Nowadays, one cannot deny that “stress” is but a buzzword used to depict the wrongdoings of post-industrial society. To be frank, that is not entirely misleading, yet some clarifications on the phenomenon of stress should definitely be made.
Considering the prevalence of anxiety in daily lives, the general public definitely ought to know what exactly stress is, the long-term effects of stress, how to measure stress in daily life with the help of a stress app and how to deal with stress and anxiety.
So, what exactly is stress?
As scientists put it, “The term “stress” is an umbrella term representing experiences in which the environmental demands of a situation outweigh the individual’s perceived psychological and physiological ability to cope with it effectively.”
There is a simpler variant: stress is your organism’s physiological (NB!) reaction to any external factor of unusual power and magnitude. Stress actually is a lot like simple inflammation.
Still, there are core differences. Inflammation is a topical reaction caused by releasing corresponding mediators from the damaged cells. As a product of millennia of the nervous system’s evolution, stress is a complicated systemic reaction mediated primarily by the brainstem and the cortex. While the former is responsible for the actual somatic responses like increased heart and breath rate, the cortex makes stress adaptive so that one can not always be stressed by the same factor over and over again.
Since stress is a systemic reaction, its influence can be tracked in almost all body systems. Therefore, stress is assessed in various ways – check them out!
Heart rate variability
Heart rate variability (HRV) here is, by far, the most common way to measure stress. As the name suggests, the essence of this method lies in the gathering of HRV values with consequent statistical and mathematical analysis. Finally, comparing the current HRV with your average values is done to draw the exact conclusions regarding the stress status.
Electroencephalography (EEG) is a recording of the brain’s electrical activity. The impulses form patterns, which are called brainwaves. There are four main types of brainwaves – alpha, beta, delta, and gamma – each type occurs during the specific brain activity. The waves recorded are used to define your current brain activity and, therefore, stress.
Breathing assessment via capnometry
This method is based upon the increase in breath rate while stressed. Tachypnoe changes carbon dioxide content in the exhaled air, which is used to detect stress response and work on breathing techniques.
Stress induces the release of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into the blood flow. So, naturally, a lab test can detect the amount of these hormones in the blood and urine. Usually, four or more samples a day are taken to establish a daily rhythm.
Skin conductance and skin temperature
Due to the constriction of peripheral blood vessels, stress changes the skin’s electrical conductance and lowers its temperature. This exact phenomenon is used in the classic polygraph, which detects a momentary stress spike.
Stress makes the light phase of sleep more prevalent. As such, sleep tracking, which is done via EEG, helps analyze the influence of stress.
Resting heart rate
Resting heart rate should be measured upon waking up. It is a simple measure – lower is better – which shows how stress affects you during rest. But, unfortunately, it is also quite inaccurate since resting heart rate can be influenced by so many other factors.
Heart rate variability and stress
Due to its sheer usefulness, the heart rate variability should be elaborated further. The beat-to-beat intervals are not identical since every heartbeat is influenced by both the nervous system and its pacemaker cells.
For example, even with 60 BPM, you are not getting 1 second flat between each heartbeat. Consequently, the heart rate variability evaluates the variance in beat-to-beat heart intervals.
When stress kicks in, the nervous system influences the heart to be faster. Since the heart now has “direct orders,” there is little room for variance, especially since every heartbeat may be crucial to lifesaving.
On the other hand, while relaxing, the heart gets little to no outside influence, and heartbeats are occurring pseudorandomly, based solely on pacemaker electric discharge.