There’s a surprisingly simple but little-known technique for measuring your in-the-moment ability to handle physical, mental and emotional stress. Some of us have a higher level of “adaptive reserves” than others. And for all of us, these adaptive reserves increase or decrease throughout the day and over days or weeks. You might have a rough, intuitive sense of when you are more resilient to stress, and when you are weak or more vulnerable. There is no shortage of advice on the Internet about “stress management”, fitness and diet. In general, sleep, physical activity and a nutritious diet build adaptive reserves, while these reserves are easily depleted by chronic stressors like worry or overwork.
But how do you know what really works to improve your resilience and resistance to physical and psychic stressors? How can you learn what diet, exercise, and activities actually work for YOU — not just what researchers, health professionals, bloggers or your friends claim should work?
What if I told you that there is a reasonably objective metric for your overall adaptive reserves and a simple, inexpensive, and noninvasive way to measure your adaptive reserves throughout the day.
The metric is called heart rate variability, or HRV. It can be measured in less than a minute, using an inexpensive chest strap or finger sensor, and any of several smart phone apps that can be downloaded for a few dollars. Based on a review of numerous studies and extensive personal experimentation, I’ve learned some surprising things about what tends to raise or lower HRV. And I’ve found one few amazingly quick, effective, and to boost a low HRV and keep it up, with real impact on adaptive reserves. (For the impatient, scroll to bottom of this post and read Recommendation #1).