The wellness industry is continuing to grow at an exponential rate, with the global wellness industry now worth $4.2tn, according to the Global Wellness Economy Monitor.

Measuring and mitigating the physical impact of stress is an important factor in maintaining health and wellness.

Health monitoring apps and devices are growing in sophistication and utility with each release, but how much do we understand from the data that they uncover? How can we trust that data to make decisions about our health? And what are the real risks of stress?

B-Secur data research manager Holly Easlea decided to use the Christmas period to conduct a fascinating real-life stress monitoring exercise to help us answer these questions, on arguably one of the most stressful days of the year for many - Christmas Day.

B-Secur data research manager Holly Easlea

Data Research Manager, Holly Easlea

We spoke to Holly to understand more about her process, the results and the value of those results.

 

Understanding Stress

First of all Holly, can you tell us more about the impact of stress on the body?

“Stress can simply be defined as a response that helps us survive physical or mental stressors we face. This is where fight or flight kicks in; activating the sympathetic division of our nervous system, which increases heart rate, decreases heart rate variability and increases blood pressure.

“There is a wide range of physical and psychological stressors that may impact an individual, some more so than others. Example of stressors include work-related stress, lack of sleep, hangovers, excitement and medications.

“Stress has been previously described as one of the main causes of major health issues in the developed world [1]. The effects of chronic stress have been researched extensively and associated with events of acute myocardial infarction (heart attack), hypertension, stroke, diabetes, mental health disorders, obesity and gastrointestinal issues [2].

“Stress is however a necessary part of life, it is all a balancing act. Stress strengthens your body, making you more resilient, although too much stress could have significant negative impacts to your health, making its monitoring and management very important.

“There are numerous articles available online detailing ‘how to manage your stress’ or ‘tips to reduce stress’ etc, however stressors and stress levels are specific to each individual. For example, watching Liverpool playing football would not have any impact on my stress levels, however my husband’s stress levels would be a very different story!

“Fundamentally, managing stress is all specific to you. Knowing what causes an increase in your stress is the best way to manage your stress and ensure a healthy balance is maintained.”

[1] A. Marine, J. H. Ruotsalainen, C. Serra, and J. H. Verbeek, “Preventing occupational stress in healthcare workers,” Cochrane Database Syst. Rev., no. 4, 2006.
[2] S. Cohen, D. Janicki-Deverts, and G. E. Miller, “Psychological stress and disease.,” JAMA Am. Med. Assoc., 2007.

Holly's Results

Christmas ECG Stress Measurement

Interpreting the Data

Can you tell us more about how you gathered this data? Describe the process.

“I thought it would be very interesting to measure my stress over the Christmas period to get an understanding of what impacts my stress levels, good or bad.

“To do so, I set myself up with a Bittium Faros 180. This device was set up to record a single lead ECG using wet electrodes placed either side of my rib cage.

“The device was applied on Christmas Eve just before I went to sleep and worn right through to Boxing Day morning when I woke up. Alongside wearing the recording device, I kept a diary of my day to analyse with the data.

“The data was then extracted from the device and ran through the B-Secur Stress algorithm to gain insights into my stress levels throughout Christmas.”

Can you talk through what this image is showing?

“The graph shows my stress levels, with stress reported as 0% low stress to 100% high stress. The graph displays a mean stress score for each three minute period throughout the entire recording. Low (blue), normal (orange) and high (red) stress levels are shown on the graph.”

What were the most interesting results for you? Were there any surprises?

“I found this data very interesting to understand a bit more about me and what impacts my stress levels.

“All the high stress periods highlighted by the B-Secur stress algorithm correlated with activities noted in my diary, such as food preparation where I definitely felt stressed.

“The interesting event for me was the scary film causing such a high stress event, I guess scary movies aren’t the best genre to watch!

“The other interesting insight I gained was the reduction in my stress levels during activities such as reading books or watching TV. The data left me surprised that my stress levels could reduce so rapidly into a low stress range. The conclusion I draw from this analysis is that I should watch more of my favourite TV shows!”

Validating Data

How do you use this type of data at B-Secur?

“At B-Secur we use this type of data for further ongoing validation of our stress algorithm, ensuring the algorithm outputs are as expected and useful for analysis.

“In addition to our stress validation, this data is also very useful for research and development of other B-Secur health and wellness algorithms.

“As a daily diary is recorded, we know what the individual was doing throughout the recording, therefore this data is beneficial for development of our other algorithms such as Energy Expenditure.”

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