Heart Rate Variability: Stress and Anxiety Management
Managing your stress and anxiety is one of the most important ways of improving your long-term health. Unmanaged stress not only prevents you enjoying life to the full, but it leads to a host of serious physical and mental health problems. There are well-established links between stress and heart disease, hypertension, depression, diabetes, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, headaches, Alzheimer’s disease, hormone dysregulation, and many others.
Heart Rate Variability training gives you a simple yet powerful technique to take control of your body’s stress-response, and it is unique in that it goes beyond “just” relaxation. It allows you to achieve coherence - a harmony between your physical, mental and emotional states. With coherence, you manage your stress and achieve the best you, the way you are meant to be, so the benefits are much more far-reaching than addressing your immediate stress issues alone. The training is fun, enjoyable and easy to learn with lots of visual methods of helping to achieve coherence.
What is Heart Rate Variability?
The gap between each of your heart beats is not perfectly uniform when measured in microseconds.
This is normal and healthy because your heart beats faster as you inhale, and slower as you exhale. As you inhale the gap between each beat is shorter, and as you exhale the gap between each beat is longer, giving a variation. Every breath cycle has several heart beats with these different intervals between them. This is the case regardless of your beats per minute. These two phases are regulated by a primitive part of the nervous system, the Autonomic Nervous System. It regulates the stress and relax responses of our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion.
Heart Rate Variability describes how much your heart rate varies in each breath cycle, and is unique to you. It is intimately linked to your breathing.
How does Heart Rate Variability impact your health?
In high stress fight or flight situations, your breathing is quicker and shallower. The exhale part of your breath cycle, where the beats are further apart, therefore has fewer beats in it; there is less variation between the inhale and exhale phases. Without the variation, your heart has less capacity to respond to stress stimuli. There are lots of situations in our daily lives that trigger this since it is very sensitive: a difficult conversation with a colleague; opening a bill; a work deadline, and so on. If you have on-going exposure to things that cause you a lot of stress and anxiety, you are likely to have a permanently reduced Heart Rate Variability and much less capacity to deal with further stresses.
When you are calm and relaxed, there are more beats in the exhale part of your cycle so there is more variation between the inhale and exhale phases. A high variation means that your heart has flexibility, can respond to stimuli and manage your stress. Your heart communicates directly with your brain, so when your Heart Rate Variability is high i.e. when you are breathing more deeply and slowly, you feel calmer and more able to cope.
Improving your Heart Rate Variability directly reduces stress and helps you to achieve coherence, since it is linked to a number of different bodily systems via the Autonomic Nervous System. In turn, with coherence your mental and emotional states are much stronger and more stable, so it allows you to perform to the best of your potential in every area of life.
How do you control Heart Rate Variability?
The beauty of Heart Rate Variability is that since it is directly linked to your breathing, you can control it. It’s a powerful tool in your own hands - no special equipment required!
Breath work is very powerful, and everyone can use it. By learning breathing techniques you can gain control over your Heart Rate Variability and therefore over your anxiety and stress. You actually adjust what your heart is doing, and feel calmer in your mind. The potential impacts on your long term health are enormous. Just a few minutes a day will be effective for several hours. Uniquely, this type of breath training allows you to visually see the difference your breathing makes to your Heart Rate Variability, so the training exercises are very precisely tailored to your unique heart.
What happens in a Heart Rate Variability training session?
I take a several readings of your Heart Rate Variability via a sensor attached to your ear lobe. It is completely non-invasive. Since Heart Rate Variability is extremely sensitive, very small changes in your stress levels are detectable. This means we can see and measure these changes by asking you to think about stressful things, or by doing very small stress tests in the clinic. You see the results live on-screen so you can see the changes for yourself. You gain a real understanding of how your heart communicates with your brain and, vitally, you learn how to achieve coherence.
I will then teach you specialised breathing techniques based on your readings, designed to increase your Heart Rate Variability. They are all techniques that you can do at home yourself, and I am also available for ongoing support and extra training if required. A Heart Rate Variability training session lasts up to one hour.