Business Monday

Get your stress under control with one simple tool: your smartphone

Check in with your body for a moment. Are your shoulders tense? Is your neck tight? Is your posture rigid?

Our bodies don’t just know we’re stressed; research suggests they also know why. And one of the founders of a recently launched app, Sensie, wants users to be able to tap into that knowledge.

“I suffered really badly from depression and anxiety when I was in college,” Mike Dannheim, CEO of Sensie, said. “The solution I was looking for was really just trying to figure out what was going on, so that I could take action on it.”

The concept: If you know you’re stressed, you can take steps to correct the negative emotions affecting your mood, said Erik Peper, a holistic health studies professor at San Francisco State University. Sensie can serve as a self-monitoring tool. Studies show that simple changes in body posture and stance can have substantial effects on mood, Peper said.

“Even our posture, our thoughts, affect our muscle structure or our emotions,” Peper said. He was so intrigued by Sensie that he will start research on the effects of the app with his students in the fall.

Dannheim says the app will give people the power to understand the underlying causes of their stress. “We give people the ability to identify sources of stress,” Dannheim said. “We’re actually saying ‘take control of how you feel.’”

But he knows people can’t do all of the work alone. He hopes the app will encourage people to seek professional help.

“Our mission is to help reconnect people to their hearts and our vision is to unlock human flourishing,” Dannheim said. “I’m hoping that Sensie will open the market for therapy, as people will start to identify these problems that they have and then realize they need help.”

Often, people are so stressed or depressed that they can’t pinpoint the cause. That’s where Sensie comes in.

Here’s how the app works: The user says a phrase related to particular area of his or her life (for example, “I’m satisfied with my current work life” or “I’m satisfied with my current family life”) and then performs a triple whip gesture with his or her arm. The app’s sensors use the fluidity of your motion to detect the level of stress related to the statement.

Dannheim developed the technology and research for Sensie alongside Thomas Gersten and Edgar Herrador (Herrador is no longer with the company.) They started research in 2016. Dannheim said Gersten, a muscle testing practitioner, came up with Sensie’s signature whip.

The founders partnered with Anne Jensen, who researches emotional healing and stress reduction. Jensen earned her Ph.D. at the University of Oxford in England, where she studied “the accuracy and precision of muscle testing in order to detect the difference between a true statement and a lie,” she said in an interview.

SENSIE CEO Mike Dannheim and CTO Chris Stegner are developers of a phone app meant to help users recognize and deal with stress. CHARLES TRAINOR JR.

“I think stress is going to kill us all eventually,” Jensen said. “It can be underlying; we don’t even know we’re stressed but we are. We get really good at avoiding and suppressing our stresses and our feelings. And Sensie is good at picking up those really underlying stresses.”

Dannheim said his team, which partners with award-winning digital products and services agency Very Big Things, is continuing to advance the scientific research behind Sensie.

In addition to Peper’s San Francisco students, others at University of California - Berkeley are already conducting tests using Sensie’s technology. Enitan Marcelle, a Berkeley Ph.D. candidate spearheading the research, said she wants to understand how Sensie clinically improves stress and depression levels in people using the app. Subjects in her study have said they feel less stressed when using the app.

Sensie is in its pre-revenue stage, but Dannheim said that he thinks a paywall will eventually go up on the app, separating free and premium features. The company has raised $155,000 to date and is seeking another $500,000, he said.


Founders: Mike Dannheim, Thomas Gersten and Edgar Herrador

CEO: Mike Dannheim

Employees: 2 (5 additional employees with Very Big Things work on the project)

Founded: 2016

Based: Miami

Milestones: American Psych Association Annual Meeting Innovation Lab final competitor, 2018