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Don’t Worry, Be HaPI: The Future of Stress Management

News & Features | March 25, 2013

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that many college students suffer from social media addictions, truncated attention spans, high-stress lifestyles, and problematic Adderall habits. College campuses are small, interactive environments where all of these issues feed into each other to magnify stress levels. Though extreme stress often remains unnoticed and untreated on college campuses, one organization is working toward a solution.

Health and Performance International (HaPI), a group of Manhattan-based doctors, research specialists, and sport psychologists, has engineered a sleek therapeutic pod, the ORRB, which promises valuable development in attention, stress, and cognitive rehabilitation. The ORRB pod is a specialized relaxation space where users train their cognitive abilities and respiratory habits to reduce stress, increase attention span, and reach consistent levels of peak mental performance.

Stress hormone secretion produces a range of harmful reactions: shorter attention spans, anxiety, and thoughts of fear, shame, and insecurity. HaPI hopes to reduce such reactions in high-stress and physically demanding professions. Over the past three years, they have sold and leased their product to several corporate businesses, sports franchises, medical facilities, firefighting departments, and most recently, the US military.

Their Chief Science Officer, Dr. James Thompson, developed a wireless headset for the ORRB that performs cognitive function assessments (EEGs) during pod usage. In addition to EEG measurement, the pod measures Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and evaluates users against statistical margins of relaxation. “Breathing correctly can normalize HRV to optimal levels,” Program Coordinator Dr. Steven Kahan affirms. He emphasizes that taking six deep breaths per minute, for a total of five minutes, balances HRV and also decreases stress hormone secretion significantly. HaPI’s goal, Kahan says, is to “help people learn the techniques to be able to reduce their stress hormone secretion in 16 seconds at any given moment.” The real role of the pod environment is to “facilitate biofeedback mediation,” he says. “But what is most important is that users learn the stress-reduction techniques.”

HaPI hopes to expand the ORRB pods to college campuses where there is a definite need for stress reduction. Dr. Kahan contends that “the rigor and constant activity at universities” makes it difficult for “students and faculty to be aware of the importance of frequently regulating stress.” He certainly has a point. Over the past decade, the amount of college students reporting emotional health levels below average has risen to 53%, according to a 2010 survey performed by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. Because of stress and constant technological stimuli, students’ attention spans are also declining. The average college class is about an hour long, and the average attention span of college students is less than 15 minutes. The pod could, therefore, prove to be an extremely valuable on-campus resource for lengthening attention spans.

However, convenience of location is key if the ORRB pod is to have a real effect on college campuses. While many colleges, Tufts included, have relaxation rooms with biofeedback technology, they do not see heavy use.  This may be because these rooms are not visible to every student on a daily basis. According to Dr. Kahan, the ORRB is “sexy” and undoubtedly “leaves people with an impressive visual impact that encourages them to use it.” Therefore at universities, placement in high traffic areas, such as libraries and campus centers, is important to the pod’s impact. If the pod is heavily marketed, free, and easily accessible, then it could dramatically improve the mental health and academic ability of the student body.

The ORRB pod includes important services beyond helping patients reduce their stress levels and reach optimal cognitive function The brain activity assessment headsets within the pod can also detect Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs), which often go unnoticed. These injuries mostly occur from sports-related collisions, car accidents, falls, and other physical blows to the brain. They lead to increased stress, decreased cognitive function, diminished attention, anxiety, and in some cases, clinical depression. Almost 3.8 million TBIs occur annually due to sports-related incidents, and extreme TBIs cause 50,000 deaths annually.. The severity of permanent damage from TBIs varies, but, in some cases, it can lead to the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Extending the range and consistent usage of the pod could help diagnose the damage from otherwise undetected TBIs.

Earlier this year, HaPI moved two of their ORRB pods into the Department of Traumatic Brain Injury at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The head of the department, clinical and experimental neuropsychologist, Dr. Louis French will be overseeing the results of the ORRB pod treatment on 120 U.S. military veterans suffering from TBIs and PTSD. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan caused more than 30% of American soldiers at the center to develop brain injuries. The ORRB pod not only detects various types of brain injuries but will also help “treat a population that really needs it,” Kahan says. This fills a necessary gap in the military’s much-needed brain and cognitive therapy programs.

HaPI hopes that their technology and the techniques that it teaches will help people stay lighter in heart and quieter in thought. Stress is rarely discussed as a serious cognitive and social issue, which may explain why some people underestimate the importance of the ORRB pod. HaPI is working to re-frame the discourse, pushing us to understand stress as not only an issue with harmful biological ramifications but also as a frequent agent of social tension. If HaPI’s reach begins to extend internationally, perhaps its new technology could bring about individual cognitive improvement and eventual social progress worldwide.