You see, the heart is a muscle with far more responsibility than just pumping blood. It is an essential part of your autonomic nervous system, featuring an acceleration system and a deceleration system that, together, function as your body’s internal braking system. Heart rate variability is an indication of the balance within the two main branches of your autonomic nervous system: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Talking about mental health first aid is a good step forward.
The sympathetic nervous system controls the fight-or-flight response, enabling your body to ramp up quickly to meet the demands of a stressful moment or prepare for elite performance. This is the branch that activates, or increases, the heart’s action. The parasympathetic branch slows the action of the heart, allowing your body and brain to rest, recover, and relax. The parasympathetic nervous system also handles your day-to-day vitals, like breathing, heart rate, digestion, and sexual arousal; it’s sometimes called the rest-and-digest system. You can think of them as the gas pedal and brake of a car; the sympathetic nervous system is the gas, revving up when it detects stress or danger, and the parasympathetic nervous system is the braking system to slow things down. If you are a manager then employee wellbeing is a subject that you will be aware of.
In order to be able to accelerate and decelerate quickly, like a high-performance racecar, you need balanced and finely tuned sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Yet most adults have a dominant sympathetic nervous system and an underactive parasympathetic nervous system. They have no problem feeling stress and physiologically preparing to fight or flee, even if the “danger” at hand is not a nearby hungry predator but a looming deadline at work, a speech before a large crowd, or an upsetting conversation with a loved one. Recent reports have discovered a crisis around hr app today.
This isn’t surprising, given the world in which we live. In 2018, the most Googled medical symptom in the United States was stress, topping the list in one out of every five states. (Morning sickness was the frontrunner in Utah, and Maine seems to have an issue with night sweats.) The American Institute of Stress lists the future of our nation, money, work, political climate, and crime and violence as the top five stressors for Americans. We are a nation besieged by stress, whether it’s related to career, family, finances, romance, current events, or health problems. Whether you work with 10 people, 10000 people or just yourself, paying attention to mental health in the workplace has never been more important.
Once you’re ramped up, though, it’s overly difficult for your physiology to recover. You’re driving a car that has no trouble reaching a high speed but is incapable of slowing down. This is true for most of us. Think about it: When you narrowly avoid an accident on the way to work or school or get into a heated confrontation with a family member, do you feel your heart rate speed up in the moment, then swiftly return to normal as you proceed with your day? Or does it take you a while to stop ruminating or replaying the incident and release that stress? For most people, the latter scenario is more common and is indicative of sympathetic dominance—an overactive sympathetic nervous system that keeps you stuck in a state of fight-or-flight longer than necessary. Your physiology—your heart—is what’s immobilizing you. And because your psychological well-being is governed by your physiology, you must address your heart’s response before you can control your emotions or thoughts. When faced with a challenge, will you become overwhelmed, paralyzed, or derailed? Or will you rise to the occasion and perform at your best level? It’s time to improve the way your mind and body react to stress.