April 16, 2019

Keenan: A magic gadget for male stress?

Stress affects everyone, and it’s not all bad. Without some positive stress, we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning, or run that marathon, or write the great Canadian novel. Still, the negative impacts of stress are well known, ranging from psychological issues like anger, irritability, and loss of sex drive, to physical symptoms like chest pain, indigestion, and even skin eruptions.

Most studies show a higher percentage of women report being stressed, but men may simply be reluctant to admit it. Denying stress and holding it in may cause even more problems.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a magic button that could somehow clear away stress? I found something that claims to be just that, at my favorite store in San Francisco. Target Open House is a smart home showroom, where you can see hot new tech products that the retail chain might someday sell in their stores.

That’s where I met Amy Serin, a PhD-holding psychologist from Arizona. She was demonstrating TouchPoints™ — two small vibrating buttons that, she claims, “can decrease stress by up to 70 percent in as few as 30 seconds.” The underlying technology is BLAST (bilateral alternating stimulation tactile). You can hold the devices, wear them on wristbands or even put them in your socks to help you sleep.

Serin is the inventor of the device and co-founder of the company that makes and sells it. She was demonstrating it to a woman who said she freezes up with stress when she has to attend a certain business meeting. After trying the Buzzies, as they used to be called, she asked how to order some.

Then it was my turn. Serin had me think about something that was causing me stress and asked what part of my body I was feeling it in. Sure enough, after a bit of vibrating, I did indeed feel calmer and more relaxed, in all parts of my body.

I wound up with a set to test out, along with pointers to some of the studies at https://thetouchpointsolution.com/pages/research. Various researchers report good results using the devices for anxiety, autism, irritability, sleep problems, PTSD, and even post-concussive syndrome.

My first brainwave was to take them along when I went to sea with the Royal Canadian Navy since there have been suggestions that vibration devices can help counter motion sickness. But the seas were dead calm.

Then I lent them to a friend with a teenage son who is on the autism spectrum. He gave them a try but found the noise too annoying. He also objected to the thought that the device was manipulating his brain waves, which is exactly what the company claims on their website, showing before and after brain scans with significantly reduced beta wave activity.

The device has three modes, blue for sleep, green for calm and red for anger. There’s also a free app that allows finer control of the frequency, intensity, and overlap, and provides pre-sets for things like focus, performance, and craving.

I sought out Jaideep Bains, Ph.D., professor of Physiology & Pharmacology at the University of Calgary. He’s a noted expert on neurophysiology and stress and a principal investigator whose research is highlighted at stressynomics.com.

His first reaction to holding the TouchPoints™? “Cool toy, but it would drive me crazy.” He acknowledges that the company has some very prestigious people on their advisory board, but objects to the characterization of the devices as being based on neuroscience. “They looked at beta waves, but beta waves happen in the cortex for a lot of reasons. They don’t necessarily have to do with stress.”

He notes that much of their research results are subjective reports. “They’re very careful in their literature to say they’re not recommending this for any disease or any medical benefit. If this were to be thought of as a medical device, what you’d need is a randomized trial. You’d need cortisol levels, you’d need autonomic outputs like heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and sweat.”

He does agree with some of the material on the company’s website, especially when it says that stress activates circuits in your brain over which you don’t have control.

As Bains and many others have observed, there’s a huge possibility of a placebo effect here. Indeed, that may be what happened to me, and to the lady in the store. We felt reduced stress because we expected to feel it.

“That woman would probably be better off just going for a walk, and breathing deeply,” says Bains, “and removing herself from the stressful situation.”

Of course, a stress-busting walk isn’t always an option. If you’d like to try TouchPoints™, they cost $159.99 US (plus shipping, duty, and taxes) from the company’s website. They do offer a 30-day free trial, though dealing with international returns might raise your stress level.

You could just wait to see if and when they make it onto the shelves at your nearest U.S. Target store

Dr. Tom Keenan is an award-winning journalist, public speaker, professor in the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary, and author of the bestselling book, Technocreep: The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy.

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald on April 13, 2019 by TOM KEENAN. To read the full article, click here.