Imec, the world-leading research and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, announced at CES 2018 that it has collected the largest multisensor dataset worldwide on stress detection. Imec’s Stress in the Work Environment (SWEET) study captured data from more than 1,000 people and is the first large-scale study that used clinical-grade wearables to establish the link between mental stress and physiological symptoms in daily life.
Chronic stress can have a significant and long-term impact on emotional and physical well-being, and it can cause depression, anxiety disorders and professional burnout. According to the American Institute of Stress, stress is estimated to cost the U.S. economy approximately $300 billion a year (due to absenteeism and productivity loss). In Europe, the annual cost of stress is estimated at 514 billion euros in productivity loss and 63 billion euros in direct healthcare costs. Currently, the most widespread method to detect stress is by the means of questionnaires. However, these questionnaires are subjective, time-consuming and are conducted on a spot-check basis only. To lower the risk of reaching the threshold of chronic stress, it is important to identify stress signals immediately and to provide personalized, just-in-time feedback so that the individual can employ correction strategies to decrease his or her stress level. Imec’s wearable technology in combination with advanced algorithms to analyze the data collected can play an important role in this.
Imec’s SWEET study tracked more than 1,000 participants. First, participants’ baseline stress levels were determined via validated psychological questionnaires. They were then provided a wristband and a wireless ECG patch, which they wore continuously for five days. The ECG patch monitored their heart rate and heart rate variability along with acceleration (movement). The wristband, fortified with advanced algorithms, measured skin conductance, skin temperature and acceleration (movement). Physiological stress symptoms were then supplemented by contextual data collected through the participants’ smartphones, such as GPS data, phone activity and noise level, and self-reported information.
Participants were queried 12 times a day via a smartphone app to evaluate their self-reported stress levels and to answer multiple-choice questions about their daily activities, food and drink intake, sleep quality and digestive processes. In addition, they also completed the Montreal Imaging Stress Task, a 20-minute stress test that allowed the researchers to calibrate participants’ stress levels with their personal physiological symptoms.
“Our SWEET study is unique as it is the first large-scale study to use multiple wearables to establish the link between physiological stress symptoms and self-reported stress in real-life. Utilizing wearables in this research generated complex and sophisticated data sets, taking real-life contextual factors into account that helped us better understand periods of stress and its indicators,” explained Elena Smets, imec.ichange researcher and Ph.D student at KULeuven. The first results, for instance, already indicated that participants’ average heart rate variability correlated with their perceived stress levels.
“This study is part of imec.ichange, imec’s research program that aims to stimulate and encourage healthier lifestyles by using wearable technology to give personalized and user-friendly feedback,” stated Chris Van Hoof, senior director connected health solutions. “The insights from the SWEET study, are an important starting point to develop this kind of technology for stress management. By providing personalized, context-enriched feedback via wearables, it will be possible to help people maintain a more balanced lifestyle, thereby reducing the risk of stress-related problems such as burnouts. Although the primary focus is on prevention, an adapted version of this technology could also be used to support patients recovering from a mental illness, i.e. by providing their therapists with objective information about patients’ stress symptoms in daily life.”