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May 28, 2021

Impact of Stress on HRV, Resting Heart Rate & Recovery

We break down the effects of stress on key WHOOP metrics.

By Mark Van Deusen

Effects of Stress on the Body

Stress is something that we all deal with on a regular basis. Among other things, short-term effects of stress may include headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, moodiness, muscle tension, insomnia, and an inability to focus. In the long term, stress can lead to anxiety disorders and mental health issues, high blood pressure, heart attacks, heart disease, obesity, eating disorders, digestive problems, unhealthy skin, hair loss, and a variety of other significant health concerns.

These are just a few of the many potential consequences of feeling overly stressed. And while the symptoms of stress have been extensively researched, the day-to-day impact of it on our mental and physical well being is difficult to quantify.

 

Tracking Stress in the WHOOP Journal

The WHOOP Journal feature gives you the option each morning to log if you experienced stress the day before. By doing this, we can examine the effect your stress may have on metrics we track, like resting heart rate (RHR), heart rate variability (HRV), recovery, and duration of each stage of sleep.

Every month, you then get an analysis of how stress (and other behaviors you choose to track) can affect your WHOOP data via our Monthly Performance Assessments.

In this case, we’ve taken a look at the aggregate data of WHOOP members reporting stress. As you might expect, we’ve found it often has negative correlations with several key physiological markers.

 

Stress and Resting Heart Rate

Overall, 60% of the time our members input experiencing stress it results in an increase in resting heart rate (not good). The average (50th percentile of all cases) is an uptick of 1 beat per minute (bpm). Considering the fact that RHR is generally a fairly stable metric, this is a sizable deviation from the norm. At the 25th percentile, the rise is 2 beats per minute.

Males and females see similar changes in resting heart rate due to stress, as do most age groups. However, it is worth noting that the frequency with which RHR is negatively impacted increases subtly with age. For 29 and under it happens on 58% of occasions, for ages 30-49 it’s 60%, and for 50-59 it’s 64% of the time.

Stress increases resting heart rate

Stress and HRV

With heart rate variability, reported stress unfavorably affects HRV at a 63% frequency. It also occurs a bit more often with women (64%) than men (62%). The average change across the board is a decrease of 4 milliseconds (ms). At the 25th percentile, the drop is 8 ms.

The negative effects of stress on HRV actually become slightly less substantial as people get older. The median difference is -5 ms through 29 years of age, -4 for 30-39, and just -3 for ages 40-69.

Stress decreases heart rate variability

Stress and WHOOP Recovery

Both resting heart rate and HRV play important roles in your daily WHOOP recovery (how prepared you body is to perform from 0-100%), so it’s no surprise that stress can hurt this metric as well.

Collectively, our members experience a decrease in recovery 64% of the time after logging stress. The average impact is a decline of 6%.

Stress decreases WHOOP recovery

The average daily WHOOP recovery is 58%. When members report experiencing stress, the median impact is a decrease of 6%.

Recovery is affected by stress marginally more for females than males–65% of the time compared to 64%, and with a 7% drop on average rather than 6%.

As with HRV, recovery in younger people is more significantly impaired by stress than it is in older people. The median change is -7% for everyone 29 and under, and -6% for 30 and over.

 

Ways to Reduce Stress

One of the most commonly recommended ways to reduce stress is simply to get regular exercise. The WHOOP Strain Coach can help you meet daily activity goals without overdoing it.

Relaxation techniques such as meditation, mindfulness and controlled breathing are also quite successful for many people. Beyond that (and by no means an all-inclusive list), here are some other popular activities and behaviors people engage in to relieve stress:

  • Spend quality time with friends and family, and laugh
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Aromatherapy (burn scented candles)
  • Draw, paint or color
  • Write in a journal, in particular express feeling of gratitude
  • Practice yoga
  • Cut back caffeine intake
  • Follow a balanced diet good for heart health

Learn More:
“Self Rule” Choices to Reduce Stress and Boost HRV
How to Rethink Anxiety: It Can Be a Sign Your Body is Ready to Perform!

 

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Mark Van Deusen

Mark Van Deusen is the Content Manager at WHOOP. Before joining WHOOP, Mark served as the Managing Editor and Head Writer for CelticsLife.com. He was also a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a contributor at Yahoo Sports. A former tennis coach, Mark graduated from the University of Richmond with a degree in Sociology and Leadership Studies.

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