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Manage stress and recovery to avoid burn out: My Firstbeat Life Assessment and Insight to Thrive trial

Wow, 12,607 of you have read this.

I was recently invited to trial Firstbeat’s Life Assessment, which is a heart monitor designed to improve well-being and performance by making changes to how we exercise, recover and manage our stress.

I was slightly skeptical at first, but I was contacted by Hilda Barrett, from Insight to Thrive, who is an expert in positive psychology consulting and coaching and she explained the aims of the assessment. She has worked with many high-performing technology industry teams to support individuals in making positive lifestyle changes. As a positive psychology consultant Hilda believes that there is a correlation between positivity and success.

Hence why she works with Firstbeat – a monitor that goes beyond tracking your heartbeat and unlocks a wealth of information revealing physiological states to identify ways an individual and stay in balance.

What is Firstbeat?

Firstbeat was founded in 2002 based on research in physiology, mathematical modeling and behavioral research. The idea stemmed from Professor Rusko’s physiology research on autonomic nervous system and athlete overtraining in the 1990s, which he conducted at the Finnish Research Institute for Olympic Sports.

Research has since continued into ways of quantifying athlete’s performance and recovery through heart rate variability (HRV). This has also expanded into assessment of wellbeing and health factors for people who are not athletes. Firstbeat uses different factors of HRV to quantify underlying physiological processes.

How to use Firstbeat

The Firstbeat monitor arrived at my office along with instructions on how to use it. It’s a simple device to use by just the two pads and sticking it on your chest and just below your ribs.

I wore the monitor for three days and most of the time I forgot that it was there. It has a small green flashing light, on the front, which lets you know that it is still working and collecting your data.

As part of the Life Assessment programme you need to wear the monitor over two working days and one non-working day to compare the ways that you manage stress in and out of your working environment.

In the pack it also said important things to remember and further instructions:

  • It does not like water – remove when showering or swimming.
  • Keep a detailed diary (people always wish they had kept more detail) so that you can related the results to what you were doing at that time.
  • You will receive your details to login to the server from FirstBeat
  • Go ahead and complete the background data that it requires
  • There is an online diary on the server which will then include the activities you note in your report. Please fill in your personal information and mark your sleep and work times in the journal, as well as other daily events that are of interest to you.

The results

After day three you pop the monitor in the post and the data is analysed for your own individual report.

In addition to an individual analysis from the Firstbeat monitor I was also encouraged by Hilda to take a VIA Pro report, which is intended to be a deep dive into the character strengths of an individual. The report enables Hilda to connect with her clients to create an awareness of what is best about themselves and others. A combination of the VIA Pro report and the Firstbeat analysis enables Hilda to create an Insight to Thrive report, giving deeper insight and helping individuals to achieve their life goals.

The Firstbeat report breaks your day down into percentages of Recovery, Stress Reactions, Daily Physical Activity, Physical Activity and it also tells you your heart rate. It lays your diary entries over your data to create a clear picture of spikes and dips throughout the day and their causes. Hilda noted that the term Stress Reactions does not necessarily mean something negative, but possibly a time of the day that you were in “drive” mode.

So I’ll go over my results for you to compare a Sunday to a Monday. From the chart below you can see that I started my day with a brisk walk….okay it was a run to the station because I was late. On Sunday mornings I leave for the gym and whilst there I work out for about one hour. The report shows me how many calories I burnt in my run to the station and what my heart rate spiked, in addition to showing me how many calories I burnt at the gym. It then tells me how long it took for my heart rate to come down.

 

The chart turns red later when I am at my parents’ house for lunch – not because I am stressed, but because I am talking with my parents and I am in “drive” mode.

My body starts going into Recovery from about 7pm when I listen to a Joyce Meyer sermon and then sit down to have a cup of tea and watch TV. At 11pm I am still in Recovery mode when I go to sleep and I remain in Recovery for most of the night.

The chart below gives a break down of my day, which gives some more detail on my sleep cycle. According to the report I got 92% return on investment for my 8hr 30 mins sleep, meaning my body remains in Recovery until the morning. Hilda explained that many people slip in and out of Recovery during the night and that for my age group the average percentage is 56%. However, I do not drink alcohol and I try to stay clear of caffeine because it makes me nervous.

So, I seem quite “balanced” on a Sunday….what about Monday? From the chart below you can see that for me Monday wasn’t that much different apart from less physical activity and therefore I burnt less calories. On the Monday I made a note of when I had caffeine as it tends to have an effect on my heart rate…..and it did. For me the most interesting thing about my working day was that my body seems to go into Recovery when I write news articles. This was relieving to read as it means I have something about my job that helps my body to reset throughout the day and as journalist I am lucky that article writing happens to be a big part of my day.

Hilda explained that some professionals have no green/recovery throughout their day, which can increase stress levels and therefore the chances of burnout. She also explained that some people decide to de-stress by drinking alcohol before bed, without realising that is it effecting their Recovery time during their sleep cycle.

The aim of the assessment is to identify how much of your day you spend in Stress mode and how much you spend in Recovery to ensure that you do not burn out.

Firstbeat for me was an eye opener and I was pleasantly surprised with the results. It enabled me to identify the activities throughout my day, which help my body to recover, and the activities that cause me to feel stressed or could potentially affect my sleep.

Every professional woman should try Firstbeat, through Insight to Thrive, to paint a clearer picture of their day and to identify which lifestyle changes can improve their balance.

After the Firstbeat trial I later spoke to Hilda about ways to reach my professional goals. With the help of the Firstbeat report and the VIA Pro report I now have several goals that I can work towards, with the knowledge that I can control my nerves and that my body is not physically reacting to anxiety as much as I think it is in my mind.

Hilda also introduced me to HeartMath which helps to train your stress levels to come down via a phone app. The chart below explains how the mind can learn to remap its route – or to be able to move from the emotions in the red over to the green in a few minutes. Hilda describes the mind as a muscle. The more you use training techniques the stronger the mind becomes and the easier it is to move out of the red and reduce stress.

Firstbeat has an instructional video to help you understand how it works and how to use it correctly, which you can find here.

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