Stress can cause frustration, anxiety, poor performance, anger, worry, depression, and fatigue. The emWave Mac Stress Relief System, developed by the Institute of HeartMath, is a real-time biofeedback Mac program designed to be used as a stress-reduction and stress-management tool.
The Relief System includes a patented heart rhythm monitor that enables you to manage, change, and reverse negative impacts of stress. You do this by learning to change heart rhythm patterns using controlled breathing and visualisation techniques. At least that’s the idea behind the system, which the makers expand upon online and in documentation.
The Relief System also measures stress levels for you and, armed with that knowledge, you can then work to shift your emotional state. Learning to manage stress responses over time is key to entering into “the zone,” a state where apparently your heart and mind are working together to avoid getting you worked up.
Included in the emWave Mac Stress Relief System is an USB pulse sensor that clips to the ear. Heart rhythm information is collected by the ear sensor and fed into your Mac, where the software interprets data into dynamic user-friendly graphics. Prior to clipping the sensor on to the earlobe, it is advisable to warm the earlobe first; this allows the sensor to better detect pulse signals. When first using the pulse sensor (a lapel clip included helps keep the sensor in place), it momentarily illuminates to indicate connection to the computer. There is then a short calibration period before the session can start tracking the beat-to-beat change in heart rhythms. You then must sit comfortably and as still as possible to allow for accurate recordings.
After your heart rhythm information is collected, you can start a session to help manage your stress. Before starting a session, we investigated the Coherence Coach, a tutorial feature found in the pull-down games icon menu. The Coherence Coach introduces the theory behind the technique, which is basically a three-step process allowing you to shift your attention to the heart and maintain consistent heart-focused breathing. The theory is that to manage negative stress you need to control your reaction to it. This is represented graphically by the app. A ball moves up and down wave-like curves, and you follow the ball inhaling as it moves up the curve and exhaling as the ball moves down. An adjustable slider enables the user to set the pace to a comfortable level.
An audio coach guides you into shifting towards positive feelings such as thinking about a pet or a loved one, appreciation for someone or something while maintaining heart focus and heart breathing throughout. Muzak style music and some simple optional animations accompany this process.
The Relief System works on the basis of these sessions. Sessions can run as long as is convenient, though it is recommended to undergo two five-minute sessions daily. Each session records pulse, coherence levels (a measure of how your heart is at ease with your breathing), and accumulated coherence levels, so you can see the progress you make over time.
During a session, there are three optional games to increase coherency scores. These won’t win over any hard-core gamers looking for a challenge, but aren’t designed to. The system has four challenge levels to help raise your baseline coherence and there’s a useful recording device tracking your progress over time.
HeartMath provides lifetime customer online support, and free user training to get you started. The company points out that for some users the software install under Snow Leopard gives an incorrect error message at the end of the install. The product is actually installed correctly. On first launch, it will check for updates. HeartMath says they are working to resolve this issue.
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After initial cynicism, we’ve been running the emWave Mac Stress Relief System for around 20 minutes twice daily for over a month and have progressed from Challenge Low to Challenge Medium, with excellent results. It’s satisfying to note our baseline coherency scores increasing and we’ve managed to enter, maintain, and sustain being in “the zone” for considerable periods of time. Incorporating the Relief System as part of our daily routine has been pretty effortless, and we’ve found it to have benefits—we feel sharper and calmer, and more able to focus. The system does require will and discipline to engage in this process though, but it’s a must have for those interested in stress management. If you’re willing to make the effort, find the time and have an open mind, you should start seeing real benefits.