“Red bars show when you’re experiencing some form of stress. It’s normal if 40-60% of your day is spent experiencing some stress, as stress can be positive or negative. What’s more important is how you balance it with your recovery periods,” my Firstbeat coach, Vincent, explains as he points at my colour-printed data, which at this moment looks predominantly red.
Over the past three days (Sunday to Tuesday), I had been wearing a Firstbeat Bodyguard monitor strapped to my 43-year-old body while I fed the dog, took my daughter to school, worked, had drinks with friends and slept. Monitoring the changes in my heartbeat throughout my days, Firstbeat recorded detailed data on my activity levels, periods of recovery, quality of recovery during sleep and how I handled stress on a typical day. Firstbeat then churned out a 12-page report, which was what I was looking at now with Vincent.
According to research done by Firstbeat, he explained, people should spend at least 30% of their day recovering. While this can happen in tiny bursts during the day, most people’s recoveries take place when they fall into deep sleep. Although my stress levels on Sunday and Monday were normal, my recovery was at a low 13%. I thought clocking 6 hours of sleep every night was sufficient and that I was getting a good enough rest, but my stress levels were up even while I was sleeping! The general lack of energy I faced daily suddenly made sense.
“Looking at your data, we can clearly see that your body resources were increasingly being depleted from Sunday onwards. There are many reasons why we might not be getting the recovery we need,” says Vincent. “Alcohol causes our bodies to stay active as it’s busy processing the toxins. Worries, emotional strains, rushing to bed and even eating the wrong things for dinner can cause unnecessary and long-lasting stress.”
He was right. On Tuesday night, Firstbeat recorded my worst night of sleep. I had a dinner appointment from 8-10pm, rushed home then grabbed a quick snack before settling down in front of the computer for the next hour. My mother needed to take an urgent trip so I offered to help buy her plane ticket. After that was done, my wife and I spent some time discussing the renovation works we needed in our house. It seems the combination of food, coordinating my mother’s travel preferences and making major household decisions caused my stress levels to spike, and by the time I went to bed at 1.30am, I only spent 1% of my whole sleep period recovering.
“While your daily energy expenditure is low,” Vincent points to my total caloric burn, “you’re feeling tired because you’re hardly getting any periods when your body can calm down.” This means that I need to spend more time doing things that promote recovery: time with my daughter, quiet meals with my wife and interestingly, driving. Sadly, playing games on my mobile and watching horror movies on Netflix (all which I thought helped me de-stress) were actually raising my stress levels.
I also need to start exercising and going to bed at a regular time. Exercise and raising my fitness level would help me better manage my stress and improve my energy levels, while cultivating good sleep habits ensures I replenish my resources.
I’ll start effecting these changes in my life, and take another assessment a year later. It would be interesting to see how much improvement I can bring to my life with the knowledge, data and insights I received through Actxa’s Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment.