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Journal article

Stress watch: the use of heart rate and heart rate variability to detect stress: a pilot study using smart watch wearables

Stress management Anxiety Smart devices Wearable technology

Stress is an inherent part of the normal human experience. Although, for the most part, this stress response is advantageous, chronic, heightened, or inappropriate stress responses can have deleterious effects on the human body. It has been suggested that individuals who experience repeated or prolonged stress exhibit blunted biological stress responses when compared to the general population. Thus, when assessing whether a ubiquitous stress response exists, it is important to stratify based on resting levels in the absence of stress. Research has shown that stress that causes symptomatic responses requires early intervention in order to mitigate possible associated mental health decline and personal risks. Given this, real-time monitoring of stress may provide immediate biofeedback to the individual and allow for early self-intervention. This study aimed to determine if the change in heart rate variability could predict, in two different cohorts, the quality of response to acute stress when exposed to an acute stressor and, in turn, contribute to the development of a physiological algorithm for stress which could be utilized in future smartwatch technologies. This study also aimed to assess whether baseline stress levels may affect the changes seen in heart rate variability at baseline and following stress tasks. A total of 30 student doctor participants and 30 participants from the general population were recruited for the study. The Trier Stress Test was utilized to induce stress, with resting and stress phase ECGs recorded, as well as inter-second heart rate (recorded using a FitBit). Although the present study failed to identify ubiquitous patterns of HRV and HR changes during stress, it did identify novel changes in these parameters between resting and stress states. This study has shown that the utilization of HRV as a measure of stress should be calculated with consideration of resting (baseline) anxiety and stress states in order to ensure an accurate measure of the effects of additive acute stress.

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