Life is complicated and there is nothing more certain than uncertainty itself. As soon as we appear to be coming out of one crisis it looks like we are heading for another. It can feel a bit relentless. Many studies have shown that if we know the rules of the game, we are much better at coping. Either reliably good or reliably bad is easier to deal with than the chaos of shifting goal-posts. The erratic nature of things is unsettling to our stress response system and as those of you who have read Pain: The Ultimate Mentor will know, this has significant consequences to your health, wellbeing, quality of life and life expectancy.
There are many variables at present where the rules of the game are yet to be established. The post-covid world of blended working is still finding its feet, interest rates keep rising which is great for savers but less so for variable rate mortgage holders, war in Ukraine, climate change, the disruption of Brexit, cost of living and now the biggest uncertainty of all, Artificial Intelligence and how that might shape the not too distant future.
It’s not all bad though. If you have read Pain: The Ultimate mentor you will also know that your health hexagon offers a template to counteract the pro-inflammatory nature of life’s inevitable shifting sands and provide order in the chaos, improving your health and wellbeing, quality of life and life expectancy.
Heart rate variability is a measure of how well the body can regulate the constant fluctuations in physiological and psychological stimuli but what is HRV and what can you do to help yours?
Your heart beat is not a constant rhythm like a metronome. It adjusts as the demand on the body requires it to do so. HRV is the fluctuation in the time intervals between heart beats. The variability at which your heart rate can adjust to regulate is a measure of health. The higher your HRV the better you are at dealing with the psychological and physiological demands of life.
Think of it this way. When you are walking down the street at a steady comfortable pace you have a cadence. That’s steps per minute or heart rate. Your stride length will be pretty consistent and the stance phase or time you spend on each foot will also be fairly consistent. Then someone cuts across you, a ball bounces out from a nearby garden, someone with their head buried in their phone meanders across your intended route and you have to make a hop, a skip or a jump adjustment to all of the above in real time. These adjustments will be required many times walking down London’s Oxford street in the week before Christmas and only every now and again along the guided bus way between Cambridge and St Ives on a bank holiday Monday. Your ability to react quickly, reliably and settle back to your desired cadence are all a measure of your fitness, reflexes, stress levels, health. That’s more or less what your HRV does for your body.
There are many things we can do to help our HRV so we are better at coping with the uncertainties of life. Many of these you already know such as sleep, diet, exercise, avoiding alcohol, emotional support, connections, a sense of purpose and belonging. There’s nothing new there. What’s often over looked are the things that make you feel like you. That give you some sort of calm and get you back in sync. These are the things that calibrate you or resonate for you.
Pre-covid many of us did things that we had historically done for some mystical reason that we can’t quite explain. These things found their way into our lives and they remained a part of our routine. That might have been the need to smell the sea air at least once a year, climbing a mountain, going to a festival, spotting a bird or spotting a train. Something that for some reason just makes you feel like you and brings you back to the natural rhythm of things, for you, and ready for the next fluctuation or adjustment to come.
Post Covid many of these things fell by the wayside as they seemed unnecessary. A nice thing to do but not super important when we had to prioritise and distance ourselves from more or less everyone else. But these things it turns out are way more important than you might have given them credit for. These things influence your HRV and your overall health. These are essential things to give you order in the chaos. Maybe that was a book club that fizzled out or the musical instrument you used to tinker with but is now gathering dust or the choir that forced you out of the house on a wet Tuesday evening in November.
So, if there are somethings you used to do pre-covid that you dropped but you are now starting to understand are the things that calibrated you or resonated with you then re-engage with them. Now more than ever in the chaos around us we need those things that help your HRV and put a pep in your step.