Anxiety is one of the most frequently diagnosed illnesses in North America in the 21st century. Anxiety does not discriminate and affects people of all races, age, social economic status and sex. There are countless pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical treatments available to treat anxiety, some of which are more readily available as well as more expensive than others. Lost in the current mainstay treatments available for anxiety is heart rate variability (HRV) training.
What is heart rate variability and how can it cure anxiety?
Heart rate variability is the physiological phenomenon of variation in the time interval between heartbeats. The longer the interval between each heart beat, the more appropriately your body responds to stressful situations.
Humans are designed to deal with acute stress much better than chronic stress. Though cavemen had to worry about animal attacks; they didn't have to worry about cell phone bills, car insurance, 5 o'clock traffic and what designer clothes to wear to work.
Too many chronic stressors may lead to a chronic state of acute stress, which overworks adrenal glands and may cause the nervous system to respond inappropriately to certain situations. Heart rate variability training is used to train the nervous system to respond appropriately to the right situation. It is appropriate for the lungs to expand and the heart rate to increase with the threat of an attacking lion, allowing the fight or flight reaction in with impending danger. Heavy breathing and a racing heart rate is not an appropriate reaction to the anticipation of delivering a presentation at work. The physiological reactions are inappropriate responses without impending and may, in fact, worsen the situation with the added anxiety.
People often turn to pharmaceuticals and neutraceuticals before questioning their ability to breathe. Others may speak with a therapist to get to "the root of the problem." However, many people do not have the time or the money to speak with a professional about their mental health. HRV training has a one-time purchase fee of $100 for a device that can be used at one's own convenience for five minutes, twice a day. (See studies on mindfulness-based stress reduction, yogic breathing in the treatment of stress and the clinical applications of breathing regulation.)
- Children with ADHD suffer from poor heart rate variability.
- Depressed mood is related to the magnitude of decrease in parasympathetic cardiac control -- during stressors in healthy men and women.
- Social anxiety disorder is associated with reduced heart rate variability.
- Anxiety is associated with dysregulated HRV response to a psychosocial stressor.
- Poor HRV outcomes has been linked to the development of Alzheimer's disease.
- According to research, HRV training may be useful to limit stress induced by computer tasks.
- Reducing mental stress and lowering risk of CVD may go hand in hand to complement a pharmaceutical approach to improving health.
- Heart rate variability helped increase performance in competitive ball-room dancers.
- Heart rate variability training along with bio-feedback helped improve performance psychology of adult basketball players.
The HRV monitor that I recommend is the inner balance monitor by Heart Math (I have no affiliation with this company). The HRV monitor is compatible with any iPhone or iPad. There is an additional piece of equipment for use with the iPhone 5. Personally, I use it for five minutes every morning, five minutes in the evening, and five minutes during the day if I am feeling stressed.
There are many treatments for anxiety on the market. I do not suggest discontinuing any other treatments if you decide to choose HRV training. HRV training can improve severe anxiety, mild anxiety or simply optimize the body's ability to respond to stress. I particularly like the effectiveness and the $100 one-time payment of the inner balance products.
As a family physician, when a patient chooses to alleviate anxiety with non-pharmacological methods, the monthly bill can escalate if a treatment plan requires visits with naturopathic doctors, psychologists and supplements. HRV training is a safe and cost-effective tool that can be used to treat anxiety and optimize performance. If you have any experience with HRV training, please leave a comment.