Researchers use wearable devices to identify psychological effects of pandemic on healthcare workers

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  • A new study used Apple Watch data to measure the stress levels of healthcare workers.
  • The study volunteers also self-reported their stress triggers.
  • The researchers used physiological outcomes to measure the mental health of their subjects. 

A new study has found that healthcare workers with a good support system and qualify of life navigated Covid-19-related stress better than those who did not have such a support structure.

The study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research aimed to identify characteristics associated with stress in healthcare workers and assess whether changes in heart rate variability are a marker of autonomic nervous system function.

Measuring stress

The researchers followed 361 healthcare workers across seven hospitals. The participants wore an Apple Watch to measure heart rate variability throughout the the study duration. They observed the healthcare workers using the Warrior Watch Study app. The participants were required to wear the watch for at least eight hours a day. 

Surveys that measured perceived stress, resilience, emotional support, quality of life, and optimism were collected at the start and at points during the study.

The app also collected Covid-19–related symptoms and severity; degree of Covid-19 exposure at work; types of patient care at work; whether participants left their home each day; if public transportation was used; the number of people participants interacted with each day; the results of any Covid-19 nasal PCR or antibody tests; whether they were quarantined; if childcare needs were fulfilled; and if they were hospitalised.

Identifying characteristic

The study found that emotional support and resilience act as a buffer against stress in healthcare workers.

The findings show that those with lower emotional support or resilience were vulnerable to a dynamic stress response disconnected from the Covid-19 environmental stressor. The research shows that a reduction in stress after a Covid-19 diagnosis only happens in those with high emotional support and resilience.

“Our study highlights the importance of emotional support and resilience in moderating the effects of stress on healthcare workers during the ongoing pandemic. Assessing the resilience and emotional support of healthcare workers may be able to help identify those at risk from ongoing stressors and may help guide healthcare institutions in allocating mental health resources for these at-risk employees,” said the study’s co-author Dr Robert Hirten in a statement.

The authors also write that high resilience and high social support impacted the physiological stress response and were associated with a unique autonomic nervous system profile measured by the watch. 

*For more Covid-19 research, science and news, click here. You can also sign up for our Daily Dose newsletter here.

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