How do we tell when we're under stress? At the moment the two most common approaches are, we tell ourselves, or someone does it for us. There is however a third way and this involves the monitoring of our physiological processes by use of biofeedback equipment.
In therapeutic settings biofeedback usually involves placing electrodes on the patient which then convey signals to a biofeedback machine, hooked up to a monitor. The therapist then demonstrates to the patient how their body responds to stress by showing them images on the screen, which vary according to how tense or relaxed the person becomes. Biofeedback can help people recognize the signs of stress in themselves. It also proves that personal control, for example in the form of muscle relaxation and breathing, is effective in reducing stress.
Biofeedback equipment is readily available and the principles are easy to learn. The simplest items come in the form of battery operated hand-held devices that detect minute changes in sweat. The feedback element is most likely auditory. When the person is relaxed the device emits a gentle ticking noise and when they become more anxious the device becomes progressively noisier. Slightly more sophisticated equipment is also easily available and can be installed on a home pc or laptop. I use equipment like this with my students who practice relaxation by attempting to make sunsets appear on a screen, or a chrysalis change to a butterfly, or a neutral expression change to a smile.
Now, a company is developing a sensor vest that reads muscular tension at any given time. Sensors are woven into the fabric of the vest which can pick up even the most modest changes in muscular activity. The vest has one big advantage. It allows people to behave normally as it gets rid of the need to stick electrodes on the skin which in turn are wired to a computer.
The use of such a vest could extend well beyond the monitoring of stress. In work environments they could ensure that people don't attempt to lift loads that are too heavy. In sports settings, coaches could assess that point at which an athlete reaches optimum performance, what energy reserves remain, and when they are depleted.
At the moment the developers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM in Berlin, are putting the vest through its paces. The vest must be water and perspiration resistant and the electrical conductors need to remain durable after repeated washing. Over the next few months the company are focusing on integrating the analysis electronics.
So, can we envisage a time when we go to work wearing a stress vest? The resulting bells and whistles that would probably go off might themselves become intolerable!
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (2008, July 8). Vest to Measure Stress. Science Daily. Retrieved July 9, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080708110517.htm
Published On: July 10, 2008