What Key Metrics are Used to Help Understand Stress?

Dr. Joseph McCloud
February 2, 2024
7 minutes

What key metrics for stress can you use? Are you dealing with too much stress too often? Stress may cause your heart to race. It may make you sweat or it may give you chills. It may cause you to lose focus. These effects are produced by biological functions that can be measured with key metrics.

So what key metrics are used to understand stress? Read on to find out.


Heart Rate Variability is a key metric for measuring stress. It is a measure of the difference in time between each heartbeat. It provides a very good indication of your stress level and stress response.

HRV is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is further divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems which control heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and breathing. They are referred to as the fight or flight system and the relaxation response.

The hypothalamus is a small region of the brain that constantly processes information and transmits signals throughout the body via the ANS. It can relax or stimulate different functions including HRV. If stress is detected, it can stimulate your fight or flight response and cause your heartbeat to race.

When your heart rate speeds up, it reduces the time between heartbeats increasing HRV. Tracking HRV can help you understand your stress response so you can deal with stress more healthily. It can increase your awareness of how you live and think and how your behavior affects your nervous system.

Blood Pressure

When you're under stress, your blood pressure spikes briefly. Researchers are unclear as to whether it can cause blood pressure to increase long term.

Stress causes a surge of hormones that results in the narrowing of blood vessels. These actions increase blood pressure.

While it’s unclear whether stress can raise blood pressure long term, it can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Short spikes in blood pressure can cause cardiovascular conditions that result in permanent damage to the blood vessels, heart, and kidneys.

The hormones the body makes when it experiences anxiety may also damage arteries. It can cause people to forget to take medications that treat high blood pressure and other heart conditions.

It’s recommended that you monitor your blood pressure so you can determine how stress is affecting it. This may inspire beneficial lifestyle changes that reduce stress.

Cortisol Levels

Also known as ‘the stress hormone’ cortisol levels will rise in stressful situations. It slows digestion, increases blood flow to muscles, and mobilizes fuel (primarily as glucose) preparing us for the fight or flight response.

When your HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis is working properly, cortisol will be highest in the morning and lowest in the evening. Chronic stress can interfere with cortisol production and throw it out of balance.

Urine, saliva, and blood tests can indicate if you have abnormally high or low cortisol. An imbalance can increase the risk of diabetes and other health problems. It can also interfere with motivation.

Respiration Rate

When a person is under stress, their breathing pattern changes. They will take small, shallow breaths using their shoulders rather than their diaphragm to move air in and out of their lungs. This disrupts the balance of gas in the body.

Shallow over-breathing or hyperventilation can make anxiety worse. Controlling your breathing will improve these symptoms. Controlled breathing can lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce stress hormones, improve immune functioning, and increase physical energy.


Mood is a major indicator of how stressed you are.

If you feel stressed on an ongoing basis, it can cause you to withdraw from your friends and family. It can also keep you from doing the things you love to do. It can interfere with productivity and motivation.

If stress is getting in the way of your ability to enjoy life or complete daily tasks, it’s essential to seek help right away. A mental health professional will encourage you to open up about your feelings. They will recommend lifestyle changes that will help you achieve a higher quality of life.

How Hanu Health Can Help

Hanu Health can assist you in understanding how key biometrics relate to your stress level and how you can improve your stress resiliency.

Checking in daily can help you see how life events affect you. It suggests therapeutic exercises that help you keep stress under control.

Stress can greatly reduce your quality of life. Keeping track of key metrics will allow you to take control so you can lower stress levels and enjoy daily activities. Hanu Health is a tool that will help you achieve this goal.