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Stress Resilience with HRV

It is important to acknowledge that every human being feels stress in some form to some degree every day, though many of us do live in partial denial. Our sleeplessness, high blood pressure, our exhaustion, our irritability, over-indulging, our anxiety and depression, our stiff joints and tight muscles, can all just be symptoms of minute stress episodes that accumulate throughout the day. Many of us live in a world where we are constantly on the go regardless of our place in it or how successful we may feel to be. We don’t always see eye to eye with everyone or everything in it. By failing to recognize the stress in and around you, you miss the opportunity to reduce its negative influence.

The reality is, most people do not see a connection between stress and their health. Stress can be paralyzing and even deadly. Day to day anxieties, depression, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, eczema, and even digestive complaints can all be side effects from stress. Stress often leads to overindulgence of food and drink, which only feeds into the unhealthy nature of chronic disease and chronic stress which then become entwined.

Stress can even lead to severe depression. In the medical literature it is called Dysthymia, or Dysthymic Depression. This depression is different from the typical depression that requires antidepressants. Dysthymic depression is linked to severe or extended stress that results in depletion of our leading central nervous system (CNS) stress neurotransmitter nor-epinephrine. Medications can be helpful for some, but research supports alternative therapies to also be more effective in resolving dysthymic depression resulting from chronic stress.

Behind the scenes, stress is diagnosed with either an elevated or irregular circadian rhythm of cortisol or the neurotransmitters adrenaline and noradrenaline. The problem is by the time uncontrolled stress is discovered, it has created havoc on the neuroendocrine and immune systems. The first system to manage stress is the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis or HPAaxis for short. This system secretes cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline in both short term and chronic stress states. If they are produced in sufficient amounts we are able to handle and recover from the stress and maintain normal functioning. If the initiating stressors become chronic, then cortisol or adrenaline may remain chronically elevated, putting the whole body into an on-going fight or flight stress response. This state of stress response has negative consequences on the immune system and leads to immunosuppression. In a state of immunosuppression past viral or bacterial infections may reactivate (as expressed in elevations of antibodies in labs) and lead to fatigue. This fatigue further exacerbates the stress response, because it takes energy to handle stress. One of the long term consequences of unrelenting fatigue and stress is that  both cortisol and adrenaline are eventually depleted, leading to adrenal and chronic fatigue.

Adrenal fatigue is exacerbated by the fact that it may begin to not only deplete adrenaline and cortisol, but also nor-epinephrine as well. Nor-epinephrine is the brain’s main neurotransmitter, designed to support us against stress and allow us to recover. Maintenance and recovery of nor-adrenaline is a priority for the body and if insufficient it appears to create a disconnect in the Autonomic Nervous System. This ANS dysregulation is like a circuit between the brain and the peripheral stress endocrine organs has been overloaded. This overloaded circuit appears to cause a disconnect between the lines of communication from the brain to the periphery, similar to that of a breaker being overloaded and switching off to protect the wiring as we see in a house.

Our approach starts with restoring energy levels by assessing and addressing both cortisol and neurotransmitter levels. If fatigue is present, immune function should be assessed and treatment of reactivated latent viral or bacterial infections will improve energy and maximize stress response. A program improving energy and endocrine and neurotransmitter levels allows one to most effectively respond to heart rate training and brain regeneration therapies and improve upon stress response.

HRV Stress Resilience Program

EVND is excited to introduce another vital therapy to combat the negative effects of stress. Stress is considered the leading contributor to chronic illness, pain, and mood disorders. Our newest program is called HRV Stress Resilience Program. HRV is the acronym for Heart Rate Variability. This new training program has been designed to provide both the necessary tools and training to enhance heart rate variability for greater stress resilience. Improved stress resilience reduces the negative symptoms associated with mood disorders, dysautonomia, chronic pain, and IBS. HRV training has been shown to reduce stress symptoms in a wide variety of medical and mental health disorders and can also be used to enhance general wellbeing, cognitive function, and optimize athletic performance. 

What is HRV?

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measure of the beat-to-beat changes in heart rate; it is the variation in the time interval between heartbeats. Analyzing the variation in heartbeats is an accurate predictor of how we handle stress. If we have high HRV, we can handle stress better. If we have low HRV we become easily overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, and suffer with anxiety and depression. No matter where we start on this scale of stress reaction, we have the ability, with the right training, to improve HRV in our favor and therefore improve our ability to cope and adapt to daily stressors.

The effect of heart rate activity on brain function has been researched extensively over the past 40 years. Earlier research mainly examined the effects of heart rate activity occurring in just a few consecutive heartbeats. Scientists at the HeartMath Institute have extended this body of scientific research by looking at longer time frames of heart rate activity and the effects on mood and brain functioning. HeartMath research has demonstrated that different patterns of heart activity (which accompany different emotional states) have distinct effects on cognitive and emotional function. During stress and negative emotions, when the heart rhythm pattern is erratic and disordered, the corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive functions. This limits our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions. (This helps explain why we may often act impulsively and unwisely when we’re under stress.) The heart’s input to the brain during stressful or negative emotions also has a profound effect on the brain’s emotional processes—actually serving to reinforce the emotional experience of stress.

In contrast, the more ordered and stable pattern of the heart’s input to the brain during positive emotional states has the opposite effect—it facilitates cognitive function and reinforces positive feelings and emotional stability. This means that learning to generate increased heart rhythm coherence, by sustaining positive emotions, not only benefits the entire body, but also profoundly affects how we perceive, think, feel, and perform.

HRV training benefits mood disorders: 

Low Coherence or HRV is associated with anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, and major depressive disorders as well as substance abuse and cravings. Mather (2020) reported that 5 weeks of slow-paced breathing training to produce the desired high-amplitude HR variability increased the functional connectivity between the left amygdala and the prefrontal cortex allowing us to better regulate emotional activation.

HRV training benefits autonomic dysregulation: 

HRV practice mobilizes the vagal parasympathetic brake and enhances regulation in the autonomic nervous system. Therefore any conditions that have affected the autonomic nervous system may benefit from HRV biofeedback. Reduced HRV is an index for lowered parasympathetic and vagal influence allowing for autonomic dysregulation.

Additional conditions for HRV Applications based on positive research: 

  • Asthma
  • Chronic muscle pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Coronary artery disease, high blood pressure
  • Traumatic brain disease
  • IBS

How do we achieve high heart rate variability?

High heart rate variability is achieved by combining timed breathing along with activation of positive thoughts for an established period of time. Benefits are received in the moment of training but daily practice has more profound long term benefits. At EVND we use a breath pacer that helps you pace your breath which will be determined at the initial HRV appointment as well a variety of biofeedback tools in office and your own biofeedback device to give you guidance as to whether you are on target for achieving coherence, and ultimately the desirable increase in heart rate variability.

EVND HRV PROGRAM SPECIFICS: 

The 8 week Stress Resilience Program consists of 3 personal in-office training appointments followed by weekly coaching sessions. The coaching sessions solidify the training and practice of heart rate training by providing specific feedback on your training progress while also giving encouragement, tips for success, and guidance to resolve training challenges. You will be sufficiently equipped and trained in this amazing tool by our certified HRV coaches. With the current HRV technology we are able to determine the optimal breathing rate for each person during our in office appointments. You will be equipped with the necessary software and HRV biofeedback sensors to continue a daily HRV stress resilience practice on your own. We utilize the HeartMath and Inner Balance™ self-regulation technology which is based on 32 plus years of scientific research on the psychophysiology of stress, resilience, and the interactions between the heart and brain.