Ten years ago there was talk of the need for an innovative product that could tell people when their stress level became high. One suggestion was for a computer mouse to be equipped to recognize stress and trigger a high-stress signal. That delivery vehicle seemed particularly promising to help lawyers–stress is a common problem that contributes to negative outcomes both physically and mentally in lawyers.
Well, the future is now. A number of high-tech devices now purport to be able to alert us to a high stress level.
One of the early providers, Fitbit, has a new technology that uses sweat data from a built-in EDA sensor to determine stress levels. It also monitors your sleep and physical activity and combines it with your stress levels to produce a stress score. EDA, also referred to as galvanic skin response (GSR), reflects the changes in electrical activity of skin when you produce sweat, which leads to a higher electrical conductance. This technology isn’t really new–law enforcement officials used GSR in the 20th century as a component of lie detector machines.
More recently, in a paper published July 21 in the JMIR Formative Research, a research team from Washington State University’s Voiland College of Engineering and the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine found that a wearable wristband they are developing can accurately measure a number of physiological responses to stress both in real-time and in real-world situations, a feat that has stymied other devices. Like modern smart watches and bands, these devices measure heart rate, but at a higher reliability, and also detect changes in sweat gland activity, body temperature and skin conductance—all ways our bodies physically respond to stress.
The device can be programmed to light up with notifications or launch an app that asks questions to help people work through a stressful situation. The team is also working on a way to tie the devices to a music app, so that it can automatically select a song to play when stress is detected. The hope is that those types of stress relief reactions can help, for example, substance abusers, which include a large percentage of lawyers, to avoid looking for relief in unhealthy substances.
Based on neuroscience research at the University of Pittsburgh, another device dubbed Apollo delivers a novel touch therapy felt as gentle waves of vibration that stimulates your “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous response. When used consistently, Apollo claims to retrain your nervous system to manage stress more effectively on your own.
The simple notification of stress is by itself therapeutic. “Just recognizing stress is one of the best ways to limit the impact of a stressful situation,” one of the head researchers in the Washington State University study said.
While that awareness is a major step forward, the real work is in learning what to do when you realize your stress level is high. Understanding and managing your physical and emotional reactions, knowing when and how to leave the stress situation, learning positive self-talk, and finding your personal stress vulnerabilities and also your best break-stress responses all add up to ways to both avoid and climb out of those high-stress, damaging situations.