Good start to stress management

The starting level and objectives in stress management are as important as when maintaining physical condition. An employer wishes that every employee is with good health and well-being for the duration of their career. Most companies systematically take actions to promote this. When looking at stress management from an individual point of view, there are as many situations as people.

From a physical point of view someone might have as an objective to spend less time on a couch. Another wants to run a marathon or win a competition in weight lifting. Regarding the mental well-being, too many just would like to manage it until tomorrow.

“5 simple ways to live a less stressful life” or  “7 tips to managing daily stress”  are interesting titles and lead thoughts to how things are in ones´ life. Often these tips do not take into account the big picture nor is the experienced stress positive or negative.

The Moodmetric smart ring is the only wearable that shows the cognitive and emotional stress real time, and enables measuring also in long term.

The Moodmetric measurement data from several years has brought better understanding on stress

Analyzing the Moodmetric  data over the course of four years has helped us to better understand the fluctuating stress levels. The measurement periods are are from 2 weeks to years, which enables seeing how changes in life affect the stress levels. It has become clear, that a person’s starting point plays an important role in stress management.

1. People stress differently

Based on the Moodmetric measurement people can be roughly divided to two categories

  • Reaching high stress levels often and easily, both out of excitement and of negative stress. This means reacting often very strongly to emotional and cognitive stimuli.
  • Those who react more flatly, have less deviation from average values. Also these people can reach high Moodmetric-levels very fast, but they normally soon return back to equilibrium.

In the first group people might need to pay more attention to recovery every day. Sleep can be very deep when balance has been gained.

Example: A typical Moodmetric 24 hour measurement of a person easily reaching high stress levels. On the left the day from 6am to 6pm, on the right the night from 6pm to 6am.

In the second group the recovery during the night might not need to be as complete. This is because the load of the sympathetic nervous system is more modest during the day.

Example: A typical Moodmetric 24 hour measurement of a person with modest response to stress. On the left the day from 6am to 6pm, on the right the night from 6pm to 6am.

It is good to understand my own way to react to stress. There are as many ways as there are persons, and this can also change with different phases of life.

No way to react is better than the other. During evolution all types were needed – this has not changed. People acting differently are needed in social and occupational context. Diversity is good also regarding stress responses. 

2. You need to recover also from excitement

Also positive stress can wear out when going on for a long time. People devoted to their work, entrepreneurs, creative people and many others sometimes enjoy positive stress for too long. A dream job can also lead to burnout.a.

Devices and tests might tell a lot, but the most important is own experience. What is the situation in my life – the work, family, leisure, friends? Do I feel things are pretty good, or is some area of my life very demanding right now? If I say I am stressed, what does it feel like and how does it affect my life?

The Moodmetric smart ring is a support for individual stress management. It gives valuable measurement data and helps in better self understanding.

The measurement data always needs to be put in the context of own life. Same numbers can in different situations mean a different thing. Very low Moodmetric levels have been measured both with depressed and those who are simply always calm.

3. Good start to managing stress is to understand oneself and one’s life

What stresses me out, how do I calm down, what is my individual way to react? A short practice: Can you easily place yourself to the below fourfold table of wellbeing? No that your position might vary depending on whether you think of work, family or other part of life.

The wellbeing fourfold is for determining how high is the stress/arousal level, and is the state positive or negative. The Moodmetric measurement shows the stress level on a scale of 1 to 100. The app Analytics screen shows the chosen categories of life on a similar fourfold, when the user has defined the mood as pleasant/unpleasant. (Use the Diary feature for this.)

When defining where I am on the map, it is good to understand what was discussed in point 1: how do I react to stress. Some people mainly move in lower part of the picture, high levels of stress or excitement are not natural. Whether stress level is low or high, the right side of the fourfold is better in long term.

How the Moodmetric measurement supports in managing stress?

The Moodmetric measurement helps to put oneself to the correct spot on the picture of own life and stress. What stresses me out, what not, what are my stress levels comparing the objective – ie. balance?

– What Moodmetric levels one should aim at?

No single measurement result is good or bad. In long term the objective is balance. This means that sleep and rest during the day compensate the activation of the sympathetic nervous system due to emotional or cognitive load. When the Moodmetric daily average number is about 50, it indicates balance of the autonomic nervous system.

Good start to managing stress is to acknowledge own situation as accurately as possible. Measured cognitive and emotional load is often both a support and a motivating factor.

 

The Moodmetric smart ring is available at the Moodmetric web shop.

Inquiries about the Moodmetric services for organizations: [email protected]

Read more about the Moodmetric company measurement at HERE Technologies. 

 

 

PART 2: Chronic stress – The brain concludes that we are continuously in danger

The autonomic nervous system regulates the body functions as situations require. Recovery and healing systems are most active during sleep.  After lunch it is important to digest the food and use the nutrients efficiently. When facing imminent threat, the immune system and food processing are not important. They are shut off, to use all the possible energy for muscles that are needed in the fight.

