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Opinion Editorials

Stressed about the future? Amazon and Fitbit may have an answer… for a price.

(EDITORIAL) Fitbit and Amazon are rolling out new stress trackers, and honestly? It’s a little stressful to think about, if you ask me.

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Woman in home office space who isn't stressed out.

Let’s get a show of hands, friends: How many of you have been stressed out this year? Maybe just a smidge? Or is it more like, “Omigosh, Imma die of this stress if I don’t get it under control, like, yesterday” levels?

More than likely, it’s probably somewhere between these two levels, perhaps edging closer to one extreme rather than the other. And while the entirety of 2020 can be summarized as Arguably the Most Stressful Year Ever, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to join the panicked, frenzied, anxious masses. Listen, it’s just like your parents once told you — just because everyone else is doing it – doesn’t mean you need to, too.

Whew, yeah. I just cured your stress, didn’t I? You’re welcome. Who knew it was that simple?

Okay, fine. I realize that was an oversimplification of things. Of course, you can’t just casually will your stress away. That’s not how it works. Heck, for many of us, we don’t even realize we’re stressed out half the time. However, even though you may not consciously be aware that you’re experiencing the symptoms of stress, it doesn’t mean that your body isn’t paying attention. And, over time, if your stress remains unchecked? Well, it can lead to some pretty nasty health complications, including ongoing headaches, poor appetite, crummy sleep, and even frequent and unwelcome trips to the facilities. It’s not pretty.

Fortunately for us, there are a couple of new fitness trackers out there whose sole job is to inform you when you’re juggling just a little bit too much at the moment. Both Fitbit and Amazon have jumped on the health tracking train, and while Fitbit is no stranger to monitoring your biometrics (they’ve been around for quite some time now), this is the first wearable made available by Amazon.

Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised by this. Amazon’s been sort of nudging their way into all sorts of markets, kind of like an oversized and cuddly Labrador retriever who doesn’t realize he’s not a puppy anymore and still tries to crawl into your lap every once in a while. Definitely a little surprising when it happens, but not entirely unwelcome.

First, there’s the Fitbit Sense. This handy little device not only helps you monitor your sleeping patterns, how much exercise you’re doing (ahem—none—ahem), your weight, and all that good stuff, but can now also help you figure out how stressed out you are.

The Fitbit Sense comes equipped with something called an EDA (Electrodermal Activity) Sensor, which means that it can tell when your heart rate is up and you’re starting to feel a little heated. If it notices you’re feeling upset, it’ll let you know. But does it run to the fridge and grab the pint of mint chocolate chip for us, too?

The Amazon Halo is something else entirely. While it can detect through a galvanic skin response if you’re feeling stressed, it can also let you know if you’ve become a chonk while in quarantine. No, we’re not kidding. This sucker can actually scan your body and give you a fancypants 3D model of your body. And if you’re feeling particularly masochistic today, you can tinker with that model to see what you’d look like if you either gained or lost weight. Yeah, no, that’s only going to stress me out further. What the heck, Amazon?

So there you have it. If you didn’t know you were stressed out before, learning about these two new fitness devices probably toppled you over the edge into full-blown panic mode. Or, y’know, maybe they didn’t. Sure, having all that information at your fingertips — especially in a time where we’re already glued to (and overwhelmed by) our technology — can lead you to overthinking things… especially if you’re already prone to anxiety.

But what if you use it like it was designed, just as a tool to help you become more aware of your own unconscious response to stimuli?

Look, we’re all feeling it right now. This year has been an overwhelming deluge of stress, and whether or not you need a tracker to tell you about it is nothing short of redundant. That said, if you’re feeling stressed, you’re in good company. Right now, a whopping 83% of the population has admitted that just thinking about the future puts them into paroxysms of stress. And while diving into that pint of ice cream may help you feel better in the moment, there are a few things you can do to help offset your current stress loads.

Vent it out. Talk to a friend, or a doctor, about your feelings. Take it out on the pavement with a quick 5K run. Enjoy a long soak in the tub, while reading your favorite book. Light some candles. But please don’t give up hope.

Yeah, things suck (like, a lot) right now, and the future is uncertain. If buying a ridiculous tech gizmo will make you feel better, then treat yourself. And if you think it’ll exacerbate your stress, well, by all means, skip it. Because, really, is there anything more stressful than paying off your credit card bill after impulse buying a new toy or gadget? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Karyl is a Southern transplant, now living on the Central Coast with her husband. She's proud to belong to two very handsome cats, both of which have made it very clear as to where she ranks on the social hierarchy. When she's not working as an optician, you can either find her chipping away at her next science-fiction novel or training for an upcoming race. She holds an AAT in Psychology, which is just a fancy way of saying that she likes poking around inside people's brains. She's very socially awkward and has no idea how to describe herself, which is why this bio is just as dorky and weird as she is.

Opinion Editorials

The secret to self improvement isn’t always about improvements

(EDITORIAL) Self improvement and happiness go hand in hand, but are you getting lost in the mechanics of self improvement?

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fitness happiness

Think back to your New Year’s resolutions. Now that it’s summer, how many of them are you still keeping? Think about which ones stuck and what went by the wayside.

If you’re like most of us, you had big plans to make yourself better but didn’t stay the course. I’ve only managed to keep one of my resolutions, but it isn’t always easy.

