A Change of Heart: The Relationship Between Good Feelings and Good Health
Jan 26, 2012 08:00AM
By Jill Broderick MS, OTR, BCB
Did you know that you could alter the rhythm of your heartbeat simply by changing your emotional response? Heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback is a tool that measures the difference between each beat of the heart, producing a pattern reflecting one’s psychophysiological (mental, emotional and physiological) state. The heart does not beat in even intervals, even when we are at rest. Influences from the central nervous system change this beat or rhythm as needed to meet the demands of daily life. Heart signals or patterns seen using HRV have a significant impact on brain functions such as attention, perception, memory and problem-solving skills.
Stress and negative emotions affect this rhythm /pattern seen with HRV biofeedback by making it appear disordered. Negative emotions and stress influence the heart-brain neural connections, sending signals to our brain that that can inhibit higher-level cognitive function. Have you ever wondered why you couldn’t think of a good response to a difficult situation when stressed but could come up with something later on when you were more relaxed? When we are angry, frustrated or anxious, our heart rate variability becomes more irregular. The brain receives cues from the heart, bathing the nervous system with stress hormones. The body responds by shifting into a stress response, increasing blood pressure, respiration and brain wave activity. Over time, stress and negative emotions leave our bodies exhausted and depleted and may adversely effect our health.
Conversely, when we use breathing techniques coupled with positive emotion, we are able to change the pattern or trace we see (using HRV biofeedback) into what is referred to as a coherent pattern or coherence. Instead of seeing an irregular, jagged pattern on the biofeedback device, we see a more regular sinus rhythm (wave pattern). We can see in real time how breath work and positive emotions shift the heart rate variability feedback into a more desirable response, showing us how we are able to better regulate our own physiology. As HRV increases or improves, it has a regulating effect on respiration, blood pressure and brain wave activity. Improved heart rate variability helps the body restore balance and facilitates improved cognitive performance. The mind and body are in a more resilient state, better able to respond to daily demands.
Heart rate variability biofeedback used along with breath work and positive feeling can help people improve their quality of life and daily performance. Positive emotions such as love, compassion and forgiveness can help create a more stable HRV pattern. The heart, in turn, sends input to the brain, facilitating improved attention, problem solving, and communication. Alert yet calm, we are more easily able to think, respond and access the better part of ourselves. It all starts with a commitment to try something new and a simple change of heart.
Jill Broderick has 25 years of professional experience as an occupational therapist, specializing in treatment of adult patients with chronic pain conditions, neurological disorders and stress-related illness. Board-certified in biofeedback, she has developed her expertise in applied psychophysiology to help patients develop self-regulatory skills to quiet the central nervous system, enabling them to change their response to stress and pain without medication. Visit JillBroderick.com to learn more about the benefits of biofeedback.