Is your job stressing you out?

Maybe you’re working long hours or dealing with a difficult boss, struggling to balance the responsibilities of work and home. According to the American Psychological Association, work is a significant source of stress for 65% of Americans.

How do we deal with it? The same adage for reducing other kinds of stress in our lives holds true at work: we may have little control over the things that cause our stress, but we do have control over how we respond to them.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. When we’re in a stressful situation, it’s hard to divert our attention to something that will help us calm down, like breathing deeply.

As a psychologist, I’m well aware of the destructive effects of job stress. We have plenty of research showing it reduces productivity and can lead to burnout. But even with this knowledge, it’s still a challenge for me to avoid the effects of stress altogether.

To better understand how stress was affecting me, I started wearing the Fitbit Charge HR several months ago. It’s a wearable device that collects and stores data on my heart rate, physical activity and sleep—all indicators of stress level. We know that positive behavior change starts as soon as we accept we have room for improvement; in my case, I thought my stress management skills could be better.

Because the Fitbit data syncs automatically to my smartphone, I can easily review it in the morning and evening. Over the past several months, my stats showed I had 2 highly stressful days when my heart rate exceeded my regular resting rate by 8 beats per minute. I also slept less, recorded many restless episodes during the night, and didn’t exercise. Predictably, those days and the ones that followed were not my most productive. I had trouble focusing and was easily distracted.

Did I need the Fitbit data to know I was feeling more stress on those days? Probably not, but seeing it on the app’s dashboard was the impetus I needed to take action. For me, that meant more exercise.

What about the smaller, daily hassles that can cause us to have an unproductive workday?

The Fitbit didn’t detect these brief and less intense spikes in stress. For a much bigger investment—$1,500 and up—you can get a wearable that will process physiological data in real time so you can take immediate action. I predict we’ll soon see more affordable options that offer this degree of feedback.

In fact, I envision a time in the near future when leaders can know instantly from their wearables when they need to pause and take a breath—making them less likely to let stress override their effectiveness.

At the same time, we must be prepared to use the data from wearables accurately and appropriately for leadership development. We’ll also need to address privacy concerns if the employer provides the technology.

However the data is used, it appears that wearables are here to stay. Today 1 in 6 Americans owns a Fitbit or other fitness tracker, and the devices are especially popular with millennials.

Not surprising since this age group is 55% more likely than the general population to participate in the Quantified Self movement, which uses self-tracking data to improve daily functioning.

As for me, I’ll continue to use my Fitbit, and hopefully reach my goal of zero days with high levels of stress.

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