Stressing Out Loud
Steven Jonas discovered through an EEG assessment that he had a strong “freeze” response to stressful situations. This inspired him to use his emWave to monitor his stress levels, hack it to alert him whenever he got too stressed, and change his patterns at work. Steven shares his experience and learnings in this insightful project.
EEG (Electroencephalography) | emWave2
Hello, today I’m going to talk about using bio feedback to monitor and reduce my stress levels. I should say before I started this project I actually didn’t consider myself to be a stressed person at all. I don’t have a stressful job, like I’m not a day trader nor am I working in an emergency room. I actually work at a nonprofit that has a very relaxing sort of atmosphere.
How I got into this was actually through with my self-experimentation with memory and I did a lot of reading around that on how stress affects the brain. So for instance chronic stress will actually shrink the campus which will affect your ability to learn new things and memorize new material.
And so to better understand my stress levels I got this device here. It’s called the M-wave 2 and it senses heartrate. And by looking at something called heartrate availability it detects stress levels.
The way that you use it, it has a sensor here and you put your thumb on it, or alternately you can wear an ear clip that’s an accessory and it will have a color coded indicator on the top that says what your stress level is at that moment. So if it’s green that’s good, if it’s blue that’s okay and if it’s red that’s bad; that’s stress.
And it’s meant to be a therapeutic device so the recommendation is that twice a day for 10 minutes at a time you’re supposed to sit there with your thumb on it, using some sort of stress reduction technique like breathing and try to stay in the green for as long as possible.
Personally though I found that habit very difficult to adopt for many reasons. One of them is that it is all well and good for me to take time out of my day if you try to destress, but there is a sense of futility in that later in the day a stress level event would have happened and occur and would still have as strong of a reaction.
And I was thinking, well if the whole point of this is to be in the green as much as possible to reduce the amount of time that you’re actually in red. Well I want to stay out of the red as much as possible throughout the day so I need some sort of alert system. Some sort of way to tell me when I’m feeling stressed.
And through some sort of creative configuration I was actually able to set up this system using the M-Wave. And how I did it was you can connect it to a computer. It has some sort of associated software that charts out your heartrate in real-time. And then by using the ear clip accessory I can set to the side it was hands free monitoring and allowed me to work, and it was this monitor in the background and then it’ll play a tone that’s associated with whatever stress state you’re in. so if was in green it’ll be like ‘ding-ding-ding’ and if it was red it would be a lower more menacing tone, it would be like’ dung-dung-dung’.
Well I turned off the tones for the green and the blue and just left the red one turned on, and so that’s how it alerted me when I was in stress.
And the protocol was that whenever I would hear that tone I would stop what I was doing, turn to it and do deep breathing until I got into that blue state or until I got that green state and then I would go back to work.
So I learned some things about myself; I am stressed all the time. Apparently the alert would go off constantly throughout the day, and it wasn’t that I was experiencing extreme levels of stress. It was actually low to mid-levels of stress but it permeated the entire day.
So you may ask yourself, well how do you know that’s actual real stress? How do you know that wasn’t just like a string of false positives that you’re getting? And what I can say is that if I follow the protocol, if I stayed out of the red as much as possible during the day, when 5 O’Clock would roll around I would feel completely different.
I would feel calm, I would have a lot more energy so much so that I could actually go home do the projects I’m in, read a challenging book instead of clicking on Reddit. Before this, even on days where I wasn’t even stressed at all, like if you asked me did I have a stressful day I would be fine, but I would feel completely drained and wiped out.
Another thing I learned was how it made my conscious brain more in-tune to my body’s response to stress. So if I was working on a project and I knew that it was due at the end of the day, and I would check the clock and I’m running out of time and I would feel this kind of constriction in my chest and I would think ‘I’m getting stress, but the alerts not going off, what’s going wrong?’ and then two second later I would here the ‘dung, dung, dung’.
So what that meant is that my conscious brain detected the stress before the device did and I was able to take that, and make this sort of like stress sense that was new. And I was able to take that into other areas in my life and I was able to start answer questions about myself.
So for instance, why is it that if I’m in a social situation for a few hours that I feel completely drained afterwards? And what I think it is is that let’s say I’m in a conversation with someone when it’s loud and I can’t really hear them that well, or I’m wonder what I just said made me sound idiotic, well some of these little stresses are involved with that. and even although I’m having a good time through the course of that they build up, and so after just a few hours of that I’m just done and I need to go home and recharge.
Another thing I learned was that I started to detect behavioral patterns I wasn’t aware of before. So I checked the news a lot during the day at work, and I noticed every time I opened up Google news the alert would go off, ‘Dung, dung, dung’. But it wasn’t the news that was stressing me out, what it was the stress was actually a trigger and checking the news was the behavior. It was a way to kind and get away from the stress and read the news articles was a way to let my stress levels come down before getting back to the task at hand. As you could imagine, that cycle would repeat many times throughout the day.
Finally one thing that I noticed was the feedback cycle was more important than analyzing the data. So just having the data occurred in real-time available my brain use it’s intuitive pattern matching abilities to find connections between like the sound and to how I was feeling to really build up what I mentioned before that stress sense.
So to conclude, even though I did this without feeling I had a problem with stress you know I realize it is a little bit of an issue, but I haven’t solved it yet. But building up this has been very enlightening. It’s enlightening towards start fixing that problem, so thank you very much.