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Stress management: Better living through technology

Meridith Levinson | Oct. 17, 2011
In 2005, at age 32, Dave Asprey realized he was literally working himself to death. Here is his story.

"Even though I was high-performing, I could tell it was costing me," says Asprey. "The cost here might have been my life."

The Stress Epidemic

The impact of stress on our health is well documented. Among the problems created by chronic stress: It makes us more susceptible to getting sick because it attacks our immune system; it causes high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)--both of which increase our risk of heart attack; and it can also leads to ulcers. According to the American Institute of Stress, 90 percent of all illnesses are stress-related.

Where does all this stress come from? For many American adults, it stems from their jobs.

In 2009, 69 percent of employees polled by the American Psychological Association reported that work was a significant source of stress. 41 percent of employees said they typically feel stressed out during the work day. Half of respondents (51 percent) said stress impaired their productivity at work.

IT professionals at all career levels report experiencing unprecedented amounts of work-related stress.

An IT manager working at a medical device manufacturer based in the Midwest told that four people holding IT leadership positions in his organization had experienced stress-related illnesses over the past two years, including two who had heart attacks on the job. Two of the four IT leaders ended up retiring. One had to reduce his workload while he recovered from his illness, and the fourth had to take a medical leave of absence from the company. (This IT director wished to remain anonymous because he feared naming his company in the context of an article about work-related stress.)

Stress doesn't have to lead to such tragic consequences. IT professionals can learn to control their responses to stress, says Louisa Mattson, who teaches a variety of stress management techniques to executives through her practices at outplacement firm Essex Partners and leadership development firm Camden Consulting.

"We may not have control over much in our lives, but we do have control over how we're going to respond to stress and uncertainty," Mattson says.

A Technology Remedy for Stress

Asprey practiced yoga and meditation to manage his stress, but these techniques weren't effective enough for his lifestyle. So he turned to technology for help.

Asprey purchased a device called the emWave, which measures an individual's heart beat and the time intervals between their heart beats (a measure known as heart rate variability) through a sensor that attaches to the ear lobe. Lights that blink red in response to an individual's heart rate variability indicate when someone is stressed, angry or frustrated. When the lights on the device switch from red to blue, it indicates that the person is moving into a more "coherent" physical and emotional state. When the lights flash green, the individual is relaxed and their major body functions are working together, instead of against each other, as in a stressed state.


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