Issue No. 185: Stressed

Illustration: Courtney Powell

Stress is wreaking havoc on our health.

  • The APA’s 2022 Stress in America poll suggests the nation is in “survival mode.”
  • 87% of US adults feel overwhelmed by constant crises over the past two years.
  • More than 80% report negative emotions, like anxiety or anger, resulting from prolonged stress.


A survival mechanism, stress isn’t inherently bad. Facing a perceived threat, the body releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that trigger fight-or-flight mode.

But chronic stress—where we’re always on edge—is detrimental, contributing to hypertension, a weak immune system, and depression, among other ailments.

Prior to COVID, the World Health Organization called stress the “health epidemic of the 21st Century.” Reeling from the pandemic, many people have reached a breaking point.

  • Drinking more to cope with stress, in 2020, US alcohol-related deaths increased 25% from the prior year.
  • As stress-eating skyrocketed, US candy and chocolate sales jumped 15.9% between 2019 and 2021.
  • 67% of Americans said the pandemic negatively impacted their sleep habits, and 42% reported unwanted weight gain.

Now, alongside the rise of digital mental healthcare, stress-specific solutions are trending up, fueling a category set to cross $20B by 2024.

Hone in. As wearables shift from activity tracking to health monitoring, brands like Garmin, WHOOP, and Oura are using HRV to decode nervous system function. Meanwhile, Fitbit recently filed a patent to detect and prevent “arousal events,” aka stress.

Stave off. Claiming to reduce or prevent stress, new devices are moving in. Apollo Neuro’s wristband relies on touch therapy. In one study, Cove’s headset curbed stress by 41%. And Embr Labs is pioneering thermal wellness as a means of wrist-worn stress management.

Hands-on. Beyond meditation apps, tech-enabled options like Core (acquired by Hyperice), Reflect, and Sensate offer hardware to optimize mindfulness. A different approach, Reveri and Mindset Health want to alleviate stress through self-hypnosis.

Chill out. From supplements to mood-boosting foods and functional beverages, calming consumables are big business. Building feel-good brands, Recess and beam use CBD, Kin Euphorics relies on adaptogens, while Cann adds THC. Showing promise, psychedelics could be next.

Test it. As DIY diagnostics boom, Everly Health and LetsGetChecked deliver at-home cortisol kits. Getting personal, Base’s stress test adds in-app tracking and recommendations. Elsewhere, Pardigm developed a smartphone-read saliva test to measure cortisol.

Patch up. As next-gen wearables take hold, bulky hardware could go by the wayside. Like glucose monitoring, sweat-sensing patches produce noninvasive cortisol readings. Still nascent, researchers are developing stretchable electronics and flexible biosensors as the smart skin market tops $16B by 2026.

More Than a Feeling

Still, as many can attest, stress management isn’t a perfect science. Hoping to change that, scientists, doctors, and tech’s top companies are developing new interventions.

iStress. Pushing further into healthcare, Apple partnered with pharma company Biogen and UCLA to track stress, anxiety, and depression using the iPhone. Accessing the camera, keyboard, audio sensors, and health data, researchers hope to interpret users’ emotions, detecting potential issues before they arise.

Talk to me. Establishing emotional biomarkers, AI voice analysis is gaining traction. For example, Amazon’s Halo wristband tracks voice tones to assess “energy” and “positivity.” Teaming with Ellipsis Health, Cigna launched a free tool to measure stress levels via voice recording. And Sonde Health offers a voice-powered journal for improving mental fitness.

Gut check. The gut microbiome plays a key role in the regulation of anxiety, mood, and cognition. Of note, after diet, stress exposure is the second-most important factor affecting gut health. Tapping live biotherapeutics, Seed Health is studying the gut’s impact on anxiety. Another approach, Kallyope is exploring the gut-brain axis.

Press play. A growing field, music therapy is being used to combat stress, with apps like sona touting music as medicine. Similarly, Spiritune takes a neuroscience-backed approach to regulating emotions. Meanwhile, Endel and SoundMind have raised funds to create “functional soundscapes.”

Under Pressure

Blurring the line between burnout and mental illness, the quest to alleviate stress is getting complicated.

Raising red flags, tech-enabled solutions pose privacy risks, as companies gain access to personal data from voice recordings and facial scans. Another hurdle, state-of-the-art solutions meant to improve access often create new barriers by charging a premium for service.

So, as the flurry of apps, tests, and wearables grows, we’re stressing about how we manage stress.

