Stress tracking technology: Can wiring up calm us down?

A hand rigged up with sensors for heart rate, microsweat and peripheral temperature, which Hiroko Demichelis uses with clients to help them learn how they respond to stress. (David Horemans/CBC)

Real-time data help us understand our response to stress but experts warn of unfounded claims in consumer tech
By Lisa Johnson, CBC News Posted: May 17, 2017 6:00 AM PT

Sitting in front of a computer screen is not normally considered a stress busting tactic.

But clinical counselor Hiroko Demichelis uses real-time data — from an array of sensors strapped to her clients — to help them learn relaxation techniques.

“I think we are all in a great need to explore the science of calming down,” she said.

“We all know about the accelerator in the Ferrari, but somehow we have forgotten, lost track of the brake.”

Among her clinical tools for biofeedback is an interesting metric called heart rate variability — a sort of proxy measure for stress that’s been used in studies to help pregnant women and army recruits.

It’s also frequently popping up in consumer-level stress tracking devices, though experts warn the accuracy and usefulness of those technologies may be works in progress.

See the full article here

Meditation’s Calming Effects Pinpointed in Brain

A new mouse study reveals a set of neurons that may point to physiological roots for the calming effects of breathing control

By Diana Kwon on March 30, 2017 from Scientific American

During yoga pranayama exercises people practice controlling the breath, or prana, to induce a state of calm and focus. Paying attention to breathing and slowing down respiration is a core component of many mindfulness practices. Research suggests the practice has multiple benefits—it induces an overall sense of well-being while reducing anxiety and improved sleep.

But what exactly is going on in the brain during meditation? Imaging studies of humans have shown brain regions involved in mind-wandering, attention and emotion are involved in various stages of mindfulness practice. A new mouse study, published Thursday in Science, shows that neurons in the brain stem may also mediate the link between breathing and inducing a state of meditative calm.

see the full article here

The Science Behind the emWave® and Inner Balance™ Technologies

The emWave and Inner Balance technologies, and the tools and techniques of the HeartMath system, are based on over 20 years of scientific research on the psychophysiology of stress, emotions, and the interactions between the heart and brain.

The Heart–Brain Connection

Most of us have been taught in school that the heart is constantly responding to “orders” sent by the brain in the form of neural signals. However, it is not as commonly known that the heart actually sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends to the heart! Moreover, these heart signals have a significant effect on brain function – influencing emotional processing as well as higher cognitive faculties such as attention, perception, memory, and problem-solving. In other words, not only does the heart respond to the brain, but the brain continuously responds to the heart.

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Listen to your head and your heart: Heart Rate Variability 101


February 2017/by Morgan Ingemanson

Pop duo Roxette said it best: Listen to your heart. Words of wisdom to remember this Valentine’s Day. And, excellent advice when it comes to taking care of your health. In fact, listening to your heart can help you understand what is going on in your head!

One biomarker to rule them all

It’s no secret that doctors encourage patients to place high importance on maintaining heart health. And for good reason – heart disease is still the leading cause of death is the US. Keeping a close eye on biomarkers like cholesterol, heart rate, and blood pressure just comes with the territory of aging. But you could be skipping over a key biomarker that serves as a broad indicator of overall physical and psychological health for people of all ages: heart rate variability.

An introduction to Heart Rate Variability

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measure of the variation in the time between individual heart beats. Rather than simply counting how many times your heart beats per minute, HRV measures how consistent the length of time between each beat is. HRV helps doctors understand if your heart is beating in a simple and predictable pattern, like a metronome, or in a more variable pattern.

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Tap your holiday stress-busting super power: Breathing

By Dana Santas, from CNN Updated 10:47 PM ET, Sun November 20, 2016

Despite the myriad joys the season brings, it can be a stressful time for many of us. Between shopping, cooking, travel, parties, house guests, winter storms and shorter days, the holidays pile on the stress with little regard for the continued demands of our everyday lives. Instead of feeling festive, we’re often left tense, irritable and exhausted.

The good news is that we’re all equipped with a natural superpower to manage stress: breathing.

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How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve for Better Mental Health

Great article from a Optimal Living Dynamics blog about the benefits of HRV and stimulating the vagus nerve. Authored by Jordan Fallis

The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It connects your brain to many important organs throughout the body, including the gut (intestines, stomach), heart and lungs.

In fact, the word “vagus” means “wanderer” in Latin, which accurately represents how the nerve wanders all over the body and reaches various organs.

The vagus nerve is also a key part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system. It influences your breathing, digestive function and heart rate, all of which can have a huge impact on your mental health.

But what you really need to pay special attention to is the “tone” of your vagus nerve.
Vagal tone is an internal biological process that represents the activity of the vagus nerve.

Increasing your vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and having higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress.

In 2010, researchers discovered a positive feedback loop between high vagal tone, positive emotions, and good physical health. In other words, the more you increase your vagal tone, the more your physical and mental health will improve, and vice versa .

Read the full article How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve for Better Mental Health 

HRV patterns using Heartmath’s emWave

A question we often hear from new users is ‘What do all those colors on the graph mean?

Occasionally you may see that the black line on the graph suddenly becomes red or blue as it moves across the screen. The black line shows the pattern of the Heart Rate Variability (HRV) that the emWave sensor measures.

HRV is the time interval between the heartbeats. Every little moment between each beat is different from the next and is constantly speeding up and slowing down. However, when we are stressed, this speeding up and slowing down is not happening in a consistent manner. If you see this pattern being created on the screen, it will look very jagged and irregular.

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