What is Stress? And What’s the Science Behind Garmin’s All-day Stress Tracking?

Herman Bonner

Herman BonnerCommunications Specialist, Firstbeat

Stress & Recovery Wearable Devices

All-day Stress tracking, powered by Firstbeat analytics, was introduced to Garmin watches in 2017. Stress monitoring has since been integrated across Garmin fitness, outdoors, and lifestyle watches. This includes the popular Forerunner and fénix lineups, along with vívosmart, vívomove, and vívoactive smartwatches.

What is stress? The Physiological Perspective

Stress is an important and necessary part of life. Achieving a healthy and balanced lifestyle doesn’t mean avoiding stress. In fact, it is the experience of stress that prompts your body to grow stronger, become more resilient, and ultimately to flourish. When it comes to stress, management (not just avoidance) is the key.

Managing stress, however, isn’t always easy.

Complicating matters is the fact that stress is simultaneously a physiological phenomenon and a subjective experience. At a physiological level, stress can be identified as increased activity in the sympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system. This is the same part of your nervous system that is responsible for your fight-or-flight response.

Stress happens, but we don’t always notice it – and we shouldn’t always notice it. At their core, stress responses are often linked to solving problems, resolving threats, and ensuring our survival.

In these fight-or-flight moments, introspection can do more harm than good.

Research shows that men and women, alike, struggle to identify stress consistently. Even when we are aware of stress, it isn’t always easy to talk about. For many, acknowledging stress and its impacts is tantamount to admitting weakness, confessing to a failure to cope.

Looking at stress from a physiological perspective sidesteps the problem of stress perception. It means being able to account for stress that exists, not just stress that you notice. It also provides a scientific foundation for making better everyday lifestyle decisions that support your health and well-being.

The Science Behind All-day Stress Monitoring

To scientifically measure and track stress, the Garmin watches rely on the Firstbeat analytics engine to interpret how your heart is beating from one moment to the next. Validated and improved over the course of a decade, Firstbeat’s stress measurement analysis has been utilized in over 200,000 Lifestyle Assessments conducted by health, fitness, and lifestyle professionals.

Beat-to-beat changes in the length of time between consecutive heartbeats, known as heart rate variability, hold a wealth of information about what’s going on inside your body.

With the right approach, these small changes, measured in milliseconds, can be transformed analytically into an observation window for monitoring autonomic nervous system activity. Through this window you can witness the interplay between the fight-or-flight (sympathetic) and the rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) systems, as they work in tandem, responding to the challenges of life and environment.

Your Own, Better Path

Lifestyle and stress management advice is everywhere, and it isn’t always particularly helpful. “Here’s what you should do,” they say, “this is what you should eat, and how you should exercise to manage stress.” Follow closely for a while and you’ll start to notice there is a lot of conflicting information out there.

One of reason is because you are you, and what works for somebody doesn’t necessarily work for everybody. All-day Stress tracking means skipping the mediator and getting straight to discovering what works best for you.

High-stress levels in the evening before bedtime? Experiment. Find your own solution. Try switching over to a talk show, instead of watching prestige dramas on HBO or binge-watching Netflix. You can even turn off the TV entirely to see how indulging in a book will influence your stress patterns.

When it comes to stress, little things make a big difference. Direct feedback based how you experience the world at a physiological level makes it easier to find problem areas and make the right changes. The continuous nature of All-day Stress monitoring is a real game changer in the struggle to ensure that lifestyle changes made are lifestyle changes kept.

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Herman Bonner

Herman Bonner Communications Specialist, Firstbeat

Herman is a former U.S. World Cup fencer, coach and high-performance manager. Keen to explore how people make sense of the world around them, Herman currently thrives at the bustling intersection of technology and everyday life. His educational interests include mechanical engineering, economics, ethnomethodology, and sports management with a focus on marketing and communications.

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