Despite all the amazing and necessary things the heart performs everyday to keep people alive and healthy, the connection between the heart and not only human health but human happiness and emotional well-being is only now under exploration by scientists, researchers and practitioners from a wide assortment of disciplinary backgrounds.
HRV, or heart rate variability, is a powerful lens into human health and wellness. Heart rate measures the speed at which a heart “beats.” This is often expressed in a familiar metric, beats per minute, or BPM. Though “beat” is not quite the right word for it, the measurement is of the speed at which the heart cycles through QRS complexes.
One “beat,” more commonly referred to in the scientific literature as NN or RR intervals, and better understood as a two part process bookended by electrical impulses that govern the flow of blood in and out of the heart, is usually expressed in milliseconds and measures the time in between one “beat” and the “beat” that preceded it. The variability of this little number, this interval, contains multitudes of information about an individual’s health, including mental health and emotional wellbeing.
As introduced in an earlier post, the heart rate has variability because two branches of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves, act to accelerate and decelerate heart rate. For the duration of the life of a human heart, these two nerves are in constant interaction to maintain cardiovascular activity and regulate the reactions of people to changing environmental stimuli.
In other words, as the spaces we find ourselves in change, the internal interactions of people’s nervous systems function to regulate the body and manage our behaviour in relation to changing stimuli. To this point, HRV has been of great interest to the medical and health and wellness communities, helping doctors, researchers and practitioners assess cardiovascular health, risks for diabetes, and rehabilitation and fitness optimization.
HRV has also been useful in diagnosing autism in children. More recently, HRV has been shown to accurately reflect stress and anxiety, as well as offer a reliable correlation on the quality of sleep. The rhythms of the heart are barely perceptible, and yet there are multitudes and these rhythms are discrete. Studies have correlated specific patterns with specific emotional states, stress levels, mood, and a variety of mental health diagnoses.
At EiQ, we draw from recent peer-reviewed literature to push deeper into the insights about mental and emotional health embedded in the rhythms of the heart. Our goal is to tap this wellspring of information to generate new data, tools, and insights that help people to understand their embodied emotional experiences.
Read the conclusion of this post and much more on our Medium page.