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Overstressed? Your Heart Rate May Be a Clue

By: Kirk Laman, D.o.

Stress Management Has your life been out of control lately? If so then join the crowd. The American Institute of Stress estimates that over 40 percent of Americans suffer from chronic stress, and as many of 20 percent feel completely overwhelmed. Itís no wonder that prescriptions for medications to deal with anxiety are among the most commonly written by physicians.

How can you tell if youíre effectively handling the stress in your life? One simple method for accessing your coping skills is to take your own pulse. Interestingly, the quality and speed that your heart beats on a daily basis can be marker for your response to stressful situations.

Although no hard and fast rules exist, the average person runs a resting heart rate of between 60 and 90 beats a minute. Generally, the slower your pulse the more relaxed your inner state. Clinical research has shown that if your resting heart rate is consistently over 110 beats a minute, then you are at higher risk for many health problems. Heart disease, lung illness, and anxiety are seen more commonly in people whose heart rate is rapid.

Yet, more important than the speed of your heart is something called Heart Rate Variability or HRV. Our hearts are not watches. Although weíd like to think that our heart beat has a machine like regularity, it doesnít. No quartz tuner is implanted within our chests. The rhythm of our heart actually varies from beat to beat. It does this because of the influence of our nervous system and hormones. Adrenaline, the fight or flight, hormone speeds up the heart, and something called the para-sympathetic nervous system slows it down.

Hundreds of medical studies have shown that the interplay between these two hormonal systems is normal. Our heart rate is supposed to vary. It goes up when we are active- walking, racing for the elevator, or exercising. And when we are resting it should be slower. HRV is normal. Itís a good thing. In fact, when HRV is reduced, it has been shown to be a marker for serious heart disease. Blocked heart arteries, episodes of chest pain, and even Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) are more common when HRV is reduced. Itís also been shown that our emotional state has a direct bearing on our heart rate variability. Depression, anxiety, sadness, and other negative emotions reduce our heart rate variability. While positive emotions: appreciation, gratitude, and joy, these can improve our HRV.

Most importantly, research from The Heart Math Institute has shown that we can alter our HRV at will. Just by setting aside 1-3 minutes of time, we can change the emotional state of our heart. A technique called Freeze-Frame (Devised by the Heart Math Institute) has been shown to successfully alter the HRV. All that you have to do is to stop what you are doing, move your focus to the heart region, and then think a positive thought. The very act of connecting to your heart with a positive thought or memory can diminish the influence of stress on your body.

Amazingly, it doesnít take a huge investment in time or money to improve your health. If youíre overstress consider heading to the Heart Math website and learning this valuable technique. You donít have to be a slave to stress.

Dr. Kirk Laman is a board certified cardiologist, author, and public speaker. Dr. Lamanís widely acclaimed book, "How to Heal Your Broken Heart," (http://www.HealingYourBrokenHeart.com) is designed to help people struggling with issues of the heart. Go to: www.drlaman.com for further information about Dr. Laman. You can also go to his blog: http://blog.drkirklaman.com/
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