Emotional Stress, Positive Emotions and Psychophysiological Coherence

Topics: Psychology, Emotion, Brain Pages: 33 (10887 words) Published: August 26, 2013
Emotional Stress, Positive Emotions and Psychophysiological Coherence

Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. Dana Tomasino HeartMath Research Center Institute of HeartMath

Emotional Stress, Positive Emotions, and Psychophysiological Coherence Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. Dana Tomasino HeartMath Research Center Institute of HeartMath

McCraty, R.M., 2006. Emotional Stress, Positive Emotions, and Psychophysiological Coherence. In Stress in Health and Disease. Bengt B. Arnetz, Rolf Ekman, editors. Wiley-VCH, Weinheim.

copyright 2006 Institute of HeartMath

Emotional Stress, Positive Emotions, and Psychophysiological Coherence

Address for correspondence: Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. HeartMath Research Center Institute of HeartMath 14700 West Park Avenue Boulder Creek, California USA Email: rollin@heartmath.org Phone: (831) 338-8727 Fax: (831) 338-1182

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Emotional Stress, Positive Emotions, and Psychophysiological Coherence

Chris, a 45-year-old business executive, had a family history of heart disease, and was feeling extremely stressed, fatigued, and generally in poor emotional health. A 24-hour heart rate variability analysis1 revealed abnormally depressed activity in both branches of his autonomic nervous system, suggesting autonomic exhaustion ensuing from maladaptation to high stress levels. His heart rate variability was far lower then would be expected for his age, and was below the clinical cut-off level for significantly increased risk of sudden cardiac death. In addition, Chris’s average heart rate was abnormally high at 102 beats per minute, and his heart rate did not drop at night as it should. Upon reviewing these results, his physician concluded that it was imperative that Chris take measures to reduce his stress. He recommended that Chris begin practicing a set of emotional restructuring techniques that had been developed by the Institute of HeartMath®. These positive emotion-focused techniques help individuals learn to self-generate and sustain a beneficial functional mode known as psychophysiological coherence, characterized by increased emotional stability and by increased synchronization and harmony in the functioning of physiological systems. Concerned about his deteriorating health, Chris complied with his physician’s recommendation. Each morning during his daily train commute to work, he practiced the Heart Lock-In® technique, and he would use the Freeze-Frame® technique in situations when he felt his stress levels rise.2 At first Chris was not aware of the transformation that was occurring. His wife was the first to notice the change and to remark about how differently he was behaving and how much better he looked. Then his co-workers, staff, and other friends began to comment on how much less stressed he appeared in responding to situations at work and how much more poise and emotional balance he had. A second autonomic nervous system assessment, performed six weeks after the initial one, showed that Chris’s average heart rate had decreased to 85 beats per minute and it now lowered at night, as it should. Significant increases were also apparent in his heart rate variability, which had more than doubled! These results surprised Chris’ physician, as 24-hour heart rate variability is

The analysis of heart rate variability (HRV), a measure of the naturally occurring beat-to-beat changes in heart rate, provides an indicator of neurocardiac fitness and autonomic nervous system function. Abnormally low 24-hour HRV is predictive of increased risk of heart disease and premature mortality. HRV is also highly reflective of stress and emotions. 1

The Heart Lock-In tool is an emotional restructuring technique, generally practiced for 5 to 15 minutes, that helps build the capacity to sustain the psychophysiological coherence mode for extended periods of time. The FreezeFrame technique is a one-minute positive emotion refocusing exercise used in the moment that stress is experienced to change perception and modify the...
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