Monday, November 16, 2009

Stress Computing: Keeping track of stress before it tracks YOU down and KILLS you!

Stress is big business these days. Whether you are concerned with relieving stress, preventing stress, or monitoring stress you are sure to find plenty of products that claim to help you get to the bottom of the whole stressful stress stuff. But what exactly is stress and why are so many people concerned with it?

Stress is a biological term for the consequences of the failure of a human or animal to respond appropriately to emotional or physical threats to the organism, whether actual or imagined. It includes a state of alarm and adrenaline production, short-term resistance as a coping mechanism, and exhaustion. Common stress symptoms include irritability, muscular tension, inability to concentrate and a variety of physical reactions, such as headaches and elevated heart rate.

It covers a huge range of phenomena from mild irritation to the kind of severe problems that might result in a real breakdown of health. Signs of stress may be cognitive, emotional, physical or behavioral. Signs include poor judgment, a general negative outlook, excessive worrying, moodiness, irritability, agitation, inability to relax, feeling lonely or isolated, depressed, aches and pains, diarrhea or constipation, nausea, dizziness, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, eating too much or not enough, sleeping too much or not enough, withdrawing from others, procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities, using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax, and nervous habits (e.g. nail biting or pacing).

This is how stress effects the body in the relative short term, but what about common causes of stress and long term stress exposure?

So, here’s the top 7 Greatest Stress-creating behaviors. Find the ones that apply to you, and get to eliminating them, because these you can control.

1. Not saying “no”:
This is a particular problem for the female of the species, but men, now even you're doing it. It’s OK, in fact it’s healthy to turn down a request from family or friends, or not volunteer for that PTA project when you’re already looking for time on your schedule to eat... Take Nancy Reagan’s advice and…”just say NO” – nicely and with a brief, honest explanation (“I’m just too booked right now” or “my kids come first and I’m not spending enough time with them as it is…”) Only you can prevent over-load fires.

2. Inefficient time/task management:
Set a schedule for checking/responding to emails and voice messages, vs. doing so extensively throughout the day; this technique is used by the top business leaders. When scheduling an appointment, rather than asking “what time’s good for you?” which gives away control of your schedule, start by giving them some good times for you. Pay attention to the amount of time it takes you to complete a task, get to/from a meeting etc; you’ll be amazed by how much longer these things take than you thought, and now you can arrange your schedule more realistically.

3. Being a perpetual “fixer”:
Take off the Knight suit and stop rescuing people. It’s an unhealthy way to get attention, and, honestly, you’re really helping yourself more than actually helping them (it’s called “enabling”). If it is your responsibility, know what is in and out of your control so you don’t spin your wheels working on things that you cannot possibly influence.

4. Not scheduling time for rejuvenation:
Burn out is guaranteed when you don’t make taking time to rest/rejuvenate as much a part of your schedule as getting the laundry done. It is not something that you can take or leave – it is a mandatory requirement for both your body and your mind, and ignoring that law of physics will not change it.

5. No exercise:
The human body requires regular physical movement much like an automobile requires regular running to maintain it in good working order. You cannot remain sedentary and expect to feel good. Change your daily habits from using the least amount of physical exertion to using the most (taking the stairs whenever possible, walking into the bank vs. using the drive-thru, etc.), or you purchase one a large work-out ball to use at home, particularly while watching TV (good for everything from sit-ups to leg strengthening), But, keep your personal “vehicle” sitting in the proverbial driveway and you will soon be taking it to the salvage lot….

6. Making “mountains out of molehills”:
Otherwise and more currently known as “sweating the small stuff”, This behavior is quite toxic for you, and a real relationship buster with those you love. Learn to discern the difference between what’s truly important and worthy of concern, and what’s worthy of a smile, a shrug, and moving on. Begin by getting feed-back (from people whose opinion you trust) on when you tend to do this most often, and start with those and similar situations.