The autonomic nervous system works largely unconsciously. It is responsible for many vital functions such as blood pressure and temperature regulation, digestion and function of the adrenal cortex.  It works through the neural network that controls the heart and other organs. The autonomic nervous system keeps us alive without us knowingly doing anything about it.

The autonomic nervous system consists of two complementary parts, the sympathetic and parasympathetic.  When active, the parasympathetic nervous system slows down the heart beat, enhances digestion and healing. It strives to calm the body down and keep the vital functions stable.

The sympathetic part is responsible for preparing the body for action, and it´s fibers can innervate tissues in almost every organ.  The sympathetic nervous system activates in stressful situations and in hard physical strain.

The both parts of the autonomic nervous systems normally work in good cooperation, but as a seesaw.  When the other gets active, the other slows down. For instance in acute stress reaction the sympathetic nervous system works in full speed in an instant. The working of the parasympathetic part seizes and e.g. digestion almost stops. A perfect operation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic part enable an accurate and fast regulation of our internal mechanisms in any situation.

The fight or flight response is a way for us to cope in a rapidly escalating threatening situation. At the time of cavemen the case was normally quickly closed, the fights did not last for weeks or months. For a today´s human the stress reaction might be a permanent state, and the parasympathetic nervous system does not have the chance to return our body to rest.

In long term stress the cortisol levels in our body are continuously high

Chronic stress keeps the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis active. It is like an idling motor, pumping stress hormones such as cortisol to our system.

Cortisol helps us to confront the threat but it simultaneously shuts down the immune system. From the evolution point of view this made sense: if a crocodile attacks we can shut down all the functions in the body that are not needed to flee or fight. The immune defense weakens when we are continuously stressed, and this might lead to a series of infections. The stress factors also play a role in the development of autoimmune diseases, heart and blood vessel diseases and cancer. Continuous boosts of adrenaline can harm blood vessels, raise blood pressure and increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Worrying and fear increase our mental load and can further activate the sympathetic nervous system. Physical symptoms persist,  recovery via rest and sleep further slow down.

Heavy cognitive and emotional load during recovery from an illness might be as bad for our body as physical exercise. Our body would choose to put the work aside when being ill.

Chronic Stress affects memory, concentration and appetite

In a state of chronic stress the brain thinks that a physical fight starts any time. With cortisol our body works to have a lot of energy available. It enhances appetite and extra energy storing  with might lead to weight gain.

Cortisol is also released to hippocampus that is central in memorizing and learning. A stressed out person has difficulties in learning and emotion regulation. There are often concentration difficulties and memory problems.

Burnout

Chronic stress can not go on forever without consequences. Burnout is a severe disturbance in our vital mechanisms. Simultaneous psychological, neural, metabolic and immune system collapse might be so total, that a complete recovery is very slow or even impossible.

The best cure for burnout is prevention. It can be difficult to understand the graveness of the situation. People tend to compare themselves and their working rhythms to others and to pretend that everything is fine. Just a moment before collapsing things might seem normal from the outside.

Talk with friends and family, colleagues, your superior or a health care professional if you feel  that the load is too high.

Sleep is a good indicator.

Sleep, brain and stress

When the life is in balance, we recover from acute stress reactions and also longer burdensome periods. These take often place in life changes: a newcomer in the family, moving house, study or work project that is exceptionally demanding. We overcome these challenges when the amount of recovery is sufficient.

Sleep is our most important recovery function and an indicator of balance. Weeks and months with disturbed sleep is a sign of stress, and sleep deprivation further lowers down our resilience.

The brain needs sleep. During sleep many things take place that the sleeper is not aware of. A daily cleanup is made in order for us to feel physically and mentally well.

There is no health without sleep. The importance of proper recovery becomes clear after a period of poor sleeping. At worst the life is just coping. Unfortunately this is reality for so many, that we have begun to think it is normal not to sleep enough. But it is not.

When we most nights sleep well and feel brisk in the morning, our body and mind are always prepared to perform well. We are in balance.

The complete set of 5 articles:

  1. Part 1: Fight or flight response
  2. Part 2: Chronic stress – The brain concludes that we are continuously in danger
  3. Part 3: Tools for long term and continuous stress measurement
  4. Part 4: The Moodmetric ring stress measurement and understanding the data
  5. Part 5: The Moodmetric measurement in preventive occupational health 

 

High stress levels – then what?

In my previous blog post I promised to write in detail how I dealt with my chronic stress last year. As I told, the turning point was the summer holiday when I started experiencing difficulties in falling asleep.

 

Sleep is the most important part of recovery. I did know that, but one cannot really force herself to sleep and taking sleeping pills was not an option for me. Therefore, I started tackling the stress from another direction.

The very first thing I did was downloading Headspace on my phone. Headspace is an  application using proven meditation and mindfulness techniques to train the mind for a healthier, happier, and more enjoyable life. I had tried Headspace before and was already convinced about its effectiveness. Having also tried other guided mindfulness applications I noticed that the voice matters to me! Andy Puddicombe has a voice that is calming by nature 🙂 Mindfulness is our basic human ability to be fully present, aware of our surroundings, and not being too reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us. According to my Moodmetric levels, mindfulness is low numbers indicating inactive sympathetic nervous system.

