Modern lifestyles are triggering stress at higher rates for longer periods of time than ever before seen. Unfortunately, chronic or long-term stress can pose negative impacts to our overall health. In collaboration with members of both the chemical engineering and psychology departments, University of Utah electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Benjamin Sanchez Terrones is developing an Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) device that can calculate energy expenditure and mental stress in real-time.  

The small, wearable device uses adhesive electrodes placed on the chest to record electrical signals generated by the heart. Then, it sends the data to an online platform using a standard Internet of Things publish-subscribe messaging transport protocol for continuous real-time monitoring.  

“A common limitation of psychological studies is that all observation is usually done in a lab setting, which may or may not accurately reflect the true stress levels a person experiences in day-to-day life,” explains Sanchez Terrones. “Our device we have created is unique in that it can be deployed at home, giving a more accurate measurement of variables.” 

“The hope is that with the ability to use this device in a home or day-to-day setting, eventually users will be able to better manage their stress levels by leveraging the recorded data and findings from the device,” says Sanchez Terrones.  

Lisa Diamond, Ph.D.

The team is currently proposing to start leveraging this work and device right here at the U on campus. Collaborator and University of Utah professor of psychology Lisa M. Diamond specializes in work with the LGBTQIA+ community – a demographic that generally experiences above average stress levels in day-to-day activities and environments. The goal is to record stress levels over time across various campus locations, and ultimately use the findings to identify high-stress areas and possible solutions and/or mitigation options that can reduce the stress students feel in the identified locations.  

“Human beings are continuously and unconsciously monitoring their environments for cues of threat and safety, every single second of every single day,” Diamond says. “Much of the time we may not even be aware of what our brains are noticing or responding to. This technology allows us to gain a direct, immediate, and ongoing picture of individuals’ biological responsiveness to their surroundings, rather than asking them days or weeks later “how did you feel?” 

“We are aiming to create a ‘perceived map of threat’ for these populations on our campus using the recorded data,” says Sanchez Terrones. “By being able to measure what students’ stress levels are in different campus locations, we can use that feedback to first try to identify the reasons these areas are causing higher stress levels, then make adjustments as needed to make the areas more comfortable.” 

On a larger scale, this work provides the opportunity for future research on psychological stress and emotional regulation within daily life. 

The team’s work, titled “IoMT-enabled stress monitoring in a virtual reality environment and at home,” was recently published in the IEEE Internet of Things Journal. Read the full published work here. 

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