We lived in an age of high stress and anxiety, even before 2020. But when the pandemic swept the globe, it put everyone under pressure. It forced us into tight living arrangements with our loved ones, out in the world to do our jobs; or it kept us alone, all while worrying if we might catch a potentially lethal disease. In a recent One Poll study of 2,000 Americans, 95 percent of respondents said they believed the year took a toll on their health, especially their quality of sleep and ability to focus.
Even though vaccines are on the way, the demands of working from home, virtual learning, and generally navigating the world amidst fear and uncertainty aren’t about to let up just yet. Knowing this, many people have begun searching for a way to reduce their stress. As many as 60 percent of respondents to the same study said they need a stress-management tool that is simple, effortless and doesn’t take additional time out of their day.
One tool that may fit the bill is Cove, a self-care device that is as easy to use as putting on a pair of headphones. Cove is a light-weight wearable device that loops over the ears and wraps behind the base of the user’s head to deliver vibrations directly to the user’s skin. The frequency and form of these vibrations has been specially calibrated to induce deep feelings of comfort and calm. Although users wear Cove, its creators don’t want to call it a wearable, because it does much more than simply tracking and reporting data.
“There is scientific evidence showing a strong correlation between stress and sleep,” says Francois Kress, co-founder and CEO of Feelmore Labs, the makers of Cove. “But early on, we noticed that there was a gap in the consumer wearable industry” for tools that provided relief for those parts of life rather than simply tracking them. “That is why we sought to create a device that effortlessly fits into people’s everyday lives, improving their wellbeing but not interfering with their daily routines.”
The science of self-care
Self-care looks different for everyone. In the search for the best stress-taming techniques, a person might try meditation, exercise, massage, listening to music, or activities like baking, as last year’s sourdough craze attests. Another lesser-known route for self-care is the use of affective touch.
This particular kind of touch, which is associated with the slow stroking of the skin in a manner like petting or grooming, causes the brain to release neurochemicals that are essential to social bonding, according to the International Association for the Study of Affective Touch. This reaction happens in the nervous systems of large social mammals, such as gorillas, dolphins, and humans. Affective touch activates social reward pathways and sends signals to the insular cortex that not only trigger a feeling of comfort and wellbeing but that can also aid in emotional regulation. The more frequently a stimulus activates these pathways, the more likely our brains are to use them, creating a loop that rewards itself and gives the brain practice with processing emotions. In other words, hugs are comforting, but frequent hugs can help us develop emotional resilience.
The makers of Cove wanted to tap into that pathway. With the help of experts on neuroscience, mood disorders, and sleep science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brown University, and Harvard Medical School, Feelmore Labs created Cove, a device that emits a subtle vibration designed to trigger the effects of affective touch in the brain. “It’s like a hug for your mind,” says Kress.
To develop a non-invasive device that could mimic affective touch, the scientists at Feelmore Labs studied the sensitivity of our largest and most accessible organ, our skin. “We realized that the skin is pre-wired to respond to different types of mechanical stimulus,” says Kress, “and each type of stimulus has its own, specific receptor. We had to find the right waveforms that would modulate the parts of the brain we wanted.”
After two years of trial and error and human clinical studies, including Feelmore Lab testing vibration signals and observing their effects through brain imaging studies, they created Cove, which the brand says produces a specific vibration designed to induce neurostimulation.
In Feelmore Labs’ clinical trials, participants used Cove in 20-minute sessions over a 30-day period, while researchers analyzed their sleep quality, stress, and anxiety levels over time. A large majority of these participants reported that they felt less stressed and slept better. Some also provided anecdotes, saying they experienced more frequent and vivid dreams.
What does the future of self-care look like?
The old generation of self-care was analog. We exercised and meditated, then we started tracking our health with wearables.
Now, Cove is redefining self-care. Cove is in a category all its own. Rather than a wearable, Kress and his team call it a “feelable,” designed to actively help you feel better rather than just measuring how you feel already. All you have to do is put it on.
“It’s effortless and non-invasive,” Kress says of his Cove device, which he has made a habit of using himself, especially before stressful situations like speaking in front of crowds. “You just wear it, and you go on with your day. It’s a gentle vibration that will greatly improve your daily life.”