The crux of managing stress is to first be able to recognize the exact moments that we’re triggered. We may experience a fight-or-flight response emotionally. Or maybe we feel victimized and search for a place to lay blame or judgment. Perhaps we lose focus. But, without a great deal of practice and self-awareness, these symptoms of stress are often difficult to identify.
The physical reactions of stress—a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing or even feeling queasy—is sometimes more obvious. But still, most of us have been reacting to our triggers for years. The symptoms are like background noise in the chaos and feel perfectly natural. So what is there to notice?
For people who struggle to identify the onset of stress, especially when it’s subtle as is sometimes the case, modern technology can actually help. Although wearable activity trackers were originally designed to help motivate consumers to improve their exercise, diet and sleep habits, a byproduct of the industry is the wearable technologies that can help people understand patterns of stress.
Tracking a heart rate is usually enough to indicate stress (because stress releases adrenaline, which makes breathing shallow and the heart beat faster), so if the heart rate increases without any physical exertion that’s probably a sign of stress. But some of these smart devices offer much more, obtaining blood pressure, taking ECG measurements and even detecting and measuring brain activity. This technology isn’t completely accurate. Nor is it a replacement for self-awareness. Over time, however, using wearable technology as a tool can help achieve better self-awareness by mapping the symptoms and helping us see the patterns in our day.
For more about handling triggers, see the chapter titled “Riding Your Emotions Like a Horse” in Search Inside Yourself.