Understanding heart rate variability and its connection to mental health

Travis Knowlton LCSW
2 min readApr 10, 2023
Ankush minda-Unsplash

Heart rate variability (HRV) refers to the variation in time between each heartbeat. It measures the autonomic nervous system's ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and higher HRV is generally associated with better health outcomes.

Research has found that HRV is also closely linked to mental health. Specifically, lower HRV has been associated with various mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is thought to be due to the connection between the autonomic nervous system and emotional regulation. The autonomic nervous system helps regulate the body's response to stress, and lower HRV may indicate a reduced ability to respond adaptively to stress.

Studies have shown that specific interventions, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and heart rate variability biofeedback training, can help increase HRV and improve mental health outcomes in individuals with anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

HRV biofeedback can be used as a complementary tool to traditional psychotherapy approaches. By incorporating HRV biofeedback into therapy sessions, individuals may learn to regulate their emotions and improve their ability to cope with stressors. This can lead to improved mental health outcomes and greater well-being.

Overall, while HRV is not a direct cause of mental health issues, it is an important biomarker that can provide valuable insight into an individual's emotional regulation and overall health. Monitoring HRV and addressing any problems can be essential to maintaining good mental and physical health.

Travis Knowlton



Travis Knowlton LCSW

I'm a husband, father, veteran, and licensed clinical social worker that is here to enjoy and share!