7. “Should’ing” all over yourself (and others…):
I think “should” shouldn’t be in the dictionary… I mean, really, what does “should” actually indicate? “I should be better at that….” Huh?! Either you can be better at that or you can’t (for whatever clear reason); you will be better at that or you won’t (depending on your level of motivation or present capabilities). Thinking “should” is a set-up for a no-win; an expectation with no clear determination of whether the desired outcome is doable in actuality. Be clear about what you or others actually “can” or “won’t” do vs. what they “should” do, and you’ll be on much more solid ground.

As for the long term effects of stress...

Stress can significantly affect many of the body's immune systems, as can an individual's perceptions of, and reactions to, stress. The term psychoneuroimmunology is used to describe the interactions between the mental state, nervous and immune systems, as well as research on the interconnections of these systems. Immune system changes can create more vulnerability to infection, and have been observed to increase the potential for an outbreak of psoriasis for people with that skin disorder.

Chronic stress has also been shown to impair developmental growth in children by lowering the pituitary gland's production of growth hormone, as in children associated with a home environment involving serious marital discord, alcoholism, or child abuse.

Studies of female monkeys at Wake Forest University (2009) discovered that individuals suffering from higher stress have higher levels of visceral fat in their bodies. This suggests a possible cause-and-effect link between the two, wherein stress promotes the accumulation of visceral fat, which in turn causes hormonal and metabolic changes that contribute to heart disease and other health problems.

Over the long term, distress can lead to diminished health and/or increased propensity to illness; to avoid this, stress must be managed.

Great! We already have so many things to worry about these days(ever increasing our stress levels), now we have to worry about too much stress. How much of stress monitoring can be done autonomously by a wearable device, or does the psychological nature of stress require a higher self awareness for effective monitoring/management? Quite a few companies tout wonder devices that aim to monitor and then help alleviate stress, but what exactly do they monitor and do they work at relieving stress?

Full Body Stress Monitor
Firstbeat HEALTH: heartbeat monitor
Bio-Q Ring

Monday, November 9, 2009

An Argument for Existential Computing

I think the dedication of attention to details of ones person is good for humanity. I do not think that the integration of computers is necessary to do so. However, I do think that computers allow for us to capture the data we want to pay attention to while not needing to actively participate in the actual logging and sensing of data. That said, the logging of self data should lead the individual to some conclusion about priorities, at which point the person is required to spend time reflecting on the outcome of the data, and ultimately change themselves in a way that better positions them in life. For example, one could log stress data(galvanic skin response and heart rate) while commuting to and from work, trying out different routes and departure times. But if once the data is collected and the person refuses to look at the data or respond appropriately then the logging of data has served no purpose. But this is obvious, I suppose what I am trying to say is that the active participation of the person in reviewing the data is as, if not more, important than the logging of the data. The active participation in reviewing the data conveys a willingness to change ones habits, or a fluidity in the brains make up for change. Why do I think that paying attention to self data is good for humanity? I don't really, what I do think is good is the repositioning of priorities to facilitate happiness in yourself and others. The decision to change ones priorities from quickness of commute to least stressful of commute has implications that will cascade down past the individual. The fundamental decision to value ones personal mental health over ones ability to pack as much into one day as possible also has the effect of restructuring values in other areas of a persons life. Good uses for data logging include times in which the person is under the assumption that an activity is inherently something, and so executes the activity because of the desired outcome, ie. I watch TV when I get home at night to relax. If one were to log data while watching TV after coming home and then log data while doing other activities, one could get a better idea of what is actually relaxing and not just sedating. To a certain extent, paying close attention to data logging allows us as individuals to create new values and let go of old ones given to us by our family, or at least the possibility could arise. But why, what is the reason to spend time reviewing details of your life? From my examples I immediately think of health reasons, less stress has been proven to better on your body and mind. Also, if some how we are all connected and a collective conscious does exists, then I think it is better to have a happy, calm, and caring collective conscious over an angry, nervous, and apathetic collective conscious.