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HRV and The Relation to Stress

HRV and The Relation to Stress

Whether it's a hectic day at work, financial troubles, badly behaved children or sour relationships, in our everyday lives we are far more stressed than we realize. Though small amounts of stress affect every person differently, overall too much can cause severe psychological, behavioral as well as physiological problems that might require medical intervention. One way to determine your stress levels is through heart rate variability (HRV). What is HRV? How is it related to stress? Continue reading to find out!

What is Heart Rate Variability?
Heart rate variability is the variation in the time interval between heartbeats within a specified time frame. Researchers and physiologists have been utilizing HRV for years as a useful indicator of several health-related issues. Every person is bound to have a different heart rate. Whether it is 60 beats per minute or 80, the different rate is not concerning rather the fluctuation in the variations of the intervals between your heartbeats that matters. High variation between beats indicates calmness while low variation is an indication of the body being in a state of stress. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a low HRV has been shown to be independently predictive of increased mortality, especially in post-myocardial infarction patients and heart failure patients.
HRV controls the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is part of the nervous system that controls other bodily functions such as breathing and digestive processes. The ANS divides into two large components, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system causes the body to react in the event of a harmful attack, while the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for stimulation of activities when the body is at rest.
Our brain is constantly processing information in the hypothalamus; signals are sent to the rest of the body to either react or relax depending on the activity. From a poor night’s sleep to an exciting new promotion, an argument with your spouse to a pay raise – our body responds differently to different situations. However, if chronic stress, restlessness, an unhealthy diet, and lack of exercise persists the ANS shifts into overdrive.

How is HRV Related to Stress?
Even if you do not want to admit it, stress is an indispensable part of our lives. According to reports, occupational stress costs employers an estimated $300 billion annually due to absenteeism, illness and low productivity. Stress is a bodily response to environmental conditions when pressured your body releases certain hormones to cope with the situation.
When stressed, your nervous system goes into hyperactive mode causing physical, psychological, and behavioral abnormalities. Several hormones release into the bloodstream, which causes your heart rate to surge, your breathing to become heavy and your blood pressure to rise. Prolonged stress can become chronic, and lead to exhaustion of the hormonal, cardiovascular and neural systems due to insufficient recovery and repair. In the long term, it can result in an impairment of the immune system.
According to the Mental Health Foundation’s 2018 study, 74% of people felt so stressed to the point of being overwhelmed or unable to cope. Since stress is known to affect people across all ages and races determining stress levels and understanding recovery is essential to address this problem and ensure overall health. Looking at HRV is an effective way to identify ANS imbalances. When a person is stressed, the variation between subsequent heartbeats is low. When a person is relaxed, the variation between beats is high. HRV is a good indicator of your body’s state of health. It is interesting to see how HRV changes once stress reduces and as you start to incorporate a healthier lifestyle with good sleep, a balanced diet, and daily physical activity. People who have high HRV are known to be fit and more resilient to stress.

Leading a Healthy Life
HRV is dependent on various internal and external factors. Examples of internal factors are age, genes, and hormones. While examples of external factors are like lifestyle habits such as daily exercise, diet, and alcohol use. It also changes from day to day depending on the amount of activity, stress or sleep occurred. Daily habits directly affect your health, which is why it is good to monitor your stress and recovery levels to see the impact. See what factors affect your stress levels and make healthy lifestyle changes to keep it under control for better well-being.

~It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it – Lou Holtz, former football coach

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