We need to talk about Micro Stress

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While we often associate stress with major life events, the real culprits are often the seemingly insignificant micro-stressors that permeate our daily lives and work, like the mundane hassles, the constant interruptions, and ever-present digital notifications. These minor stressors, exert a cumulative toll, subtly eroding our resilience over time.

A ground-breaking study by the American Psychological Association in 2020 revealed that the average American experiences ten micro-stressors per day, and the cumulative effect can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and depression, contributing to a significant decline in overall wellbeing.

Rob Cross and Karen Dillon in their excellent book “The Micro Stress Effect” describe how the inter-
related ripple effects of seemingly inconsequential stressors can undermine emotions and
productivity.

Overcoming siloed approaches and addressing the interconnected nature of wellbeing

This is where mHealth comes in – defined as “the use of mobile devices, such as cellphones and tablets, for healthcare delivery“. However, despite the mHealth market’s rapid growth (valued at $81 bn in 2022: Precedence Research 2022) in my opinion, it is dominated by siloed, generic applications.

Whilst meditation apps, sleep trackers, and wellbeing programmes are beneficial, they have become ubiquitous. Some are not effective in the long term and they often fail to recognise the interconnectedness of our physical, mental, social and financial wellbeing.

Sometimes common causation of stress is assumed, with products providing blanket, non-specific remedies. Sometimes daily micro-stress is even framed as a debilitating condition rather than a normal and essential part of personal growth.

Unlocking the potential of data and technology for effective micro-stress management

I believe that there is a major opportunity to apply smart tech to solutions for millions of organisations and billions of people now!

To achieve this, the key utilisation of data and technology needs to be driven across three key dynamics:

1. Open data for informed decision making: Personal data interoperability and portability can aid in stress management in multiple ways. By controlling and managing their personal data, individuals can make informed decisions about stress factors and tailor strategies to their needs.

2. Holistic personal data insights: Collecting and analysing holistic personal data can provide valuable insights into an individual’s emotional triggers and behaviour patterns, which can help reduce stress. By tracking factors such as sleep, physical activity, nutrition, finances and mood, individuals can identify patterns and correlations that may be contributing to their stress levels.

3. AI-powered stress management: AI and Machine learning algorithms can identify the emotional triggers and behaviour patterns that contribute to stress. It can detect patterns that humans may not be able to identify be used to predict future stressors and recommend personalised stress-reducing interventions.

Companies like Aetna and Google are (unsurprisingly) pioneers in data-driven wellbeing. Aetna’s wellbeing programme, LiveWell, utilises personalised data to identify and address individual health risks, leading to reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.

Google’s Recharge program goes a step further by providing personalised mindfulness recommendations based on employees’ stress levels and behavioural data, illustrating the tangible benefits of a data-driven approach in corporate wellbeing initiatives.

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Use technology meaningfully to combat stress today, not theorise about the future

In the mHealth and wellbeing industry we can all fall into the trap of theorising, of re-diagnosing established issues or of focusing too much on what technology might be able to do in five years’ time rather than tomorrow.

To find out what people and companies want right now, we commissioned the “Tutto Stress Survey” across 2023. This ongoing, quantitative research was carried out with 1,100 employees across 4 organisations via 20-minute phone interviews.

The key findings are summarised below, and potentially act as core product development principles for service providers in the mHealth and wellness industry going forward:

mHealth “Product Development Principles”:

  1. Prioritise Micro-Stress: Tackle the small stuff before it snowballs into bigger problems, preventing stress from spiralling into clinical issues.
  2. Holistic Perspectives: Recognise the intricate dance between physical, mental, emotional, and financial health. Treat the whole person, not just isolated aspects.
  3. Data-driven Insights: Personalise wellbeing products and plans to use data, ensuring interventions cater to individual needs and preferences.
  4. Practical & Sustainable Tools: Provide best-in-class tools that engage employees in managing stress, building resilience, and achieving their goals for sustainable wellbeing.
  5. Transparency of Product Design: Build trust by avoiding data-sell on to third parties or targeted advertising. Generate only anonymised, aggregated insights for orgnanisations.
  6. Leverage AI Meaningfully: Use AI as a tool for personalised insights, blending technology with a human touch, not as a selling tool.
  7. Democratise Access: Make personalised wellbeing solutions affordable, accessible, and available to everyone across organisations, not just key staff.
  8. Reduce the Stigma of Stress: communicate new products as helping everyday living by treating micro-stress a necessary part of daily life, not a mental health illness.

As we navigate change across the mHealth and wellbeing industries, companies and providers must choose between sticking with isolated, surface-level solutions or embracing a more comprehensive, data-driven approach that genuinely empowers people. By focusing on the whole person, using data and AI to personalise wellness, and creating supportive workplaces, we can build a wellbeing economy that truly helps individuals and organisations succeed.

About the author:

Peter Magnani is the founder of Beam, a new AI-powered self-management application developed for
organisations to enhance the mental, physical and financial wellbeing of their employees. Prior to this
he worked in the media and advertising industry at Interpublic and Omnicom with brands such as
Apple, Google and Vodafone developing products and services within the data, digital and modelling
ecosystem. As with many others around the world he has struggled with stress and four years ago
decided to apply his understanding of consumers and their motivations to developing a data-led, self-
management tool that was accessible and affordable for all. You can download Beam from the website: Beamandme.com

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