocking comments were made. I’ve had the device for perhaps six years, and it’s been very useful. I have intense anxieties at times, and this device really helps me to stay focused on changing my breathing. I recommend it for anyone who holds his breath, has a tight chest, or feels intense fright. Perhaps a paper bag would be cheaper, but the device gives real-time feedback. It’s like doing yoga breathing without having to go to a class or paying an instructor. I love it. I never want to give it up. Those who mock the thing do not know what intense fright feels like.

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