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Stressed out? New study will use app to measure midlife adults’ stress in real time

Feb 16, 2023

New Indiana University research will focus on when, where and why people get stressed in Indianapolis, and it will measure it all in real-time.

The study, a collaboration between the School of Public Health-Bloomington and the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, will use an app to figure out exactly when and where midlife adults, age 50 to 64, feel stressed in their daily lives.

The goal is to reduce stress by understanding more about where it comes from. Data will be collected over time about the places and things that add the most stress to each day.

Evan Jordan. Evan Jordan.

“We’re seeing more people, throughout their lives, spending time living and working in diverse environments, and we’re interested to see the factors that are either enhancing or inhibiting healthy aging,” said Evan Jordan, assistant professor in the Department of Health & Wellness Design at the School of Public Health-Bloomington. “We know stress is a big contributor to cardiovascular problems and heart disease, and cognitive decline — things that are often exacerbated by age. If we can identify the places in a person’s environment that are creating stress for large groups of people, we can then work to eliminate those environmental stressors that are affecting a lot of people.”

The approach is called “ecological momentary assessment.” The research is made possible with a recent grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging. In addition to the app, researchers will have participants wear a smart watch so they can track their heart rate and physical activity.

“This is a new way of measuring stress,” Jordan said. “A lot of other studies on stress happen in labs, where they give people a stress-inducing activity and study their reactions. Or others will conduct surveys about stressors. Our research uses an app built by an IU researcher to get real-time data. In the moment, participants will be able to mark down exactly when and where they feel stressed.”

The app is built by Patrick C. Shih, assistant professor of informatics in the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering at IU Bloomington. It’s one of multiple similar studies that the IU researchers are working on together. Another study will soon use a similar app to measure and reduce stress in breast cancer survivors.

Patrick Shih. Patrick Shih.

“We have been developing ecological momentary assessment technologies to support a variety of populations with chronic health needs, and it’s great that we’re able to bring together an interdisciplinary team,” Shih said. “This research is truly innovative, and we hope to make great advances in this area.”

“No one has collected this ‘where and when’ data before,” Jordan said. “There are so many different stressors related to major life events: We’ve had COVID, respiratory illnesses, inflation, the Ukraine war. There also are daily stressors, like traffic on the way to work, or money or relationship stress.

“We want to understand how people’s environment plays a role in where and when those stressors are experienced. Once we know that, we can start to eliminate environmental stressors by working with community planners or determining effective coping strategies for stressors that can’t be avoided.”

Jordan said they’re planning to start recruiting a diverse group of about 150 participants for the study next month. They’re working with community organizations to recruit people from all areas of Indianapolis to participate for three weeks at a time. For more information, contact Jordan at ejjordan@iu.edu.

Author

IU Newsroom

Teresa Mackin

Deputy Director of Media Relations, Indianapolis

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