Trying To Manage Your Stress Levels? A Stress Tracker Could Help

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The past 18 months have produced record-breaking stress levels for all of us. Even before the pandemic hit, many Americans regularly faced toxic stress. Yet, some people have become so accustomed to thriving under pressure they don't even realize they're stressed.

"We all know when we're feeling anxious or overwhelmed," says Sindhu Koshy, M.D., a cardiologist at Henry Ford Health System. "But now there are a variety of tracking tools to not only help you notice when you're stressed, but also prompt you to do something about it."

How Stress Trackers Work

Most of us know when we're feeling overwhelmed or stressed, but sometimes an uptick in your heart rate and more rapid breathing goes undetected. You're too stressed to notice! That's where stress trackers come in.

Whether you choose Apple Watch, Samsung Galaxy Watch, or Fitbit's heart rate monitors, you can get 24/7 insight about how hard your heart is working. Some high-tech wearables not only measure your heart rate and breathing, but they also track the variation between heartbeats (or heart rate variability). In general, high heart rate variability is associated with lower stress levels.

"Stress trackers can be a good tool to help you pay more attention to rising stress levels," Dr. Koshy says. "The tracker will tell you whether you're experiencing a high or low level of stress based on your heart rate. This information is key because we know that stress is bad for the heart."

What If Your Tracker Says You're Stressed?

If a stress tracking tool detects physiological changes indicating that your stress levels are climbing (or already through the roof), you need to do something to return to calm. Some tools even prompt you to take a deep breath or walk you through a guided meditation.

Whether you're tracking your stress levels or not, it's important to develop an arsenal of tools to help quiet your mind and body during stressful times. Here are five of Dr. Koshy's go-to strategies.

  1. Press pause. Set reminders for three different times during the day to prompt you to pause and take a time out. "It's an opportunity to take stock of how you're feeling," Dr. Koshy says. "Then, if you're anxious, stressed or overwhelmed, you can do just one small thing to help you feel better."
  2. Take a deep breath. One of the key benefits of stress trackers is that they often guide you through breathing exercises to bring your stress levels down. "Even just one minute of deep breathing in the quiet by yourself can help calm both mind and body."
  3. Move your body. Play fetch with the dog, shoot hoops in your backyard or go for a walk during your lunch break. "Exercise is a great way to alleviate mental stress," Dr. Koshy says. Physical activity causes the body to release feel-good chemicals while also helping you expend pent-up negative energy.
  4. Get outside. There's a reason behind the common prescription, "get some fresh air." The change of scenery, coupled with outdoor air, can help you gain a new perspective and better adapt to stressful situations. Can't get outdoors? "Stand by a window and get some sunlight," suggests Dr. Koshy.
  5. Communicate your needs. It's not uncommon for people to ignore their own physical and emotional well-being while trying to meet the demands of their jobs and families. Tell your boss and your family members what you need to succeed. Maybe you need a real lunch break with no interruptions. Or maybe you have small children and need 15 minutes of quiet. Whatever your needs are, make sure you communicate them to the people who can support you.

Stress Tracking Savvy

Stress trackers are not for everyone. If you have an obsessive-compulsive personality, or you find that tracking your stress level is, well, stressing you out, you may be better off going without.

"There are some people who should absolutely not use stress trackers," Dr. Koshy says. Plus, there are different types of stress — good and bad — which generally can’t be identified by a wearable device or app.

Stress is unavoidable, but that doesn't mean it has to control you. Trackers can help raise awareness of when you're stressed, so you can develop the tools you need to assess and address why you're stressed. If you need help bridging that gap, reach out to your primary care provider or mental health professional.

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To find a doctor or therapist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Singhu Koshy is a cardiologist for Henry Ford Health System who sees patients at Cardiovascular Consultants, P.C.

Categories: FeelWell