By Julie O’Connor

DETROIT – Although studies of the health effects of stress have been published for years, few have examined how chronic and momentary — or acute — stress influences health while people go about their daily lives.

Researchers at Wayne State University recently published the study, “The Relationship of Chronic and Momentary Work Stress to Cardiac Reactivity in Female Managers: Feasibility of a Smart Phone-Assisted Assessment System,” in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, which looked at how both chronic work stress and momentary stress during the day influenced cardiac reactions in a cohort of women who were managers at various companies or institutions in Sweden. The team also took advantage of technological innovations: they used wireless sensors to assess the women’s heart rates throughout the day. When a woman’s heart rate became elevated, the system prompted a smart phone to alert the participant to rate her momentary stress.

“Our study sheds light on the various forms of stress experienced by women in positions of responsibility and authority, and how the combination of acute and chronic stress can have a particularly negative health effect,” said Bengt Arnetz, M.D., Ph.D., professor of occupational medicine at Wayne State University and the team’s leader.  “This cohort of women is rarely studied, yet they have unique challenges and risks, including work-family balance, workplace discrimination and increased risk of burnout. We found that these women had elevated heart rates at work on multiple occasions throughout the day, and subjective stress was experienced routinely at these times. This suggests that the stress from managerial positions for women may have negative mental and physical health implications.”

The study highlights the important value of assessing both chronic and momentary stresses, and demonstrates that women who report elevated chronic work stress may be particularly at risk for cardiovascular reaction from acute stress experiences.

“The new wireless technologies can track subtle physiological signals in daily life and alert the individual when physiological anxiety occurs,” added Mark Lumley, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Wayne State and the article’s lead author. “These findings are not only useful in the research lab, but also in clinical practices, where technology can be easily modified to educate people about their physiology in daily life, and alert them to take corrective actions when they have unhealthy or abnormal psychophysiological reactions, such as an increased heart rate.”

In addition to Arnetz and Lumley, Wayne State faculty members Weisong Shi, Ph.D., professor of computer science, and Richard Slatcher, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, also collaborated on the project, along with colleagues from several universities in Sweden.

The study was funded by the Office of the Vice President for Research at Wayne State University and the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare. Nokia Corporation supplied the smart phones for the study.