When a person is stressed out, anxious or depressed, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. On the surface, the individual may simply appear anxious and unfocused. But there are also biological changes happening that can be measured with biometrics.
One metric to pay attention to is heart rate variability (HRV). It is the measure of the time between heartbeats. It changes when certain stressors are introduced.
This article will look at the HRV-mental health relationship to give you a better idea of what’s going on behind the scenes.
Why is HRV Important?
Your heart rate variability is important because it reflects how adaptable your body can be. If you have a highly variable heart rate, it means you adapt well to different situations. It also means you are less, stressed, happier, and have a lower risk of disease.
If you have low heart rate variability, on the other hand, your body is less able to deal with life changes. You become stressed and depressed more easily. You are also likely to be at higher risk of disease.
Common diseases people with low HRV may have include asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, and heart disease. They are also at high risk for mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and PTSD.
HRV and Depression
A 2019 study looked at 62 individuals with depression who were not taking anti-depressive medications. Their ECGs were recorded 1- 2 days before starting medication and 2 weeks thereafter. The severity of their depression and HRVs were monitored.
Results showed an increase in HRV directly related to improvements in depression after treatment started. This provides insight into the HRV – depression relationship. It also shows that HRV parameters are a promising biomarker for measuring depression.
HRV and Stress
We are all aware that our hearts beat faster under stressful circumstances. But science reveals that there may be more to it than that.
A 2018 review showed that heart rate variables changed when different stressful stimuli were introduced. The main variable was low parasympathetic activity.
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls HRV. It is made of the parasympathetic nervous system which controls rest and digestion conditions, as well as the sympathetic nervous system which drives the fight or flight response.
The review shows that stress reduces the body’s ability to stay calm in stressful situations. It also suggests that HRV is a useful objective measurement for assessing stress and psychological health.
HRV and PTSD
A 2015 study looked at 227 young adults, 18- 39 years old, 107 of which had been diagnosed with PTSD. Latent variable modeling was used to assess the relationship between PTSD symptoms and HRV.
Findings showed that the subjects with PTSD had lower HRV than those who did not have PTSD. However, HRV was also lower in people with cigarette consumption, sleep disturbances, and a history of alcohol dependence.
The conclusion states that behavioral factors mediate the association between HRV and PTSD. Psychiatric and psychological interventions can be helpful in reducing these behaviors to improve HRV and mental health.
HRV and Schizophrenia
A 2015 review established a direct relationship between low HRV, diminished levels of parasympathetic activity, and schizophrenia.
The studies reviewed showed no abnormalities in stress response among schizophrenic individuals. However, the patients exhibited unusual difficulties recovering from stress. It was also found that diminished parasympathetic activity was directly related to the severity of the situation.
A 2021 study looked at HRV in 25 people with autism, 12 adults with schizophrenia, and 27 adults with other neurological conditions. HRV was measured with an ECG. All groups were also given a Loneliness Questionnaire to measure social stress.
Participants with schizophrenia showed lower HRV as compared to the other groups. This was directly related to worse performance on neuropsychological tests of cognition. However, those with autism reported more feelings of loneliness than the other groups.
Overall results show autonomic functioning to be more abnormal in schizophrenics as opposed to autistic people. It further establishes health factors that are unique to schizophrenia.
Hanu Health’s Unique Platform
The relationship between mental health and HRV is well established. Hanu Health recognizes this and has designed a platform that monitors mental health through HRV and other biometrics.
It provides feedback on HRV, heart rate, respiration rate, and stress resiliency. It uses this data to determine therapeutic exercises that help you get a better handle on your stress so you can improve your mental health and overall wellness.
Don’t let stress get the best of you. The Hanu Health platform offers valuable feedback that will put you in better shape for dealing with stressful situations. And, if you think you’d prefer to work with a Hanu Licensed Therapist, we have that option too.