When Koby Soto was in the throes of heartbreak after his boyfriend abruptly ended their relationship, he noticed a curious thing: The Fitbit Charge HR he had been wearing immediately picked up on the breakup, tracking his heart rate jump from 72 beats per minute to 88 and, finally, to 118 before eventually slowing down later that evening.
Upon realizing that his wearable device was able to “quantify” his emotional turmoil, he was intrigued. Rather than seeing it as a technological encroachment on his personal life, he shared it on Twitter and watched as it garnered thousands of likes and retweets.
“I feel like it’s nice to have a log of your confirmation of what you felt. You can tell people you have heartbreak and you feel bad,” Soto, a 28-year-old law student at Tel Aviv University in Israel, told BuzzFeed News. “People become less cynical once you show them the numbers or once you show the data or graphs. Everyone understands heartbreak, right? Everyone’s felt it. When you have this, it’s interesting—you have something to show.”
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While Soto seems to be appreciating his newfound ability to provide evidence of his post-romance despair, having a wearable device verify what you feel—especially during a devastating moment like a breakup—isn’t exactly encouraging, according to LivingHealthy expert Ramani Durvasula, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist. “The idea that he needed quantitative validation of his broken heart is to me a sign of the apocalypse,” she says. “We increasingly live in a world where no one is listening to anyone, fewer people are talking about their feelings and everyone is documenting their lives on a moment-by-moment basis.”
It may sound novel that wearable technology can identify a change in emotional state, but Durvasula isn’t surprised the Fitbit captured Soto’s heartbreak. Our bodies have always been in sync with our emotions, she notes, as evidenced by the signs you typically feel when you experience heartbreak—the nausea, dizziness, distractedness or loss of appetite—all of which are psychological indicators. But what happens if someone is starting to feel better but a Fitbit or other device doesn’t acknowledge it?
“Will they listen to Fitbit, or their own ‘soul’?” she poses. “I am guessing there is no Fitbit that can measure that.”
Instead, Durvasula suggests using biofeedback, a method that involves taking inventory of your physiological states in order to better manage stress, rather than solely using technology to cope. Practicing mindful meditation, breathing and muscle relaxation are all effective biofeedback techniques to utilize in the wake of a personal crisis, she says.
So, should we completely avoid stepping into “emotional” territory when analyzing our wearable technology’s data? Not necessarily. If you’re using your Fitbit to observe the effect of biofeedback strategies (for instance, noticing as your heartbeat returns to a “calm” level after doing some deep breathing), that could be beneficial, says Durvasula. It’s all about being in-tune with yourself—with or without the tracking device.