Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has received the Gravitation Grant (Zwaartekracht) from the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) for the development of new methods to measure stress in daily life as well as to reduce it and thereby prevent the development of stress-related diseases. This grant allows researchers from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Amsterdam UMC to collaborate intensively over the next ten years with researchers from Groningen UMCG, the University of Groningen, Erasmus MC and the University of Twente in the 'Stress-in-Action' project.

Mapping the impact of stress on our daily lives is necessary to improve public health and well-being of the population. Because if stress occurs often and remains high for a long time, it can cause depression, anxiety, and burnout, but also physical diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

Stress: buzzword or assassination?

Despite this, stress seems to be the buzzword of modern life. “It almost sounds as if having stress is very normal, but it affects all aspects of our lives,” says Brenda Penninx, professor of psychiatric epidemiology. “Most people even deal with a form of stress on a daily basis, with all its negative consequences. According to the World Health Organization, stress-related disorders are the greatest burden of disease and are a major threat to our well-being and even to a healthy economy,” Penninx continues.

The gap between understanding and reality

Despite its relevance, our understanding of stress is very limited. Recent studies that dominate current stress concepts do not teach us about person-specific patterns of stress responses in the 'real world'. Eco de Geus, professor in biological psychology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, comments: “As a result, a gap continues to exist between our understanding of what determines stress in our daily lives, how we can measure it, what the dynamics of different stress reactions are, how they are reduced by our own behavior, and how stress responses negatively affect the onset and course of stress-related illnesses.”

Improved technology

An advantage of stress research in our present day is that the technology and methods to move stress research from the laboratory to everyday life have advanced greatly. By applying new technology, we can do much better and faster research into stress and its influence on humans. This enables the development of new monitoring and intervention strategies to monitor and reduce stress in everyday life and its impact on health.

De Geus: “We will measure, for example, how reactions to stress in daily life arise from the interplay between predisposition, environment, time and person-specific factors, how stress in daily life can be reliably measured in a specific individual in real time, and how and when potential beneficial stress responses turn into detrimental effects on mental and physical health.”

More information

For more information, visit the Stress in Action website.