When my acupuncturist asked how my stress level was, my sincere answer used to be: “Not particularly stressed. My job is a deskwork writing emails and such. It’s not that stressful”. Little did I know!
After I started wearing my Oura ring, the most surprising findings were my deep sleep and very low nighttime HRV. (You can read my experience with hydrogen water that dramatically improved my deep sleep here.) Most of the nights my HRV was below 20, even I wasn’t training hard or facing a noticeable stress. Stress management should be #1 priority for anyone interested in hacking their health, and so I decided to dig deeper.
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The first HRV monitor I bought was Elite HRV’s CorSense that you slip over the tip of your finger. Every morning the app prompts to take a HRV session, which I really like because it sets a tone for the the day. After each session you see today’s HRV score as well as HRV scores from the previous days, making it easy to see current HRV trending. My morning HRV normally is highest during the weekends and worsens towards the end of the workweek, confirming that I get stressed at work more than I subjectively felt.
Even I like the morning HRV sessions with CorSense and continue using it, after few weeks it became clear that I needed more than occasional HRV sessions to really understand my ongoing stress levels in an actionable manner. The issue with CorSense is that the device attached to your finger essentially prevents you from performing your normal tasks. Neither, it doesn’t provide a live 24/7 measuring of your HRV. It’s comparable to blood glucose monitoring; One-time finger pricks are certainly valuable, but to collect truly actionable insights about your body’s ongoing reactions to different foods and activities at different times of the day, the finger prick pale in comparison to CGM.
So I really focused on action-ability of the insights provided by an HRV device, before finally deciding on my second (and current) HRV monitor Lief Therapeutics. It’s a wearable to be attached to your chest while you perform your daily activities. It can be worn 24/7 during exercises and sleep, but I wear it mostly during workdays to nail down causes of my newly discovered stresses and act on them.
The most surprising and actionable insights I’ve learnt:
- My body positions dramatically affect my HRV. I was shocked to discover that standing still in front of red-light panel lowers without an exception my HRV down to the Tense Zone triggering a vibration-guided breathing session. At work, I used to prefer a standing workstation thinking that this was healthy for me. In the reality I was inducing a constantly lowered HRV for many hours every workday!
- Any activity that require brain power like writing emails significantly lowers my HRV. While not as surprising that mental labor causes some stress, it still surprised me how much my HRV dropped while writing a routine work email with no emotionally stressful component whatsoever
- One of the most surprising and frustrating insights was that initially, deep nasal breathing didn’t improve my HRV AT ALL. In fact, my HRV slightly improved when I switched to mouth breathing, making me realise that I was inhaling through the nose incorrectly. Effective nasal breathing requires more than just letting the air in through the nose and is a skill I needed to learn
Though other devices like Fitbit also offer a continuous HRV monitoring, I feel a dedicated continuous HRV monitor a must, if your goal is to gain deep insights into your stress responses and act on them as they happen. Now after wearing Lief for more than a month, my workday HRV has greatly improved; I no longer stand at a standing workstation and make sure that my shoulders and arms are relaxed while writing. I’ve learnt the right way to do deep nasal breathing and can see my HRV immediately improving sometimes by a 2-digit number when I practice nasal breathing.
Improved daytime HRV also positively affects my nighttime HRV. While I still get occasional nighttime HRV under 20, more frequently it’s in the 20s and even low 30s, scores I previously NEVER got.
Use code EEVA to get 5 % discount when you sign up for Lief HRV Coaching and/or purchase the device at getlief.com!