Health as defined by the WHO is a “state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely absence of disease”. We often associate disease as a tangible entity which can be seen as a fever and flu, cold and cough, infections and infirmity. Psychological disorders are swept under the carpet. The Indian sages paid particular attention to the unconscious, by mastering their minds they attained high levels of emotional equilibrium. A sound mind in a sound body is a health ideal. Today’s gen Z is prey to a variety of mental health issues and at the forefront is stress. School going teens, college students and the young working class i.e. the ages 15-30 are the ones commonly affected by stress. They are constantly haunted by deadlines, long work hours, travel, financial stressors and emotional problems.
Technology also plays a major role in causing stress; we are perpetually surrounded by screens, gadgets and blinking lights. Our brain doesn’t get a single moment of rest, the neurons are continuously firing. Even when we take a break from work, we log on to various social media apps and mobile games. Every coin has two sides, similarly when it comes to technology, the picture is not all grey; we can use technology itself to help us cope with stress. IoT devices can help us with stress management in a variety of ways such as measuring indicators of stress, sleep cycles, quantifying improvement and progress. Chronic stress causes a plethora of other health problems and aggravates underlying health conditions. Stressed individuals commonly come with symptoms of migraine, muscle cramps, hyperventilation, upset stomach to name a few. Dealing with stress is essential since stressed people are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular problems like hypertension, myocardial infarction, gastrointestinal problems like gastric ulcers and psychological problems like panic attacks and depression. Even for the society as a whole stressed people are a burden as they cause a fall in the productivity levels and can harm the economic growth. Stress management and stress relief should be a healthcare priority.
Etiology of stress – What causes stress?
A stress response can be triggered by a variety of things, which differ from person to person. The most common stressors are workplace related. Irregular and hectic work hours, job dissatisfaction, low income, poor management, facing discrimination and harassment at work as a few of the problems commonly faced by the working class. Many crucial events in life also contribute to anxiety and stress like migrating to a new town, loss of job, marriage, death of a loved one, divorce, taking care of sick family members etc. Other traumatic events that can trigger stress are natural disasters, unstable political and economic condition of the country, inflation, debts, theft, violence to name a few.
The ability to deal with the above sources of stress also depends a lot on an individual’s attitude and perception. They way we cope with stress depends on our threshold, our personalities and the environment we grew up in. Urbanisation has seen a rise in the number of nuclear families wherein both parents are managing full time jobs. Most children do not have the emotional support provided by grandparents and relatives in the joint family system. This lack of support system has made children today prone to anxiety and stress. Stress management especially in teenagers is another important aspect. Psychologically healthy teenagers translates to healthier adult population in the future.
Quantification and Analysis of stress levels
Unlike other diseases, it is a tad difficult to actually measure stress. Psychological problems are more subjective in nature, hence we indirectly try to quantify stress by assessing the ways stress affects our body. This is where IoT can assist us. Stress primarily affects the cardiovascular system. In any acute stressful situation, our hearts start beating fast, palms become sweaty and our breathing rapid – a typical fight or flight response. This is because stress stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and causes release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Wearable IoT bracelets can help in meausing heart rate variability which is an accurate indicator of stress. Heart rate variability as the name suggests is the time interval between each heartbeat. For a normal person the heart beats rhythmically, but under stress this pattern changes.
IoT wearables can provide real time information about this change. By comparing heart rate stats over a period of time we can identify the number a times the person was stressed and the causative factors. The results are personalised and accurately give us an insight about the person’s response patterns. Some individuals also show a higher baseline blood pressure values. This can be measured by IoT wearables like smart bands. An important aspect of stress management is regulation of these vitals. IoT can also give us inputs about other parameters like cortisol levels, sweat rates etc. Galvanic skin response sensors (GSR) help to determine stress level based on electrodermal activity i.e. the skin’s ability to conduct electric currents. When a person sweats more, electric impulses travel faster.
Sleep is another entity which is affected by stress. Anxiety causes lack of sleep which in turn causes more anxiety, this creates a vicious cycle. IoT devices and apps can track the hours of restful sleep a person gets and motivate the user to make healthy lifestyle changes to manage stress.
Stress Management and Stress Relief
Once stress has been quantified, it is essential for us to look into types of stress management. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there are three different types of stress – acute stress, episodic acute stress and chronic stress. By analysis of the inputs and data from IoT devices and apps we can determine the type of stress and ways to manage stress. Dealing with stress can be done in a variety of ways, this can be selected by the individual himself based on the type of stress he is facing. Often some method which works for one many not work the same way for another. Acute stress and panic attacks can be managed by breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation. Breathing exercises aim to regulate respiration. IoT devices can map the real time respiratory rates and help the person manage controlled breathing techniques. Meditation techniques can be done with a variety of apps which provide detailed demos and audios.
Managing stress of the chronic type requires a combined approach. Along with short term stress relief methods, the person needs to make lifestyle changes and start healthy practicing activities to handle stress. Chronic stress management methods include regular exercise, healthy dietary habits, regular meditation and healthier sleep cycles. IoT apps can be used to track the duration of REM and non REM sleep and motivate the individual to achieve a regular fitful circadian rhythm. Since IoT provides baseline data for comparison, small improvements can motivate the individual to maintain healthy lifestyles. Furthermore various apps can be used to track the total cell phone usage, give us a breakdown of what goes in our stomachs and the no. of hours of activity. Healthy eating habits and regular exercise release endorphins, also known as the happy hormone. Meditation relaxes the mind and helps to reduce anxiety. IoT devices can measure stress before and after meditation and this helps to assess whether meditation has been beneficial for that individual. Overall adopting healthier lifestyle practices, meditation and counselling can go a long way to bring about stress relief.