Measuring Stress with the
The morbidity and mortality due to stress-related illness is alarming. Emotional stress is a major contributing factor to the six leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, coronary heart disease, accidental injuries, respiratory disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.
- Life Event, Stress and Illness by Mohd. Razali Salleh
Stress is undoubtedly underlying factor with most of the presentations seen in any clinic.
Using the term broadly, stresses that effect the body may come from not only from psychological factors , but also relationship problems, financial problems, trauma from violence or abuse, physical exhaustion, lack of movement, poor diet, chemical exposure, chronic health problems, viral and bacterial exposure, excessive screen times and excessive exposure to media, to name just a few sources. The problem is that we accumulate stress from many sources, and over a lifetime it takes a heavy toll on our health. The build up of underlying stress is a major predictor of health problems but is largely overlook in mainstream health practise. Can we actually address this? Firstly we need a way to measure stress. This is where Heart Rate Variability (HRV) becomes so useful. For many years now researchers have been using HRV readings to determine the level of stress, resilience and recovery. This was initially used in the space programmes of both USA and USSR, and has made its way into professional sport. Finally, these technologies are available at the general public level.
The HeartQuest Professional software
provides a window into the state of accumulated stress in your body
The software helps to
Assess what resources you have in reserve to overcome the current problem.
Find underlying patterns in your health.
Identify treatment priorities.
Evaluate overall progress, by gathering objective baseline data before and after treatment programmes.
HeartQuest is a research tool only. Findings do note represent a medical diagnosis; rather they help indicate where we should be looking for answers.
Estimates of physiological status (such as hormone and neurochemical levels) are derived by algorithm. They are not literal results from chemical analysis of the blood.
What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV)?
Although HRV is taken from cardiogram recordings, it is actually a measure of the autonomic nervous system that regulates the speed of the heart. It assesses not only our recovery from exertion, but also, our capacity to adapt to environmental and psychological challenges. An optimal level of HRV is associated with strong health and self-regulatory capacity; in other words, adaptability or resilience. It indicates our ability to cope with the next incoming stress. A low HRV indicates a stressed system that is running low on resources.
What is the autonomic nervous system?
The autonomic nervous system automatically controls the involuntary aspects physiology, such as breathing, sleeping, digesting, heart beat, blood pressure, blood sugar and body temperature. It ensures our body survives and continues to function. It has two branches, parasympathetic (deactivating) and sympathetic (activating). The parasympathetic branch (often referred to as "rest and digest") handles inputs from internal organs, such as digestive and sexual organs. It causes a decrease in heart rate, and diverts blood flow to the internal organs. It allows our body & mind to rest and repair. The sympathetic branch (often called "fight, flight and freeze") reflects responses to things like stress and exercise. It increases your heart rate, and diverts blood flow to the muscles in preparation for movement. It protects us and gets us moving. If one system is continuously working more than the other, the imbalance interferes with normal organ functioning, and we start to experience physical symptoms. Heart rate variability comes from these two competing branches simultaneously sending signals to your heart. If your nervous system is balanced, your heart is constantly being told to beat slower by your parasympathetic system, and beat faster by your sympathetic system. This causes a fluctuation in your heart rate: HRV.
Some Key Measurements
1) The Pie Chart
The Pie Chart indicates the distribution of power between the Parasympathetic nervous system, the Sympathetic nervous system, and the Neuro-hormonal system. A roughly even distribution indicates a well regulated system. Whereas lack, or excess, of any one colour will indicate impaired regulation, and a situation that needs balancing.
2) Total Power
Total Power can be considered as an indication of overall resilience. It is the sum of all the frequencies measured (i.e. Low Frequency, High Frequency and Very Low Frequency) from the spectral analysis of the ECG. It is the total amount of energy produced by these systems, and reflects the efficiency of the cellular mitochondria. When the Total Power is low there may be fatigue, low energy, and a sluggish response to treatments. When optimal it indicates a system that is well resourced, that should recover quickly and respond well to treatment.
3) Stress Index
The Stress Index gives an indication of how the body uses energy to correct for changes in the environment. When it is high, the body will use more energy to correct for stresses. In other words, stress has a greater impact on the person, and their ability to compensate for it is declining.
4) The Scattergram
The Scattergram gives a visual impression of the state of the heart rhythm. An even spread of dots indicates strong regulation, whilst a tight clump of dots indicates a stressed system. The difference between the two is obvious in this illustration.
5) The Neurohormonal Chart
The Neurohormonal Chart gives a summary of estimated levels of minerals, hormones and neurotransmitters. Irregularities found her help identify possibilities such as adrenal insufficiency, thyroid conditions and inflammation problems.
6) The Eastern Section
The Eastern Section translates the HRV data into Ayuvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine terms. This can be very helpful in identifying imbalances and setting treatment priorities.
7) The Brain Section
The Brain Section gives a quick visual impression of how well the brain is responding. The (estimated) composition of brain waves gives clues to what we might improve. For example, the person illustrated here has close to optimal functioning, but the heavy presence of Delta rhythms (the red wave) indicates they are tired and feeling mentally sluggish.
These are just a sample of the many perspectives we can generate with the HeartQuest Professional software.
At the start of the session they have a massive dominance of (red) neurohormonal activity indicating a critically exhausted nervous system. After the session there is a huge swing towards the Parasympathetic system - they are deeply relaxed and the nervous system is devoting all available resources to rest and recovery. NOTE This does not mean they have recovered, they still have very low Total Power and a high Stress Index, it simply indicates the nervous system is no longer stalled, and recovery is now in progress; so the chosen treatment is helping. NOTE ALSO, we do not usually test and retest after every session. We need at least a double appointment (an hour) in order to do this.
If you are seeking clarity about your underlying state of health, come and find out more...
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