Medical & Biological Engineering & Computing

, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 271–287 | Cite as

Measuring acute stress response through physiological signals: towards a quantitative assessment of stress

  • Adriana ArzaEmail author
  • Jorge Mario Garzón-Rey
  • Jesús Lázaro
  • Eduardo Gil
  • Raul Lopez-Anton
  • Conchita de la Camara
  • Pablo Laguna
  • Raquel Bailon
  • Jordi AguilóEmail author
Original Article


Social and medical problems associated with stress are increasing globally and seriously affect mental health and well-being. However, an effective stress-level monitoring method is still not available. This paper presents a quantitative method for monitoring acute stress levels in healthy young people using biomarkers from physiological signals that can be unobtrusively monitored. Two states were induced to 40 volunteers, a basal state generated with a relaxation task and an acute stress state generated by applying a standard stress test that includes five different tasks. Standard psychological questionnaires and biochemical markers were utilized as ground truth of stress levels. A multivariable approach to comprehensively measure the physiological stress response is proposed using stress biomarkers derived from skin temperature, heart rate, and pulse wave signals. Acute physiological stress levels (total-range 0100 au) were continuously estimated every 1 min showing medians of 29.06 au in the relaxation tasks, while rising from 34.58 to 47.55 au in the stress tasks. Moreover, using the proposed method, five statistically different stress levels induced by the performed tasks were also measured. Results obtained show that, in these experimental conditions, stress can be monitored from unobtrusive biomarkers. Thus, a more general stress monitoring method could be derived based on this approach.

Graphical abstract

Stress measurements of different healthy young people throughout a Stress Session that includes a pre-relax stage (BLs), memory test (ST and MT), stress anticipation time (SA), video display (VD) and arithmetic task.


Stress measurement Stress biomarker Multimodal analysis Multivariable biomarker Acute stress TSST Unobtrusive physiological signals 



This project has received funding from the European Union's Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 (2014-2020) under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No. 745755.

Funding information

This research was supported by MINECO (FIS-PI12/00514 and TIN2014-53567-R) and by the Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red sobre Bioingeniería, Biomateriales y Nanomedicina (CIBER-BBN) at the Instituto de Salud Carlos III de España.

Compliance with ethical standards

The UAB Ethics Committee approved the study protocol. Participants gave their written informed consent.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CIBER de Bioingeniería, Biomateriales y Nanomedicina (CIBER-BBN)ZaragozaSpain
  2. 2.Microelectronics and Electronic Systems DepartmentAutonomous University of BarcelonaBellaterraSpain
  3. 3.Embedded Systems Laboratory, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL)LausanneSwitzerland
  4. 4.BSICoS Group, Aragon Institute of Engineering Research (I3A), IIS AragónUniversity of ZaragozaZaragozaSpain
  5. 5.Department of Biomedical EngineeringUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA
  6. 6.Psychology and Sociology Department of University of ZaragozaZaragozaSpain
  7. 7.Psychiatric Service of Zaragoza Clinical HospitalZaragozaSpain
  8. 8.Microeletronics National CenterIMB-CNM, CSICBarcelonaSpain

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