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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.

"I could never tell if I was meditating right," says Asprey. "When I had a device that would blink green, I felt like I was monitoring a server or an app, doing application performance monitoring, except on myself."

Asprey began using the emWave in concert with a breathing technique for 30 minutes each day. Even after the first session, he says he felt different, and better. After two weeks of using the emWave and practicing the breathing technique, he was sleeping more soundly. He felt calmer, and the dread that used to grab hold of him as he checked his email had disappeared.

"Being an IT professional, I'm trained in how to deal with complex systems," adds Asprey. "I started managing my body as a complex system, just as a hacker or systems administrator would. The emWave gave me a daily process I could run, just like a Cron process on a Unix server. I was able to apply systems monitoring techniques to my body. I would look at, what is my performance today versus yesterday, and can I optimize it?"

The Physiology of Stress

The emWave tracks heart rate variability because it indicates stress. When we feel stressed, frustrated or angry, our heart rate variability spikes. It can surge from 65 beats per minute to 85 beats per minute and drop back down again, says Catherine Calarco, vice president of corporate growth and development for HeartMath Inc., which makes the emWave.

If someone's heart rate variability was plotted on a graph when they were stressed, the resulting waveform pattern would show uneven, jagged peaks, according to HeartMath's research. This jagged heart rate pattern indicates that the sympathetic nervous system (which activates the fight-or-flight response to stress) and the parasympathetic nervous system (which tells the sympathetic nervous system when to slow down), are not functioning in synch, as they should be. Instead, the two systems fight each other.

"It's like driving a car with one foot on the gas and the other foot on the brake," says Calarco.

The result is that our bodies operate inefficiently. They burn more fuel, deplete our energy and run down all of our critical systems.

By contrast, positive emotions, such as joy, appreciation and love, create smooth heart rate patterns that look more like sine waves, says Calarco.

A heart rate pattern that looks like a sine wave indicates that an individual is in a "coherent" state, according to HeartMath--meaning that their breathing, heart and mind are in synch and that the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are working together.

Calarco says that when we're in a coherent state, we have the greatest cognitive ability. "It is our optimal state for performance. It is when we have the greatest ability to manage and make decisions," she says.


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