Back to basics. While the future of stress detection and prevention takes shape, let’s not lose sight of the tried-and-true—and often free—tactics at our disposal. From walking more to spending time in nature to investing in meaningful relationships, the science is on the side of simplicity.

🏆 Keeping Pace

After a crazy two-year run, Strava recently surpassed 100M registered users. Keeping pace, the company is bulking up its paid subscription as it plots the next move.

On the Fitt Insider Podcast: Strava CEO & co-founder Michael Horvath discusses the keys to growing a loyal member base.

We also cover: connected wellness, trail sports, brand storytelling, and IPO ambitions.

Listen to today’s episode here

👟 Social+ Running

Nike wants to make running suck less.

On your mark. A limited 12-week research pilot, Momentum is Nike’s latest digital running experience. Featuring audio-guided runs, daily missions, and coaches that “are like you,” the app is designed to help people start and maintain a running habit.

Innovating beyond Nike Run Club (NRC), Momentum aims to leverage Social+ fitness, offering live, digitally connected group runs that encourage exercisers to “run together, but alone.”

Get set. With an army of apps at its disposal, Nike is doubling down on digital. From launching the Mind Sets mindful movement series to pushing tech-enabled retail, the sneaker giant is fostering engagement at every turn.

Go. As apparel and fitness intersect, Nike’s not the only one making moves.

  • Alo Yoga operates experiential retail shops, digital fitness platform Alo Moves, and a virtual metaverse community on Roblox.
  • lululemon’s MIRROR acquisition boosts its vision for an immersive fitness marketplace.
  • Athleta invested in obé fitness’s $15M Series A, unlocking obé’s workout content for its women-focused AthletaWell digital platform.

Punchline: Getting people moving, selling more products, and encouraging engagement, fitness x community is becoming a foolproof strategy for retailers. Well aware, Nike is running the playbook to perfection.

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💍 Bionic Bling

Teaming with Gucci, smart ring maker Oura became the latest health tracker to debut a luxury wearable.

Crown jewel. Pairing Oura’s latest device with a Gucci-designed veneer, the high-tech ring features high-end stylings made from 18k gold and black titanium. At $950, this collab is as much status-signaling as it is sleep-tracking.

Wearability. In a Twitter thread, WHOOP CEO Will Ahmed revealed the secret to successful health monitoring: “24/7 wearability.” Achieving that goal, Ahmed added, wearable tech has two options: “be cool or invisible.”

  • Invisible: Making devices disappear, next-gen wearables like smart contact lenses or connected clothing are out of sight, out of mind, and always on.
  • Cool: Meant to stand out, wearable makers are playing up customization and high-fashion, letting users flex their personality or bank account.

Luxe performance. Oura and Gucci are certainly leaning into the latter, but they aren’t alone.

  • Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer released a new smartwatch in February; it says connected sales are outpacing traditional timepieces.
  • In May, Withings debuted its ScanWatch Horizon, a diver-style face with sleep and fitness tracking, plus ECG/SPO2 sensors.
  • Garmin is expected to unveil the latest from its luxury MARQ series this year, including sailing, golfing, athlete, and aviator specialties.

Punchline: Luxury devices aren’t for everyone. But, appealing to high-flying health optimizers, brands are banking on high-profile collabs and broader trends in “cool” wearables.

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📰 News & Notes

💰 Money Moves

  • Holistic feminine care brand Rael landed $35M in a Series B round.
  • Redbud Brands, a holding company for better-for-you consumer goods and services, raised $46M in a funding round led by Satori Capital.
  • Australian wellness-focused genetics firm myDNA acquired fitness app 28 by Sam Wood for AU$71M ($50.76M).
  • Joywell Foods, maker of sugar-free beverages sweetened with plant proteins, secured $25M in an oversubscribed Series B round led by Piva Capital.
    More from Fitt Insider: Functional Beverage Boom
  • Friendly Apps, a tech startup, raised $3M to create apps focused on physical and mental well-being.
  • Digital wellness content creation and education platform Japa Health closed $1.245M in seed funding.
  • Consumer goods giant Unilever acquired Nutrafol, maker of hair growth supplements.
  • Butterfly Equity-backed beverage maker Bolthouse Farms acquired organic cold-pressed juice brand Evolution Fresh from Starbucks.
  • inne, a German women’s reproductive health startup, added €9.34M ($10M) in a Series A extension.
  • Consumer heart health startup Miga Health grabbed $12M in a seed round led by Quiet Capital.
  • Circles, an emotional well-being platform, secured $16.5M in a Series A round.

Today’s newsletter was brought to you by Anthony Vennare, Joe Vennare, Ryan Deer, and Melody Song. 

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