A recent survey suggests Americans are some of the most stressed people in the world, The New York Times reports. In addition, Americans’ stress levels are the highest they’ve been in a decade. However, evolving tech is here to help.
According to the Times article, 55 percent of Americans polled said they felt stress during a significant portion of the day prior to polling, which far exceeds the global average of 35 percent. Fortunately, anyone can now measure their stress levels by using simple biofeedback devices. Using this information, the medical profession has begun developing and utilizing stress management techniques and technology that can help reduce the stress, worry, and anger that we feel during our daily lives.
Stress in American Life – An Overview of Biofeedback
“Biofeedback is using some sort of device that tracks physiological responses to various stimuli to help people learn how to control a specific physiological function,” Dr. Kimberlee Bethany Bonura said. “Biofeedback can be as simple as using your heart rate as a measure of arousal—which is easy to track with smartphone applications or a wearable fitness monitor. Other at-home devices may use pulse or hand temperatures as cues that can help you learn to track when you are starting to show the physiological signs of stress.”
Other biofeedback devices can measure respiratory rate and muscular tension. Dr. Bonura said that the practice of biofeedback is especially helpful for people with anxiety and panic disorders. When someone suffers a panic attack, their heart rate and breathing becomes rapid and can seem out of their control. “Breathing exercises can help you relax, but if you aren’t aware of how you’re breathing, biofeedback can be a handy tool to make breathing exercises more effective,” Dr. Bonura said. “Biofeedback offers a way to see, concretely, that you have control over your breathing and your nervous system.”
Like a blood pressure machine or a vital signs monitor, biofeedback devices don’t cure stress or anxiety but they reveal a lot about our physiology in the moment, which can help doctors and nurses in hospitals or you or your loved ones at home decide which course of action to take to get better.
Virtual Therapy for Stress
Biofeedback is one example of how advances in technology can aid stress reduction. It helps by making us more aware of our physiological state moment to moment. However, it’s only the beginning. Virtual therapy is a burgeoning idea in the psychological world as well.
“Technology may even make it easier to talk with a professional adviser when you need help with a stressor right now,” Dr. Bonura said. “For instance, there are websites that allow you to video chat with a licensed mental health provider. You can even sign up for unlimited texting with a mental health professional.” This use of technology can solve the problem of finding a working schedule for therapy, or at least save you the stress of traffic getting to the appointment.
Another small step of therapy in the digital age is the use of virtual reality. Dr. Bonura uses a fear of heights as an example, saying that a patient can put a VR headset on and experience a software program that simulates standing in a high place, which can serve as a stepping stone for standing at a specific height in real life.
As technology permeates seemingly every industry in the world, therapy—especially stress therapy—is no exception. Biofeedback can provide invaluable insight into our stress factors and point us in the right direction to overcoming or at least diminishing anxiety, stress, worry, and fear. Likewise, virtual therapy allows for remote, and simulated VR scenarios, assistance and support for individuals for issues related to the well-being of their mental health.
Dr. Kimberlee Bethany Bonura contributed to this article. Dr. Bonura is a fitness and wellness consultant with decades of experience teaching the benefits of physical and mental health to elite athletes, higher education institutions, nonprofit community organizations, and corporations. She earned her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, with a research emphasis in sport and exercise psychology, from Florida State University.