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.

the Moodmetric measurement helps to manage stress better

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 functions of our body as situations so require. Recovery and healing systems are the most active during sleep.  After lunch it is important to digest the food and use the nutrients efficiently. When faced with imminent threat, the immune system and food processing are not important. These functions are turned off to conserve all possible energy for the use of muscles, which are needed in the fight-or-flight response.

By and large, the autonomic nervous system works unconsciously. It is responsible for many vital functions such as blood pressure, 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 our heartbeat, enhancing digestion and healing. It strives to calm the body down and keep the vital functions stable.

The sympathetic part is responsible for preparing our body for action, with the axons (nerve fibers) of the system being able to innervate tissues in almost every organ. The sympathetic nervous system becomes active in stressful situations and during hard physical strain.

Both parts of the autonomic nervous systems normally work in good cooperation, but as a seesaw.  When the other becomes active, the other slows down. For instance, in acute stress reaction the sympathetic nervous system works at full speed, in an instant. The parasympathetic part ceases to operate and, for example, digestion almost comes to a halt. The sympathetic and parasympathetic systems have evolved to enable accurate and fast regulation of our internal mechanisms, regardless of the situation.

The fight-or-flight response is a way for us to cope in a threatening, rapidly escalating situation. In the time of cavemen, situations requiring response were normally quickly over and fights did not last for weeks or months. For us today, things can be completely different: 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 evolutionary point of view, this makes sense: If a crocodile attacks, we can shut down all the functions in the body that are not essential for fleeing or fighting. The immune defense of our body is weakened when we are continuously stressed, and this might lead to a series of infections. 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 put further strain on the sympathetic nervous system; physical symptoms persist, recovery via beneficial rest and sleep does not happen.

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 is about to start at any time. Cortisol, in turn, tells our body to have much energy available. It then enhances appetite and storing of extra energy, with might lead to weight gain.

Cortisol is also released to the hippocampus, the part of our brain which is central for memorizing and learning. A stressed-out person has difficulties in learning and regulating their emotions. There are also often problems associated with concentration and memory.

Burnout

Chronic stress cannot go on forever without its repercussions. Burnout is the consequence of chronic stress causing severe disturbance to our vital physical and mental mechanisms. A simultaneous collapse of our psychological, neural, metabolic and immune systems might be so all-encompassing that a complete recovery is very slow or even impossible.

The best cure for burnout is prevention. It can be difficult to accept the graveness of the situation. People tend to compare themselves and their work rhythms to others, set the bar too high and pretend that everything is fine. Just moments before the disintegration takes place, everything might appear quite normal for the people around.

Talk to your friends and family, colleagues, your superior or a health care professional if you feel that the load is too high. Usually the first cautionary signs are linked to changes in your sleep patterns.

The brain, sleep and stress

When our lives are in balance, we recover from acute stress reactions and even longer burdensome periods of strain. We all experience major turning points in our lives: a newcomer to the family, moving house, a study or work project that is exceptionally demanding. We overcome these changes and challenges when the quality and amount of recovery is sufficient enough.

Sleep is our most important means of recovery and an indicator of balance. Weeks and months of disturbed sleep is a sign of stress, and sleep deprivation further weakens our resilience to adapt to the challenges we have to deal with.

The brain needs sleep. During sleep our bodies repair and restore in ways we’re not aware of. It is almost like we need a nightly reboot to feel physically and mentally well.

There is no health without sleep. The importance of proper recovery becomes clear after experiencing periods of sleeping poorly. At worst life is reduced to mere coping. Unfortunately, this is reality for so many of us, so much so that we have begun to think it is normal not to sleep enough. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

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

The complete set of 5 articles explains the Moodmetric measurement, science behind and the applications:

  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