I want to take a look at why we can’t keep our goals. I think we’re always on a journey of self-improvement. It’s easy to get obsessed with reading self-help books or trying to learn new things. We want to be better. This spring, I went through a Lent study with a group of people. Lent is a time of growth and self-reflection, just six weeks. And yet many of us are struggling to keep up with the daily reading or maintaining a fast of something we willingly chose to give up.

Why do we fail?

I think we fail because of three things.

You might think I’m going to say something like we fail because we don’t have willpower, but I think that is the farthest thing from the truth. I’m no therapist, but I’ve read the literature on alcohol and drug rehab. It’s not willpower that keeps a person sober. It’s community. One reason I think we fail at our goals is that we don’t have a cheerleading team. I believe that we need people on our side when we’re trying to improve.

Secondly, I think we fail because we want immediate results. We have this mentality that things should happen quickly. I’ve written about this before. It’s like you workout once and want that swimsuit body. We get frustrated when we don’t see results right away. So, we move on to the next pursuit.

Do your goals lead to happiness?

Failure can also be because self-improvement goals don’t always lead to being better person. We do a lot of things because “we should.” Your doctor might think you need to lose weight. Maybe your boss wants you to be a better speaker. Meditation should make you a better person. Maybe you ran a marathon, and now you think you need to run an ultramarathon because that’s what your best friend did.

What makes you happy isn’t always what you should be doing.

Your doctor might be right, but if you’re choosing to lose weight because you want to make your doctor happy, you’re probably not going to stick with a program. If you’re trying to learn Spanish to make your boss happy, again, you’re probably not going to enjoy it enough to really learn. If you’re chasing after goals just to say you’ve done it, what value do your achievements bring to your life?

If you’re obsessed because you “should” do something, you’re going to get burned out and fail. Whether it’s New Year’s resolutions, a self-improvement project or giving up meat for Lent, you need solid reasons for change. And if you give something a try that isn’t for you, don’t soldier on. You don’t need to spend years taking yoga classes if you don’t enjoy it.

When something becomes a burden rather than bringing benefits, maybe it’s time to take a look at why you’re doing it.

When you don’t know why you’re knocking yourself out to be better, maybe you need to figure out a reason. And if you feel as if what you’re doing isn’t enough, stop and figure out what will satisfy you.

I’ve been doing a lot of meal prepping on the weekends. Sometimes, I want to quit. But it pays off because I have less to do throughout the week. It might seem like a burden, but the benefits outweigh the burdens. I’ve been able to eat much healthier and use more vegetables in my meals, which is the one goal I’ve been able to keep. I have some good friends that help me stay on track, too. I choose to eat more vegetables for my health. I think it’s a combination of all these things that is helping me meet my goal this year.

Don’t give up on making yourself a better person. Just don’t become obsessed over the program. Look at the outcome. Are you pursing happiness on a treadmill or are you really working to find happiness?

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Opinion Editorials

What I wish I knew about finances in my 20s

(EDITORIAL) They say money makes the world go round. So, let’s discuss how to be smart with finances before it’s too late.

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finances

Being in my early twenties, something I’m still getting used to is the fact that I’m making my own money. This is not to be confused with the babysitting money I was making 10 years ago.

Twice a month is the same routine: I get my paycheck and think, “Wooo! We goin’ out tonight!” but then I snap back to reality and think about what that money needs to be put towards. The smallest part of it going towards fun.

It’s been tricky to really start learning the ins and outs of finances. So, I do what I usually do in any type of learning process? I ask for advice.

I used to be fixated on asking those more advanced in age than I what they wish they knew when they were my age. Now that I’m determined to learn about finances, that question has been altered.

I reached out to a few professionals I know and trust and they gave me solid feedback to keep in mind about building my finances, about what they wish they had known in their 20s. However, I don’t think this only applies to those just starting out, and may be helpful for all of us.

“It’s important to simply know the value of money,” says human resource expert, Nicole Clark. “I think once you start earning your own money and are responsible for your housing, food, etc. you realize how valuable money is and how important it is to budget appropriately and make sure you’re watching your spending.”

Law firm executive director, Michael John, agrees with Clark’s sentiments. “I wish I had kept the value of saving in mind when I was younger,” explains John. “But, still remembering to balance savings while rewarding yourself and enjoying what your efforts produce.”

There are so many aspects of finance to keep in mind – saving, investing, budgeting, retirement plans, and so on and so forth.

In addition to suggesting to spend less than you make and to pay off your credit card in full each month, Kentucky-based attorney, Christopher Groeschen, explained the importance of a 401k.

“Every employee in America should be contributing everything they can into a 401k every year, up to the current $18,000 maximum per person,” suggests Groeschen.

“401ks present an opportunity for young investors to 1) learn about investing and 2) enter the market through a relatively low-risk vehicle (depending on your allocations),” he observes.

“An additional benefit is that 401ks also allow employees to earn FREE MONEY through employer matches,” he continues. “At the very least, every employee should contribute the amount necessary to earn the employer match (usually up to 4%) otherwise, you are giving up the opportunity to earn FREE MONEY. Earning FREE MONEY from your employer that is TAX FREE is much more important than having an extra Starbucks latte every day.”

Whether we like it or not, money is a core aspect of our daily lives. It should never be the most important thing, but we cannot deny that it is, in fact, an important thing. It’s tricky to learn, but investing in my future has become a priority.

This editorial was first published in May 2018.

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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strong leaders

Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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