Why would an anxiety stress symptom you can monitor be helpful?
It’s because stress is so ubiquitous in our society that we aren’t always even aware that we are stressed. And yet the cost of stress and anxiety is terrible, including poor health and early death because of stress. Knowing how to monitor our stress, and being aware of an anxiety stress symptom that we can monitor, makes us aware of our stress level so that we can do something about it.
Symptoms of Stress
Stress is a mind-body event that affects our whole being. Emotional symptoms of stress include irritability, anxiousness, depression, and even the inability to feel emotions. Cognitive symptoms the include inability to think clearly, confusion, inattention, intermittent dyslexia, and loss of normal cognitive ability. Physical symptoms include restlessness, fatigue, sweating, palpitations, elevated blood pressure, and elevated heart rate.
Heart Rate as an Anxiety Stress Symptom
When you are stressed, your sympathetic nervous system secretes stress hormones, notably adrenaline, which prepares your body for “fight or flight.” When the stress has been dealt with, the stress hormones are used up and our parasympathetic nervous system is activated, and it allows us to “rest and digest.” In a state of health, these two systems balance each other out.
We can rarely run from or fight the stressors of modern life, however, so we continue to secrete stress hormones and become hypervigilant. We are constantly in an alert state, constantly ready to run or do battle.
Normally, our hearts beat 60-100 times per minute when we are at rest. Our hearts pump out the blood our organs need, and our heart rate varies to meet the need. If you are exercising hard, your heart will beat faster to get more blood to your muscles. If you are sleeping, your heart will beat slower because your muscles don’t need as much blood.
People who are athletic or in very good physical condition often have resting heart rates below sixty beats per minute. Some very well-conditioned people have heart rates as low as 35 or 40.
In addition, if you are healthy, your heart rate naturally slows or increases slightly as you breathe. Your heart rate varies like this because your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are balanced, which is a state of health.
This implies that your heart rate is an anxiety stress symptom that you can monitor, and you can use it to evaluate your progress in managing your stress.
Monitoring Your Heart Rate as an Anxiety Stress Symptom
Monitoring your heart rate and rhythm can do three things:
- It can make you aware of your stress level.
- It can show you how well stress management is working for you.
- It can motivate you to continue to work on managing your stress.
In order to use anxiety stress symptom monitoring, all you need is a log and a watch or clock that counts seconds.
- First, mark your log into three columns. Label them date and time, heart rate, and variability.
- You need to monitor your heart rate at the same time or times each day, because there are natural variations in heart rate at different times of the day. The best times are just before going to bed or immediately after getting up. If there is a time of day that is usually especially stressful for you (such as when you first get home), monitor it at that time, too.
- Write down the date and time in the first column.
- Take your pulse for a full minute, and write it in the second column.
- Feel your pulse for 3-5 minutes and note if it slows down and speeds up or not. Make a subjective judgment, and note if variability is absent, okay, or good. You could also use a scale of 1-5, and write down a number that describes how much variation you feel.
As you work on stress management skills, you will notice that your heart rate slowly goes down and that it becomes more variable. That shows that your stress management program is working, and this anxiety stress symptom should encourage you to keep up the good work.
NOTE: Your heart rate will go down to the lower range of normal with any regular stress management program. Heart rates lower than 60 beats/minute are only normal if you are exercising vigorously and regularly. If you have any questions or concerns, always check with your doctor.