Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback for Stress Management

HRV graphs

The heart and the brain are linked closely together. We've all noticed how our heart registers our feelings and reactions to things—the way it accelerates when we're excited, skips a beat when we're caught off guard, or settles into a deep, slow rhythm when we're relaxed. What wasn't known until recently is just how clear a window the heart provides to the functioning of our body's system for self-regulation, called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Research over the last couple of decades has revealed that the timing of the heart's beats is an extremely reliable index of the balance between the ANS's two branches, and can reflect just how well or poorly we can respond to the stresses and strains of life.

  • Heart Rate Variability reflects the status of the ANS by measuring the time between successive heartbeats. More variability, or irregularity, from one beat to the next is a sign that your ANS is able to adapt itself to varying conditions—inside and outside your body—from one moment to the next. Thus, contrary to what you might think, a regular heartbeat is not better than an irregular one. In fact, having a heart rate that ticks away steadily like a metronome or a clock pendulum is actually a sign of very poor health, and predicts negative health outcomes. Not coincidentally, it's also the pattern that characterizes the heart rhythm of chronically stressed or anxious people.

HRV parameter plot

Using technology from the innovative German healthcare company BioSign GmbH, we'll measure the status of your autonomic nervous system by taking research-proven measures of heart rate variability (HRV) and comparing them to what is typical for individuals your age. In this way, you can learn whether your ANS is flexible and well regulated, or rigid and stressed.

Then we'll use BioSign equipment to teach you to regulate your ANS status using Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback. In this process you're given moment-to-moment information about the status of your ANS, and by breathing at a particular frequency, you take your ANS through wide
swings, increasing its adaptability and enhancing your body's ability to manage stress. HRV
BioSign logobiofeedback has been shown in scientific research to decrease depression, panic attacks, chronic pain, even asthma. It results in a state of energized calm and quiet confidence.

The Autonomic Nervous System

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is the ANS's gas pedal, which prepares the organism to react to dangerous or unfamiliar situations by mobilizing itself into action. Its effects are to increase heart rate and blood pressure, bring about rapid, shallow breathing, and withdraw blood from the extremities into the big muscles of the core, facilitating the "fight or flight" response. Its activity is associated with the psychological experiences of anxiety, tension, irritability and stress. Chronically high levels of SNS activity can lead to inflammatory illnesses, heart disease, and mental health problems.