Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is essentially a measure of the ways in which our Sympathetic (“fight or flight”) and Parasympathetic (“rest & digest”) systems influence our heart rate. By monitoring your HRV, you can discover information about your autonomic flexibility, or how these systems interact with each other, and thereby strengthen your capacity to regulate your emotional responses to external stimuli. For addicted individuals trying to restore their independence and regain control, understanding heart rate variability can be truly empowering.
Biofeedback and Heart Rate Variability
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a biofeedback technique that uses instruments to measure Resonance Frequency Breathing (RFB) so that patients can have tangible information to guide their progress. The term variability refers to the difference in the heart’s beat during strenuous exercise and during a resting state.
Originating in Russia in the 1980s to treat asthma, HRV is now used globally to treat a variety of medical and psychiatric conditions, including:
- Cardiovascular conditions like congestive heart failure
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Chronic fatigue, pain and/or anger
- Anxiety disorders
HRV biofeedback helps patients to identify and monitor their heart’s activity so that they gain greater control over emotional responses to stress and, therefore, greater independence from habitual emotional patterns.
The Sympathetic (SNS) and Parasympathetic (PNS) branches of our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) influence the lengths of time between consecutive heartbeats. When our SNS activity increases (or your PNS activity decreases), such as during an intense workout or stressful situation, our heart beats at a faster rate, which results in shorter intervals between heartbeats. Similarly, when SNS activity decreases (or PNS activity increases), such as during a restful and relaxed state, our heart beats at a slower rate, with longer intervals between each beat.
When you analyze this discrepancy in your heartbeat’s frequency, you gain awareness of your emotional responses to various stimuli, as well as increase your control over your body’s functions. The result, then, is stronger and more effective coping strategies for emotional stress and therefore a healthier physical state overall.
HRV and the Body
When we breathe in, our heart rate increases because the Parasympathetic, or “rest & digest” system is temporarily blocked from influencing our heart’s regular rhythm. Similarly, when we exhale, our heart rate decreases because the PNS can once again influence and regulate our heart rate. Both the PNS and SNS are linked to our Central Autonomic Network (CAN), which helps regulate the emotions we experience by attuning our physical responses to external and internal stimuli. When our systems are not functioning harmoniously, our emotions are imbalanced. HRV teaches us to listen to our heart rate during “fight, flight, or freeze” and “rest & digest” states and to evaluate the differences we find so that we can remain in control of our emotions more quickly and more often.
HRV and the Mind
Because our mind and body are connected, our emotions always manifest physically, and, likewise, our physical states have emotional repercussions. Emotional Intelligence (EQ) helps us to become more aware of our individual responses to certain external, or physical, stimuli. HRV assists in that journey by informing us of our physical and cardio reactions to stress and teaches us skills to calm ourselves down by consciously decreasing our heart rate.
When we are stressed or frightened, a normal response is to hold our breath, which results in an increased heart rate. On the other hand, to relax and have little responsibility is to “exhale.” HRV guides us in regulating these responses so that we remember to exhale during stressful moments and to regain energy in restful ones. When practiced regularly and frequently, HRV grants us permanent independence from habitual behaviors and thoughts by allowing us to remain in control of our physical and emotional states.