The pandemic has elevated concerns about stress in a global context. In fact, a recent global survey from Gallup found that more people felt stressed, sad, angry and worried in 2020 than at any point in their global tracking to date. Meditation has long been recommended as an accessible remedy to help relieve stress and anxiety, but many people struggle to build a regular meditation habit. We sat down with Stefan Chmelik, the founder and visionary behind Sensate, a wearable device that is designed to calm your fight-flight-freeze response and help you relax in as few as 10 minutes. We spoke to Stefan about:
- What is Sensate and how does it work?
- The market size for stress relieving wearable devices
- How to differentiate in a crowded market
What’s the story behind Sensate?
I have spent 30 years in medicine, of which the last 17 have been on Harley Street as the founder of the New Medicine Group. We have been dedicated to trying to understand resilience and how to develop it. I’m also a lifelong meditator. I was taught to meditate at age six in various traditions. A few years ago, mindfulness meditation was being talked about as the solution to the world’s stress problem. Apps like Headspace and Calm have helped drive awareness and education for meditation but it is behaviour change that is the real challenge. Mindfulness meditation has shown fantastic promise but it just doesn’t have the capacity to cross over into the mainstream as a practice as I originally thought. In fact, the thing I hear most often from people is that they have tried to meditate but can’t do it.
The reality is that the blueprint for human society is one of anxiety. In the past, it was the laid-back humans that died! So, we’ve evolved to be somewhat paranoid and anxious. Fear, anxiety, phobias, panic attacks are all primitive, visceral responses. We don’t think fear. We feel it.
I believe that all the world’s problems can only change if people learn to better cope with fear. People need to start making better, more conscious decisions and that can’t happen when they are in a cycle of anxiety. That’s why I created Sensate. I wanted to use my skills and knowledge to help people overcome these knee-jerk responses and develop resilience.
How does Sensate work?
Sensate is a sound-based device that you place on your chest. It connects to an app on your phone and you select 10-, 20- or 30-minutes sessions designed to relax you and improve your stress resilience over time. The vibration from the device targets your vagus nerve, a branch of the nervous system that regulates the body and mind connection.
Originally, my idea was to develop a chair with zero gravity and headphones, but I quickly realised this was quite upmarket and niche. I had a moment of realisation to miniaturize the technology and put it on the chest. This would get rid of 99% of the hardware and instead, make the body the hardware. The body is a fantastic resonator. Because it is mostly water, it is a brilliant medium for conducting sound. So, when you put Sensate on your chest along with the compositions and soundscapes you play through an app, people are immediately soothed by the immersive experience it creates.
The device uses bone conduction to convey sound and vibration into the thorax, the large hollow space in your chest. It works exactly like a speaker cabinet and it resonates through the whole body. It’s like dropping a pebble into a pond and watching the ripples spread across the water. This is literally what Sensate is like for the body.
Basically, you just turn it on, close your eyes and lie back. There’s no worrying if you’re doing it right. It’s completely passive. This helps with both consistency and results and this is our point of difference.
What are the benefits of using a device like Sensate?
It’s important to note that Sensate is not meditation technology and it is not a replacement for meditation. In my practice, I became aware of how few people can actually meditate. What became clear to me is that meditation is not available for people who are locked into a cycle of anxiety and stressed-based responses. My goal with Sensate is to enable the largest number of people I can to self-regulate and train the relaxation response for people who find it hard to meditate or relax.
Broadly, Sensate can help with things like insomnia, chronic pain, autoimmune conditions. It can also reduce anxiety, maximize your ability to cope with stress and help promote faster recovery.
How big is the market for devices like Sensate? Has it increased as a result of the pandemic?
My mission to alleviate stress and anxiety was there long before the pandemic. We secured the patent for the product in 2015 so we were definitely not a device created in response to the pandemic. That said, what the pandemic really did was shine a spotlight on a problem that was already there. When people felt stressed in the past, they were able to plaster over it with nights out or other distractions but that all disappeared during the pandemic. It’s really gratifying now to see people thinking about change whether that’s changing careers or just different ways of interacting with the world.
Originally, Sensate was popular in the early adopter phase with biohackers. But it’s the mainstream market that we’re really aiming at – it’s those mainstream consumers who feel anxious and have tried other solutions that have failed for them. We know for example, that hundreds of millions of people have downloaded meditation or relaxation apps and less than 5% of those people actually use them.
People want a quick outcome. They want something where they don’t have to do too much. Information alone does not change behaviour for the vast majority of people. I know from clinical practice that unless people feel change quickly, they are unlikely to continue doing something. Sensate is designed to make you feel better in 10 minutes, usually in the first session from the first use. 90.5% of our users say that Sensate is more effective for relieving stress than anything else they’ve tried including meditation, prescribed drugs, breathing exercises, apps or lifestyle changes. If it feels good, and it works, you will want to repeat it. This is key for mass behaviour change.
With numerous wearable devices designed for stress and anxiety (like the Muse headband or Apollo Neuro) entering the market, how do you differentiate?
Our point of difference is that we are sensory. We are going in at a tactile, primitive level and this is important. Not knowing how to relieve stress and anxiety is not the hard part. Doing the things that relieve stress and anxiety is the hard part.
Other devices don’t hit the mainstream. Sensate does. The device is passive. You turn it on and simply lie there for 10 minutes or more if you choose. There is no skill or expertise required.
We focus on nonverbal content so there are no culture, gender or language differences. Many people have a hard time with meditation apps because they can’t stand a person’s voice or accent. We don’t have any of those problems. As soon as you introduce words, you introduce meaning. For example, many apps ask people to let their thoughts float away like clouds, or focus on their breath.
It’s great if you can do this, but most people can’t.
We did a small trial with Sensate and a group of Buddhist monks. They don’t need a device like Sensate to achieve a meditative state, but as soon as they used it, they could see the value of it. It helps you get into the zone much more quickly.
The concept of wearable tech for stress relief is still relatively new so questions may remain about effectiveness. How do you combat consumer skepticism?
Apps and other devices have done a fantastic job educating people. But quite a few people have tried them and failed. People understand that managing anxiety and calming down is a requirement but most people aren’t very good at developing the habits required to succeed. There are large numbers of people looking for something different. Word of mouth is huge for us. Once people try Sensate, they tell others.
With Sensate, we very consciously went down the consumer route versus a medical route. All the research we have done and all the feedback from our users is highly positive. More than 90% say it is the most beneficial thing they’ve ever used. There’s a real need for an effective solution today so we encourage people to try it and see for themselves.
To learn more about Sensate, go to https://www.getsensate.com/
If you’re interested in purchasing a Sensate device, click here to receive £20 off. The discount will be automatically applied at checkout. You can calso use the code FITNET for every Sensate purchased.