Psychosocial stress is a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality related to a wide range of health conditions and has a significant negative impact on public health. Quantifying exposure to stress in the naturalistic environment can help to better understand its health effects and identify strategies for timely intervention. The objective of the current project was to develop and test the infrastructure and methods necessary for using wearable technology to quantify individual response to stressful situations and to determine if popular and accessible fitness trackers such as Fitbit® equipped with an optical heart rate (HR) monitor could be used to detect physiological response to psychosocial stress in everyday life. The participants in this study were University of Minnesota students (n = 18) that owned a Fitbit® tracker and had at least one upcoming examination. Continuous HR and activity measurements were obtained during a 7-day observation period containing examinations self-reported by the participants. Participants responded to six ecological momentary assessment surveys per day (~ 2 hour intervals) to indicate occurrence of stressful events. We compared HR during stressful events (e.g., exams) to baseline HR during periods indicated as non-stressful using mixed effects modeling. Our results show that HR was elevated by 8.9 beats per minute during exams and by 3.2 beats per minute during non-exam stressors. These results are consistent with prior laboratory findings and indicate that consumer wearable fitness trackers could serve as a valuable source of information on exposure to psychosocial stressors encountered in the naturalistic environment.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The work presented in this paper was supported by the University of Minnesota Clinical and Translational Science Institute which is funded by a grant (UL1TR002494) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.