However, after trying mindfulness a few times at home during the weekends, I realized it was of no use. It was really difficult to find a nice and quiet place for a meditation exercise. Normally my Moodmetric numbers go down steadily during meditation exercises, but as constantly hearing kids running and screaming upstairs, I could not concentrate. By accident (I got upset for not being able to concentrate and marched out for a walk), I found out that going out for a walk lowered my stress levels more effectively than meditating at home. I continued mindfulness exercises on work days.

Then I gave up on kettlebell exercises for a few months and started going for walks instead. Before, putting my trainers on just to go for a walk, was never really an option. I had this thought that going ‘just’ for a walk was a waste of (sports) time. It started to become clear for me that exercising is a good way to prevent stress, but if you are already overloaded, strenuous exercise only adds up to high stress levels.

Working less during the evenings was an obvious move of course. However, not always being able to refrain from work, I started studying how different kind of work tasks affected my stress levels. Quite soon I noticed that writing e-mails raised my stress levels easily. On the other hand, design or creative work without time pressure kept my stress levels down. As I talked about this with our CEO she had experienced the opposite – going through e-mail was less stressful for her than any kind of creative work. This is a good reminder of how we are all individuals and should find out ourselves what are the causes of stress and sources of recovery.

Also, working remotely from home helped me to keep stress levels moderate (the kids being at daycare, of course). This is probably explained by the fact that I could solely concentrate on my work without unexpected social interruptions.  

In addition, I adjusted my diet a bit. From my previous experience I had noticed that cutting down carbs and sugar kept me steadily energetic. I also started taking vitamin and mineral supplements: D3, B12, magnesium citrate and zinc to fight the stress and help the immune system.  

In October, I started seeing clear results with my stress levels. The change had happened in my mind as well – the future seemed brighter again, less worrying thoughts and more feelings of accomplishment. I was able to concentrate better, which had a clear correlation with getting more work done. All this change in my thoughts even though nothing else had changed in my surroundings. Also no difficulties in falling asleep anymore.  

Mindfulness was probably the most effective action on my way to a less-stress life. Even though I wasn’t doing the exercises for more than two or three times a week, I felt that it helped me the most. According to studies, it takes 8 weeks to get results. In that sense, I would recommend trying mindfulness even if one can not commit to the exercises every day.

One might wonder why the actions I took seem so systematic and straightforward. Is managing stress really that simple? Yes and no.  

Knowledge work productivity and wellbeing have been my area of interest for a long time. I have acquired decent theoretical knowledge of the substance through my work as a researcher, so in that sense I was well aware how to tackle chronic stress as a knowledge worker. In general, the internet is loaded with tips and guidance towards stress free life.

However, effective stress management requires lifestyle and behavioral changes. It is easy to try something for a few times, but the hard part is adopting a lasting routine. I get my motivation to take action by looking at my stress levels on the Moodmetric app.  

The idea behind Moodmetric is that everyone should find out what are their individual sources of stress and recovery. What works for me, might not work for you. The Moodmetric ring is an excellent tool to find that out.

How do you sleep

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Newborn baby is rarely something fun in the night time. Back then, I lost count by midnight on how many times I was woken up. I tried to write all the activity down on a piece of paper, but in the morning it was impossible to comprehend my scribble.

Meeting other very tired mothers the next day, it would be have been great to boast about the 30 something wake up cries to explain why I did not remember my name. I thought how eye opening (for my husband) it would be to have a tracker to tell all this and have a proof the next day!

In a couple of years this all became possible and there are a lot of devices to choose of. Showing records of bad sleep is possible and even something your occupational health carer might ask from you. Insomnia is as common as a flu and temporary night problems can be caused by projects at work, also free time, not only by your sweet baby.

Virtually all the activity trackers have included sleep tracking in their devices. Fitbit, Jawbone, Garmin, just to name a few, all have solutions that give insights to the sleep. Depending on the device, they monitor the quality and length of sleep (deep, light and REM sleep), through person’s heart rate, breathing, movement, blood oxygen level and brain waves. A simple pedometer can tell the steps you took.

Personal insight: Carrying a crying baby from 2am until 4am quickly gathers the recommended 10 000 steps per day..

The sleep trackers reveal what happens after Sandman has paid his visit. Analysis on sleep cycles can help you to take actions if you want to improve your sleep routines. Sleep deprivation has harmful effects on our human health, and even small changes can significantly improve recovery during night time.
The Moodmetric ring tells about the sympathetic nervous system activation during the night. If the system is very active, your immune system does not work at it´s full power. The ring is a simple to use reader that tells how well you have recovered from your day. As the Moodmetric ring is designed to measure stress, the night time reading gives the user valuable and important insights into the big picture. If the day was hectic but the night was spent sound asleep, it is a good indication of having stress and recovery well in balance.

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This is our COO sleeping like a baby after an exciting day.

 

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